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20 September 2011 @ 07:56 am
A Question for the Class  
I'm fixing to start a new writing project - a pilot.  I should write one every year, and I think I'm going to use the idea I came up with for tvrealm's Create a Show challenge for this year.

So here's my question: what do you look for in a pilot?  What are the things that get you to sit down a try out a new show?  What has to go right for you to tune in the next week?  What goes wrong that makes you decide to spend your time on something else?  What are your favorite pilots, and what did you love about them?  Conversely, what are your least favorite pilots, and what turned you off?

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cath822cath822 on September 20th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Hm. Let's see.

I always look for good characters, obviously, by which I mean interesting, funny/witty, generally likable (although, of course, with one or two characters you love to hate), and that interact with each other in a way that feels organic.

I like to anticipate that interesting and unexpected things are going to happen in the show, so if I can pretty much guess what's going to happen over the course of the show, I might not stay put. Unlike some people, I don't mind getting invested in a show and sticking with it, but only if I feel it's going to pay off. I also want the tone to feel different, so that I can anticipate that this show isn't going to be like nine other shows that I could watch.

Favorite pilots: Dexter, HIMYM, XF, LOST, Pushing Daisies, 30 Rock, Glee, Arrested Development, CSI, and Scrubs
Pilots that almost lost me: BSG (the mini - didn't really get into it until S1), Community, Parks and Rec, The Office

In the case of The Office and Parks and Rec, the shows were trying too hard to be like their predecessors (the UK Office and the Office), and hadn't developed their own tone yet. Community's interaction just felt weird and forced, and BSG was good, but I just wasn't sure that I wanted to get invested in a show that was that intense and emotionally complex. (Glad I did, though.)

Pilots that did lose me: Gossip Girl, Perfect Couples, Chuck, Castle

In the case of the first two shows, I just quickly figured that they weren't my kind of show (which is kind of intangible and unhelpful), and Chuck and Castle were shows that I probably would have enjoyed if I had kept watching them, but the premises were kind of ridiculous and I didn't feel like adding them to my lineup would be worth it.

My tastes have kind of skewed to comedy in the last couple of years because they're short and I can grade to them, but I hope this is helpful. :)
Holly: Laura mini angstyhollywobbles on September 20th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
I need a character I can identify with and I need to find myself getting caught up emotionally -- basically I need to find myself caring. This spans genres. I was never a scifi person, then I fell in love with Picard, Crusher, and Data almost against my will (actually the Naked Now was the first ep I saw, and they were adorbs); I fell in love with Roslin, Adama, and got caught up in their situation and fell in love with Adama's speech... then with The West Wing, my head was spinning there was so much going on, but they managed to give me reasons to care about or identify with a number of the characters very quickly, then Jed Bartlett came in with this huge entrance, set everyone straight saying a bunch of things that really endeared him to me, and bam, I was a fan. Sometimes I'll watch an episode of a show, pilot or otherwise, and I can tell it's a high quality show, but it doesn't give me anything I connect with emotionally -- no character I identify with or bigger ideas I care about -- and I never end up getting hooked.
Icepixie: [Pushing Daisies] Lily redicepixie on September 20th, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
Actually making the decision to try a new show involves one of three things. Most common, there's a concept that intrigues me. Often this is sci-fi or fantasy, but I'm also attracted to realistic premises that are just very offbeat, and if there's even a hint of magical realism, I'm all over it. (I rarely get into things that are straight fantasy, with wizards and whatnot, but give me something that's grounded in reality except for the main character's father coming back as a ghost, objects talking to someone, or a bunch of weird coincidences, and I am THERE.) Other things that will get me to watch are an actor or creator whose work I've liked in the past or a friend relentlessly pimping it to me. I'm particularly vulnerable to descriptions like, "It's like [favorite show x] mixed with [favorite show y]!" From reading blogs of people in the entertainment industry, it sounds like it's helpful if you can describe a pilot in those terms, as that makes it into more of a known quantity that studios will take a chance on.

One I actually watch the pilot, it all comes down to the characters. I want to like and be able to root for at least someone on the cast. Are the characters' interactions interesting? I care a lot about how they relate to each other (ship, friendship, family, co-worker, whatever), and I tend to prefer large ensemble shows because of this. Also, humor is a great way to get me to like someone and thus the show; if you've got one or two people who are sarcastic and witty, I'm way more inclined to stick around. Wonderfalls had my favorite pilot of probably the last ten years because Jaye and Mahandra were so dry, sarcastic, and hilarious. I thought the Burn Notice pilot used this kind of humor effectively as well.

If the characters don't grab me, the premise better be amazing. This has happened...exactly once, actually. I disliked everyone on Haven and never managed to take Emily Rose seriously as an FBI agent, but the concept behind the cases-of-the-week and the ongoing story arc were interesting enough that I watched the other twelve episodes of the first season. (And then I dumped it because I still hated everyone and I figured the story wasn't really going to go anywhere interesting, but they got twelve more hours of my attention!) I'll stick with a stupid show if they have fun characters and fun relationships (Rizzoli & Isles, I'm looking at you), but not vice versa.

Some other thoughts:

I hate pilots that spend a lot of time on a guest character. Who the hell cares, if they aren't going to be sticking around?

It's helpful, I think, when at least one of the characters is new to the environment of the show, because then it feels natural when the others exposit to him or her. Plus he/she can ask the questions the viewer wants answered.

I personally like it when there's a very clear theme in the pilot that will carry over into the rest of the series. Not a story arc--although I like those too--but more like, "This show will be about learning to belong to a community," or "what lengths people will go to in order to survive," or "becoming the person you want to be." Basically, setting up an emotional journey we can follow the protagonist, or more than just the protagonist if it's really good, on throughout the series.

I also like it if there's some element of ambiguity. Is this character good or evil? Is this person lying or telling the truth? What's the real status of these people's relationship? In Wonderfalls, for example, the premise of the pilot is that little tchotkes with faces (wax lion, brass monkey, etc.) start speaking to Jaye and bugging her until she gives in and does what they want, which leads in a Rube Goldbergian way to helping some stranger. Are the animals really speaking to her? Is it God, Satan, someone else? Is she crazy? Is it merely a device to make her journey from self-absorbed, selfish cynic into a better person more visible?

This is more about what I like in TV shows in general than in a pilot, but it might be helpful to you.
Martine: Rubicon/Will&Tanyala_loony on September 20th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
What do you look for in a pilot?
To get a general feel for the show. Is it more a crime drama/scifi fun or family comedy? I don't need the whole thing be layed out in one episode but I need to know the general direction I will follow if I stick to the show.

What are the things that get you to sit down a try out a new show?
Definitly a good idea. It doesn't really have something to do with what you can decide now but the cast as well, I do start watching shows for actors and might fall for the show (see Sons of Anarchy).
But yeah the idea is important. When the idea sounds lame or like you have heard it any times already I probably won't stop for the pilot from myself just of somebody else points it out to me.
The idea can be something familiar (like Nikita is similar to Alias and of course to La Femme Nikita but has a totally different angle to the whole Nikita story and it's not about spies like in Alias) but needs a twist or something fresh that hasn't been there before.

What has to go right for you to tune in the next week?
Depends on the kind of show. If it's something with a big story in the back I want to be curious after the pilot what is behind everything that happened the last 45 minutes. If it's a comedy I need to feel well entertained by some good jokes.
Dialogue always is the key. It has to works with whatever scenes I have seen, not overdone or cheezy/cliché.
Characters must be relateable or simply interesting. Since you can't relate to everybody there needs to be some kind of attraction. The way the character handles whatever is thrown at him, his general behaviour, again the way he talks and always the posibility for character development. If the character is settled in the pilot is okay, but you need to see that there will be changes otherwise it gets boring.

What goes wrong that makes you decide to spend your time on something else?
When the story arc is not worked out right. When I feel like the episode is over (not in a bad way, I just think this is a good ending) and than it goes on and on without making any further points, just to fill time. The arc has to fill the time frame properly, there shouldn't be scenes were I can see that the writers needed to fill gaps.
Also there shouldn't be too much going on in the pilot, because it'll overwhelm the viewer and when you are overwhelmed right from the start with too much information/too many characters&their plots you might not feel like tuning in again.
Martine: Rubicon/Will&Tanyala_loony on September 20th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Re: #2
(cause apperently I wrote too muchXD)

What are your favorite pilots, and what did you love about them?
It's ages ago but the pilot of NCIS was great. It is a crime drama but also very light hearted compared to others and you got all that. You got the characters, you saw what they are made of right from the start and you saw the interesting dynamic between them since they are pretty different and still make a great team. The story was interesting, pretty realistic and I got curious to see more of the team, how they work more normal cases, how Kate would do as the new girl in the team etc.
I remember loving the Fringe pilot for the good pace and introduction of the characters. You got a feeling for the team and also got what kind of show it is (full of disgusting things with a big secret behind it^^) but it didn't give away everything that was about to come and you definitly couldn't sit back and say 'Oh I know what will happen next and in the coming episodes'.
More recently I was blown away by the Nikita pilot. Introduction of characters was done really well, you knew who Nikita was and you got a good first impression of the others. The action wasn't overpowering the story AND before you thought 'Oh okay every episode will be like this' you got an information that gave the whole thing another edge and that made me eager to watch more and see how things develop.

Conversely, what are your least favorite pilots, and what turned you off?
Tough since I'm barely hooked right from the first episode and I tend to forget pilots I watched in generalxD But I'll try:

Rizzoli&Isle. I got busy and didn't watch further but I remember being a little disappointed after watching the pilot. I don't remember everything but I think I had the feeling that the plot was a little all over the place. I had too many unanswered questions in the end that should've been answered in that episode so I get a better feeling for the characters. The introduction of the two leads was okay, but I think the supporting roles came a little short/fell flat and so I didn't want those characters to much in the picture because I didn't learn anything about them anyway.

Criminal Minds. I didn't even watch the pilot completely the first time. I watched the second episode first and liked what I saw. The pilot is an okay episode but a little confusing, you get information about characters without any explaining what they are talking about (especially Gideon who is so important and back to the team after a crisis, you get bits that there was something but they don't bother to tell what). I was also not that convinced of the introduction of Elle, but I can't describe what put me off there. Maybe that I didn't see any profiling skills though that was what she wanted to do. I'd have liked it if they'd have shown that she was prepared to join that unit.

Rubicon. It was such a clever show, very subtle with a great plot for the season but the pilot was abit heavy, a lot of characters without too much of an introduction and it was slightly confusing. There are two plots coming together through out the season and both were introduced in the pilot but I was waiting all the time what the heck it meant because it wasn't made clear what scenes a,b,c had to do with d,e,f. Some things needed either more explaining or should've been taken out and put into the second episode.

That was kind of cool! Kind of makes me feel like I'm practicing for the editor job I wanna have one day^^

I hope it helps =D
(Anonymous) on September 20th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
What gets me to try a new show: creative team, interesting premise, positive reviews

Why I'd tune in next week: I expect most Pilots to be a little rough around the edges, so unless it was really awful, I'd probably give most shows another try.

What goes wrong: If its a sitcom and I never laugh once. I also hate most two hour drama pilots. It feels inflated and self important and it's hard to find the time to invest two hours in a show you don't even know if you like yet.

Favorite pilots: X-Files, Angel, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, Lost, Glee

Least favorite pilots: It's hard to think of bad pilots that stayed with me if I never watched the show again. Some pilots I didn't like where I ended up liking the show are: Friends (it just seemed too wannabe hip at first), Buffy (this seemed really kind of boring and low rent to me; again, no need for two hours), The Office US, Mad Men (this is not terrible, but it is also not great and not representative of how great the show turned out to be; there's sort of a dumb reveal that is played as shocking when its not all that shocking)