Okay, guys, I think this is my last piece of TV backfill, and then we can get back to other stories…hopefully I’ll get that new Ultimate Checklist up this week!
the pilot must capture the appeal of the show, and it occurred to me that there was something more elemental that hadn’t been said… Your show must have appeal.
This may seem perfectly obvious…After all, doesn’t every story need to have appeal? Well, no. Every story must satisfy the urges that get attract people to that genre, but some genres don’t promise “appeal” per se.
This is true of very serious dramas, bleak crime movies, and dystopian movies. In a stand-alone story, if you’re willing to limit yourself to a very grim-minded audience, then you can simply present a story that goes from bad to worse and then ends, and that’s perfectly legitimate. This is because you’re not asking anybody to come back next week. Nobody would come back for week two of The Silence, or Mystic River, or Clockwork Orange, and that’s fine.
Of course, we now have a lot of seemingly bleak shows on TV, where the viewers are encouraged to think of themselves as very serious people without any desire for emotional gratification, but this is just an illusion. TV shows (and other continuing stories) have to work much harder than movies (and other stand-alone stories) to assure the viewer that it won’t all be downhill.
In a TV pilot, no matter how bleak, there needs to be a moment that makes the audience say, “That’s appealing. I want to see that happen every week.” To a certain extent, this can merely be base appeal (sex, violence, death), but it almost always has some positive element as well, no matter how small.
Since it’s all any of us are thinking about right now, let’s once again turn to “Breaking Bad.” What was the moment in the pilot that sold that very challenging show to the network? It’s not hard to guess: The scene where Walt, now that he’s cooking meth, suddenly decides to stand up to the kids bullying his disabled son.
The point was clear: yes, this show is going to be about a self-destructive downward spiral, but along the way, our hero will feel empowered to do macho stuff that you’ll think is awesome, and if you come on this journey with us, we’ll give at least one thing to cheer for every week.
That moment was copied fairly shamelessly by the pilot for “The Americans”: the Soviet spy pretending to be a milquetoast American dad sees his tween daughter being hit on by an adult in the mall, then follows the guy home and delivers an old-school Bolshevik beatdown. The point was the same: Don’t worry, this guy’s horrible secret will occasionally have an upside. Set your DVR.