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  • Writer's pictureLee Hamilton

Top 5 Tips on Writing Your 1-Hr TV Pilot

The calling card for any would-be TV writer is an impressive original TV pilot or a well-crafted spec script of an already established show.

Having one can help you find writing jobs, be accepted into fellowships, or gain representation by winning established contests.

But writing one-hour TV episodes is almost like a whole other discipline when compared to features, shorts, and even half-hour shows, so before committing virtual pen to paper, here are 5 crucial things to consider first…

1) Is your show going to be, episodic, serialized, an anthology, or a limited series?

a. Episodic is the most common type of show such as Star Trek, The X-Files, and Dexter. Although there can be character arcs throughout a season, each episode is a self-contained story, meaning that they can be watched in any order.

b. A Serial in contrast must be watched one episode after the other as they can have complex plots that can potentially span entire seasons or longer, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Loki, and Game of Thrones. There are pros and cons to writing either. Episodic shows risk becoming formulaic and predictable, while serials might lose viewers if one or two episodes get missed etc.

c. Just to make it more complicated, some Hybrids use elements from both, such as The Good Wife, Grey’s Anatomy, and Hannibal, so if you have a versatile concept with great minor characters with spinoff potential, a hybrid might give you the best of both worlds.

d. An Anthology series can be a collection of different characters, stories, or seasons based around a central theme, such as American Horror Story, Black Mirror, and True Detective. They can be more hard work to write, but they can also be creatively exciting.

e. Not every idea can stretch itself into multiple seasons, and if your idea has a clear conclusion, it might work better as a Limited Series, such as Band of Brothers, Chernobyl, and Watchmen. Think of a miniseries as a really long feature film chopped into more digestible chunks, but also be aware they’re much harder to monetize, making them harder to pitch.

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