PART 1: IS
THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (14/20)
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who
hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the
urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
it’s funny and edgy.
the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
The tourist van driving by sort of does that: This
will be a sociological study.
there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
No. It’s a
familiar sitcom family.
the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun)
He wants to be an exemplary black man, but the more exemplary
he becomes the less black he feels.
the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network,
venue, or audience?
It’s a very ABC show.
if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is
inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I
will be able to root for some
aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
setting is pleasant.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a
strong ongoing series?
there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the
audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should
probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to
abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a
five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the
hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Well, Anderson had given up movies for TV a while
before, but he had starred in some movies.
show set in an unsafe space?
It’s made clear in the opening that they don’t feel
entirely welcome in their neighborhood and he doesn’t feel very comfortable
this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes
No, everybody’s rich.
It’s a recurring gag that he wants his son to have poor friends, but
that never pans out.
trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Sitcom mini-dramas will have to be whipped up every week.
the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a
there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
Big in their own way: Have I lost touch with my
culture and can I save my kids from the same fate?
the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily
resolved on a regular basis?
Sure, little parenting goals and work difficulties.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and
generate word of mouth?
the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise
(rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start
Yes, it’s sort of a premise pilot, in that his
growing dissatisfaction with his son and job reach a bit of a breaking point,
and both are established at midpoint.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used
to promote the show)?
The family labeled “The Mythical and Majestic Black
there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or
Not really. It’s
basically an update of “The Cosby Show” with a bit more discontent added
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to
create word of mouth)?
Sort of with Junior wanting a bar mitzvah (that was
showcased in the show’s ads), sort of with the Rodney King ad, but it’s
generally a pretty gentle show.
the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets
that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though
sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience)
that will kick future episodes up a notch?
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING
HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (16/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as
the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A
funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or
unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
looks like a mess in her sleep and he thinks funny stuff about her. He imagines himself being gawked at by
tourists. Making the Rodney
King ad is funny.
the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Everybody knows that he’s going to be Senior Vice
that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
still feels like an angry working-class person on the inside.
the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
”Keep it Real”, Succeed on
his own terms, “I’m still going to need my family to be black. Not black- ish,
the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn
from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
His job’s metaphor family is clashing with his
background. Ironically at his
job, part of his job is to tell them how a black man would talk. He insists that a black man wouldn’t talk
differently (and gets insulted when they start calling him black-sounding
nicknames), but on the other hand, he gets offended when his kids say they
don’t see color. To a certain
extent, this whole show is about a clash of metaphor families (aka
the hero have a default personality trait?
Cocky but frustrated
the hero have a default argument tactic?
Absorb humiliations unflappably until he snaps.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw
that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
thin-skinned and oversensitive to slights, both at work at at home.
the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon
the world of the show?
He’s only going to become more uncomfortable as he
gets richer and his kids get nerdier.
the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to
tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great
strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
sees problems others don’t see.
Is the hero good at his or her
job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
he proves at the end that he’s good at creating advertising campaigns (“LA is
Colorful”), and that he’s a pretty good father (throwing his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”)
hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
His family has no black pride. His coworkers are insensitive to race.
Sort of. He persists with interrogating his
hero generally resourceful?
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what
anybody else on the show would do)?
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG
ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?
Powerful: Is each member
of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are
strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And
even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for
Yes, Tracee Ellis Ross is
a TV star and Lawrence Fishburne is a movie star.
all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first
episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
The entire cast is strong.
Does each member of the ensemble
have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Both his wife and his mother make good
points, from very different points of view.
each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her
Yes, we get little glimpses of each character’s
backstory, but they’re more defined by their current roles.
Do all of the
characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather
than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t
serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is
the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions
will not be made by non-regulars?)
No, his boss is not a main character yet, but will become
Balanced: Do the members
of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or
episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained
(who may or may not be the hero)?
it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’
Are the non-3-dimensional
characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms
of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Dre: Gut, Junior: Heart, Rainbow: Head, Pops: Spleen, to
a certain extent. The other kids
aren’t clear yet.
Does each member of the ensemble
have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re
in the same profession)?
the white version of black (he calls his field hockey team the Field-Mob),
Rainbow: Upper class doctor (“Breaking down barriers is equally important to
money, but just so I’m clear, there is a salary increase, right?”), Pops:
Working class (“…before you start in with all that mess.”)
each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
Junior: Nerdy, Rainbow: Placid, Pops: Sour and bemused
each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic?
Junior: Predict objections and prepare elaborate
defenses, Rainbow: Hold her tongue, then call you aside, Pops: Mutter snipes,
then pretend he said nothing.
there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she
PART 4: IS THE PILOT
EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES?
Template: Does this match
and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
Yes, 21 minutes
this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the
right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or
escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial
TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places,
simply for narrative purposes)?
1 st: Finds out that he’s on the “urban”
vice president. 2 nd: He gives a too-black presentation and his job
is clearly in danger. 3 rd:
“Be damned if I’m calling him Andy, though.”
the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this
One day will be common.
of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint,
leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot
episode have a strong story?
the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that
story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an
obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes, he gets the promotion he wants but he doesn’t
want to just be the “urban” vide-president.
First Half: Is the problem established in a
way that reflects human nature?
the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
Get his promotion and move his seat to the senior
management side of the table.
troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo
(premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
He finds out he’ll be the “urban” SVP. He finds out his son wants to play
field hockey instead of basketball.
the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
Yes, in the second half
hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
His boss and co-workers behave in an inappropriate
manner towards him.
the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
He just complains to his family.
this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem
(whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
His son wants a bar mitzvah. He decides he’s not integrated enough
at work but his family wants to integrate too much. “I may have to be urban
at work, but I’m still going to need my family to be black. Not black- ish,
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as
the ongoing trouble escalates?
the hero try the hard way from this point on?
He decides to give his bosses a very black ad
campaign and give his son an African coming of age ritual.
halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than
external plot complications?
the stakes increased as the pace quickens and the motivation escalates?
He’s almost fired.
further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
His son and father mock the African ritual. Rainbow has found out about work and
she’s had enough.
that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
His pops set him straight and he says “Whatever you
do, make sure it’s right for who you are.”
the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero
switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
Yes: He decides to do an ad campaign his boss will
like and throw his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”
the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star
have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through
Yes: His new “L.A. is Colorful” ad campaign is very different,
and he thinks as he presents it: “‘Urban’ can mean hip, cool and colorful,
just like my family. Taking a cue
from my son, I decided to get my foot in the door and really make some
noise. Funny thing is, I didn’t
feel urban. I just felt like a
dad who was willing to do whatever he had to for his family, and isn’t that
the American Dream?”
PART 5: IS
EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (21/22) The scene where his son asks for a bar
mitzvah and Dre calls a family meeting
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential
elements it needs?
Were tense and/or
hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established
a little. He’s been increasing pissed
about his family’s lack of blackness.
He’s just endured another humiliation at work and we’re right to be
worried that he’ll take it out on his family.
Does the scene eliminate small
talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the
begins at the beginning.
Is this an intimidating setting
that keeps characters active?
the kitchen/dining room, so they’re fairly active.
Is one of the scene partners not
planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better
mom’s cooking is being interrupted.
Is there at least one non-plot
element complicating the scene?
of plot elements are colliding. Junior’s
friend Zach is a distracting irritant.
Does the scene establish its own
mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
kids have made it clear they have other places to be.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively
Does this scene both advance the
plot and reveal character?
Are one or more characters in
the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene
Dre’s having a meltdown and upsetting everyone else “Daddy’s
Does the audience have (or
develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
sort of agree with him and sort of with Rainbow.
Are two agendas genuinely
clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
much so. Very different ideas
about how to be black in America.
Does the scene have both a
surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary
conflict in this scene)?
Can Junior have a bar mitzvah? Can the twins have a playdate? Suppressed: How
black should we be?
Is the suppressed conflict
(which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or
called out by the other character)?
Dre calls it out.
Are the characters cagy (or in
denial) about their own feelings?
Do characters use verbal tricks
and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
is subtly egging Dre on. (“But when I say it, I’m
wrong.”) Junior tries to convince
his dad to go along with the bar mitzvah by saying “You won’t have to worry
about anybody calling me ‘Andy’ anymore, because when I convert, I’ll have a
Is there re-blocking, including
literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one
kisses Rainbow, Rainbow hugs Junior, Junior high-fives Zach
Are objects given or taken,
representing larger values?
mom hands out food, Zach takes a grape soda without permission, which
symbolizes taking their son from them (and grape soda has previously been associated
with ghettoization). Diane
squeezes a squeaky toy to feel safe.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going
As a result of this scene, does
at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she
didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
”If she thinks I’m finished with keeping it real, well I’m
just getting started.” Dre gets pushed to the edge over the course of the scene.
Does the outcome of the scene
ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
family gathers to commune but ends up upset and alienated from each other.
Junior make the team?
Are new questions posed that
will be left unanswered for now?
does Dre now intend to do at work?
Is the audience left with a
growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next
scene, but generally)
have growing fear that Dre’s going to do something
drastic at work and with his family.
Does the scene cut out early, on
a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the
”If Stevens and Lido really wants an ‘urban’ SVP, I’ll
give them their urban SVP!” Then
we cut to his Rodney King-focused ad.
PART 6: IS THIS
POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (13/13)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate
empathy for all of the characters?
Does each of the characters,
including the hero, have a limited perspective?
not supposed to fully agree with his attitudes.
Are the characters
resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to
Do the characters avoid saying
things they wouldn’t say?
Do the characters interrupt each
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and
Does the dialogue capture the
culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting
to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
he worries he’s not as culturally specific as he used to be.
Does the dialogue capture the
jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Does the dialogue capture the
tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
of. We learn about the culture of
an ad firm.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic
than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise
than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more
personality than real talk?
“Big butts, R&B, and dancing: Those were the black man’s go- to’s!”
Is there a minimum of commas in
the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the
other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters
speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
even the doctor.
Is there one gutpunch
scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each
when Rainbow finds out he’s almost been fired.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE
TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (7/8)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into
Does the series fit within one
genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
Are unrealistic genre-specific
elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is,
but how life really feels)?
are no unrealistic elements.
Separate from the genre, does
the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
If there are multiple
storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that
impression is that there will not be a spectrum of moods on the show. Both stories are in the same register.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and
ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices ( flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person
narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing
a jaundiced voiceover.
Is there a dramatic question
posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will
mark the end of the pilot?
he accept the position under the limited terms he’s offered?
Does foreshadowing create
anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s
an increasing sense that something will go wrong at work. They know we’ve seen TV shows and they
set us up to expect that the reversal will be that he doesn’t get the
promotion, only to be surprised when we get a different reversal (he gets it
but it’s only for the ‘urban’ division.) ‘Urban’ has already been set up to a
Is the dramatic question of the
pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
accepts the job (it’s being etched on his window) as the credits roll.
PART 8: DOES
THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)
Pervasive: Is the
theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role
(and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
He and his pops have one philosophy (“Sometimes I
feel that in order to make it, black folks have dropped a little bit of their
culture”), while his wife and children have another (“Don’t you think that’s
beautiful? They don’t see color!”)
the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the
beginning or _ of the way in. (Sometimes this will
be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the
implied theme of the series itself.)
All of the above, plus “Not that I want to go back
to being the big, scary, black guy, but I have to admit, it did kind of have
Can the show’s overall ongoing
theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil)
money or be true to your working class roots.
Throughout the pilot, do the
characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of
choosing between good and evil?
up with humiliations at work to make money, abandon your religion to have a
the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect,
much so: He feels like he’s treated too black at work and his family is not
black enough at home.
Are small details throughout the
pilot tied into the theme?
meaning of grape soda, etc…
the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Grounded: Do the
stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect
the way the world works?
like its ABC companion “Modern Family”, they’re unrealistically wealthy, so
normal rules don’t really apply.
Does the series have authentic
things to say about this type of setting?
become aware of little slights Dre can see from his
Does the ongoing concept include
twinges of real life national pain?
his first “urban” ad campaign has flashes of Rodney King, etc.
Are these issues presented in a
way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions in the
pilot have real consequences?
he almost gets fired, etc.
Untidy: Is the
dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or
fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the
audience to do that?
voiceover heavy and he sort of synthesizes it.
Does the end of the pilot leave
the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
Wow - that was a meaty post - thanks Matt, you're the greatest - I love the way you organize everything
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