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Old 01-04-2020, 10:04 AM   #1
SundownInRetreat
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Default TV pilot - length issue

I've had an idea for a TV series in the Buffy, Angel, Supernatural vein - 60 mins per episode - but my issue is my pilot is too long. At first, my problem was slower pacing due to being a film writer but even with faster pacing my pilot came in at 72 pages and even then I cut too much out, it feels rushed, and it should be more like 80-85 pages.

So in the current market, is it viable to write and pitch a series where the pilot is longer?

Alternatively, I can free the constraints and make it a 2-part pilot, as was popular in the 80s, but is this even an option nowadays?

Thanks
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Old 01-05-2020, 01:15 AM   #2
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
I've had an idea for a TV series in the Buffy, Angel, Supernatural vein - 60 mins per episode - but my issue is my pilot is too long. At first, my problem was slower pacing due to being a film writer but even with faster pacing my pilot came in at 72 pages and even then I cut too much out, it feels rushed, and it should be more like 80-85 pages.

So in the current market, is it viable to write and pitch a series where the pilot is longer?

Alternatively, I can free the constraints and make it a 2-part pilot, as was popular in the 80s, but is this even an option nowadays?
72 pages sounds like a feature trying to be a pilot. How many storylines do you have going in it?

Unless a writer is established with a history on staff (and even then mid to upper level), the only value of having an original pilot is to get staffed on a show. The showrunner reading for staffing is most likely going to want a self-contained thing (though the pilot should set up the engine of the show and throw it into the imaginary second episode to some extent)
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Old 01-05-2020, 05:52 AM   #3
SundownInRetreat
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

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72 pages sounds like a feature trying to be a pilot.
Possibly. It's just that when the credits roll, the story isn't over - merely the end of the beginning of this character's adventures and the world he's in - hence why it came to me as a TV show rather than a film. As it is, my story is too lean for a feature and too long for an episode.


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How many storylines do you have going in it?
Well after the setup, I have the main story - what the entire series is based around - and 3 subplots. The main story is of HERO on a mission in a different time period, subplot 1 - if you can call it that - is Hero adapting to this new era a la Marty McFly , subplot 2 is romance with a GIRL, and subplot 3 is of a jealous RIVAL out 'to get' Hero.

The opening 11 pages are super swift (too much so for a feature). Inciting incident on page 6, 3 pages of ensuing melee, and then 2 pages dealing with the aftermath and sealing Hero's fate. The downside is the main story - Act II in 3 Act Structure - doesn't start until page 22, which is all-but movie pacing yet I can't move any quicker as there's vital world-building in the preceding 11 pages - that can't be broken into bite-sized chunks and interspersed throughout as per The Terminator. Even if I could lose these 11 pages that brings me in at 60 pages but I still have the problem of having trimmed too much story and would need to increase the page count to make it complete.

So I have a story that is too big for an hour-long show but is not done and dusted within a 90 minute film. I can break the story in two and make the first half my pilot but that would just feel incomplete plus I lose the setup for the rest of the series as it's the final moments of the story that setup the ensuing adventures that play out across a series. And I don't know which way to go with it.
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Old 01-05-2020, 10:28 AM   #4
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

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Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
Well after the setup, I have the main story - what the entire series is based around - and 3 subplots. The main story is of HERO on a mission in a different time period, subplot 1 - if you can call it that - is Hero adapting to this new era a la Marty McFly , subplot 2 is romance with a GIRL, and subplot 3 is of a jealous RIVAL out 'to get' Hero.

The opening 11 pages are super swift (too much so for a feature). Inciting incident on page 6, 3 pages of ensuing melee, and then 2 pages dealing with the aftermath and sealing Hero's fate. The downside is the main story - Act II in 3 Act Structure - doesn't start until page 22, which is all-but movie pacing yet I can't move any quicker as there's vital world-building in the preceding 11 pages - that can't be broken into bite-sized chunks and interspersed throughout as per The Terminator. Even if I could lose these 11 pages that brings me in at 60 pages but I still have the problem of having trimmed too much story and would need to increase the page count to make it complete.
It sounds like you're still structuring it like a feature's 3-act structure, which I'm guessing is a large part of the problem. The opening *scene* should set up the dilemma of the episode for the main character. Like page 1. Mad Men's pilot does this super efficiently. And just my opinion but almost no "world-building" is ever vital. Thinking again of Mad Men, Joan gives Peggy her first-day tour of the Sterling Cooper offices to explain the hierarchy but that's about it for telling us how advertising agencies work. Otherwise, we just see the people doing their jobs. You basically don't have time/space to do many of the things you're describing (imo)
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Old 01-05-2020, 10:39 AM   #5
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

Yeah, I don't see how a long pilot can be justified in the current marketplace. I'm not sure if you're going for cable or network, but if GOT, Westworld, Lost In Space, The Witcher, Chernobyl, The Morning Show, and others, can all deliver pilots within the 60s, you're going to have to, too.

Determine your platform, then be diligent about executing a pilot within those established parameters. I would also recommend breaking down the pilots of as many pilots in the same genre and tone to evaluate how they executed the pilot. This can only help you.

I can't remember a pilot that was longer than the established one hour.

Page counts in the 70s are probably going to be too long. Realistically, it needs to be in the 60s.

A two-parter isn't the answer, either, as producers/studios/networks want to deliver a compelling pilot that represents the franchise of the series in an episode. You don't have an established IP and fanbase to justify the longer format.

If it's a serialized show, every episode after the pilot will lead into the next. If it isn't serialized, it's even more important to establish that you can execute an episode in the correct parameters.

Your pilot, if picked up, might actually change a lot once it moves into development, so the most important aspect is going to be to write an amazing, kick-ass pilot in an economic and efficient way that sets up the series, the main conflicts and the story engine clearly so anyone reading it can see that it has legs.

Below are the page ranges of the 2019 network pilots (ABC, CBS, CW, FBC, and NBC).

20 - page counts between 60 - 63
18 - page counts between 51 - 59
1 - page count of 49
1 - page count 66

The answer is not to add more; it's to reduce.

If you feel strong about the A-B-C plots as is, then look to your scene work to determine if there are ways that your individual scenes can work double time-- eg find ways that one scene can advance two or more plot lines. It's got to be a showcase piece, but it also has to show that you can deliver the page count that the heavy-hitters can.

Have you watched Shona Rhimes Masterclass on writing the TV pilot? She goes through the process she used for Scandal-- it's impressive and worth the spend, imo.

It seems to me, that the episodes the are acceptable as two-parters or longer than regular episodes are the final season/series ending eps.

Just one person's opinion. Do you use twitter? There are showrunners that will answer a question like this directly. Get one writer to respond and other may chime in.

Good luck,
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Old 01-05-2020, 11:39 AM   #6
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

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It sounds like you're still structuring it like a feature's 3-act structure, which I'm guessing is a large part of the problem.
Yes and no. When I started it was in the 4/5 acts of TV structure anyway structure but they all fell into the traditional 3 Act

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almost no "world-building" is ever vital
Perhaps I am too close to the material but because I have a totally-new take on heaven and hell - upon which the 'rules' are set, I can't see how I can omit. Okay, there's 2 pages I really love but don't advance the script and could be cut, I love how they flesh out the afterlife and - if ever produced - I think would be memorable.

Aargh! I'm in a mess.
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Old 01-05-2020, 12:24 PM   #7
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

Thanks FA4. If those stellar shows can do it then I have no excuses. Maybe I just have to go the feature route - after all, specs are unlikely to be produced and just used as calling cards so it doesn't matter if it's a 95 page film or 55 page show?

I'll check out the Rhimes if I can. I don't use Twitter, though.
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Last edited by Done Deal Pro : 01-05-2020 at 02:13 PM. Reason: Removed redundant thread and merged all here.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:50 PM   #8
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

The only thing that I'll add is managers, more and more, want their feature writers to have a TV pilot as well.

That's not to say that a feature writer can't break into TV with a feature, they can and have, but it's something many managers have mentioned when they give podcast interviews in the past few years.
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Old 01-07-2020, 03:43 PM   #9
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Default Re: TV pilot - length issue

I've spotted some ideas just don't work - or rater they do but I'm trying to cram too much in. Thanks for the help, guys.
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