TV Pilots: Drama Edition


NJAM gets crazy into TV Pilots! Join Timmie and Ryan as they revisit their favorite “Modern Classics” and try to discover what makes a good first episode. Have they learned something?  And what show did they keep watching?

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I. Intro 

A. Pilot Season (January to April) is officially over

B.  Actual TV Pilots vs. How We Are Using the Term

C. Why is it Called a “Pilot?

  • Really it’s taken from the science term: “A pilot program, also called a feasibility study or experimental trial, is a small-scale, short-term experiment that helps an organization learn how a large-scale project might work in practice.”

II. What We “Studied” [00:10:55]

A.  Mostly Modern Classics

  • Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, LOST, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, True Detective, Twin Peaks, American Horror Story, Dexter, The Walking Dead, and The Twilight Zone

B.  How Much Like the Show are They?

  • Every show gets more fleshed out as it runs, but which seems the most fully formed?
  • Characters almost always seem more extreme/archetypal in pilots
    • In good dramas they usually become more like real people, less black and white

III. Types of Pilots [00:19:00]

As defined by John August:

A. Premise Pilot: Includes an establishing event that has to be at the beginning, otherwise the series would be fundamentally different. “What’s new INSIDE the world of the show.”

B. Non-premise Pilot: It could really be any random episode of the show, typical for the series.

C. John August of Scriptnotes Podcast also defines the middle ground as a “One New Guy” Pilot

IV. Elements of A Good Pilot [00:27:00]

A. Introduces Characters You Want to Watch

B. Engaging Plot

C. Original Premise or New Spin on Old Premise

D. Balances Specificity with Broader Appeal

E. Intriguing, Has a Hook

F. Establishes the rules of the world (The Mythos)

G. Leaves You Wanting More

H. Tells a Complete Story

V. Bad Pilots [00:57:55]

A. What Makes for A Bad Pilot?

  • Treats you like you’re dumb
  • Boring
  • Messy
  • Cliches galore

B. A Case Study: Mr. Robot (2015)

VI. Our Favorite Pilot [01:07:04]

A. We’re now into season 2 of The Sopranos

VII. Mini Segments [01:09:30]

A.  NJAM Sees It: Ex Machina (2015), Spy (2015), Mad Men Series Finale (2015)

(Bobby Cannavale and Peter Serafinowicz were the two actors’ names in Spy who we couldn’t recall)

B.  Podcast Recommendations: Human Conversation with Erin McGathy and Wayne Federman

VIII. Conclusions [01:15:45]

A. Related Links

Original Music

The music found in this episode was written and performed by the talented Jesse James.

Audio Editing

This show was edited by Ryan Jacobi.

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