We’ve all been there, enveloped in the midst of a new television show and before you even know it; you’re hooked. It’s a thrilling and exciting roller coaster ride full of new emotions, storylines, characters, and endless possibilities. You wonder if you even have the time to invest in yet another show, but somehow you make a way. Thank God for DVR, otherwise we’d all be screwed. The beauty of a pilot episode is it’s ability to captivate and catapult our attention into a world not quite discovered. Unfortunately, in a universe saturated with film and television, it’s not always easy to figure out what shows are worth devoting and committing your time and emotions towards.
As The Showrunner, I’ve decided to take on the responsibility of shitwatching. You know, figuring out what shows are crap and which ones aren’t, so that you can focus on posting more #foodporn and #selfies to Instagram. Moving forward, I will review each show I watch based on the success or failure in three main areas: Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development/Arcs. We’ll also dive into other components such as conflict, dialogue, etc on a case by case basis.
STORY STRUCTURE //
As grandiose, eccentric, and bizarre as stories can be; they can easily amount to nothing but confusion and disarray, without a solid foundation. Story Structure is the culmination of technical and conceptual elements working together in blissful harmony. While these concepts are not exclusive to television, they fall within the realms of screenwriting fundamentals.
ABC Storylines are crucial to television shows. They are self-contained portions that make up the entire story in an episode. In character driven shows, the ABC stories are character driven, whereas in plot driven shows the ABC stories are plot driven. ABC stories allow the writer to enhance the degree of cohesion within the story, being used as a sequencing method that helps to create tension within the entire story/episode. Every ABC story has a beginning, middle and end.
The “A Story”: is the primary story and ties back into the overall theme of the show. It’s typically told from the protagonist’s perspective and takes up the bulk of the episode.
The “B Story”: is the secondary story and can either be used to create tension within the A story or can be a standalone storyline told from the antagonist’s perspective.
The “C Story”: is used as either the emotional or comedic relief from the weight of the A and B stories. Usually told from a secondary character’s viewpoint, but can vary depending on what the overall story arc is for an episode.
ABC stories are well executed when it’s difficult to decipher what each individual story is in an episode, however it should be relatively clear from the beginning what the focus or theme is in each story.
In case you need a flashback to middle school English, the plot of a story is the cause and effect relationship between events in a story. Akin to ABC stories, the plot is the overarching theme of the episode or television series. For pilot episodes, we’ll be examining the set up of the plot and the story arc(s) that stem from it. In each pilot review, I’ll be raising a few questions:
Is the plot of the pilot enough to sustain a series worth of episodes that support that one idea?
Is the plot character driven or story driven?
Is the plot an idea that’s trite or is it fresh and compelling?
This is my all time favorite element of storytelling. Personally, I think stories are pretty weak and boring without interesting, diverse, and thought-provoking characters. It’s the reason why shows like Grey’s Anatomy have sustained itself for 12 years. While the overall plot of the show might be compelling and entertaining, the characters are what make it worth watching on a week to week basis. Character development is the most important component of storytelling because they are ultimately what moves the plot and story forward. They are the engine that keeps the car chugging along. Pilot episode’s introduce the protagonist, antagonist, and important secondary characters. There’s usually a lot of exposition and narration that takes place within the pilot, which helps to give the audience context and backstory into a character. Even though pilot episodes are somewhat of an anomaly, character development and character arcs within the episode are vital to the success of the show. A character arc can be viewed as the beginning-middle-end of a character’s storyline within an episode or season.
For example, in the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, *SPOILER ALERT* the writers of the show knew that Walt needed to start cooking meth by the end of the episode, even though they initially set him up as being this harmless, innocent, and depressed high school teacher. There were a series of events that took place within the ABC stories that made Walt’s venture into meth cooking not only believable, but reasonable. In an episode of Sundance Channel’s “The Writer’s Room,” which spotlights Breaking Bad, the character development of Walt, as well as compelling elements of the pilot episode are further discussed. Available to stream on Netflix or the Sundance Channel.
As the showrunner, I’ll be exploring and examining the intricate details, physical attributes, and quirks of a character; as well as their arc within the pilot episode.
WOOHOO! We made it! You’ve successfully completed a crash course in breaking down Pilot Episodes. So strap on your parachute and goggles, it’s time to spread your wings as we venture off into Flight School and prepare to land in a sea full of TV. Be expecting a pilot review and a deeper examination of storytelling and screenwriting components that help to make a television series extraordinary.
P.S Spoilers suck and I will do my best to avoid them. Happy viewing and Happy reading!