Maybe the part I sweat the hardest in writing a network drama pilot is the story. By story I mean the pilot story, or the A story—the main *thing* that happens in the first episode. You know: the Chinese dude in “Blindspot”; the murdered friend in “Limitless”; the rookie test in “Quantico.” Even though it typically ends in one episode, and you probably don’t even remember your favorite show’s, the pilot story matters. It requires “scale, scope and resonance,” as my producers like to say. It’s through the story you learn about the world and the characters, the tone and the pace. It matters a lot.
In the network pilot process, the very first step after selling the pitch is something called a story document, in which you detail what happens in the pilot story. Only after it’s accepted do you get to write the outline, and only after that the script.
Last year, I never nailed the story. I’d pitched and sold the world and the characters—but my pilot story never quite worked. Not for lack of trying. Holy oceans of sweat, did I try. The network finally let me go to outline in the new year, and my final script is dated January 28. But my baby had no shot.
This year, I once again pitched and sold a world and its characters to the network. I had diligently researched and prepared a pilot story—but when I pitched it to my producers, I saw that it didn’t work. Mother of Buddha. Here I was again, with a beautiful hero and great hook and cool set-up—and no story.
One night, deep in a sweaty funk, I was clicking around on Facebook. I don’t post much there anymore, but I do look. I look at the lovely families and your clever jokes and your sharp observations. And I read the links. This one was posted by my friend, a particularly smart and talented friend, who linked to an article in a publication I admire but wouldn’t think to pick up except in a doctor’s waiting room. It was a crazy, twisty, fascinating story. It had scale, scope and resonance.
I pitched a story inspired by that one to my producers, studio and network. They agreed. They approved the story doc, then the outline, and yesterday, the network sent me to script. That script will include a character named after my friend. If pigs once again take flight and this thing actually gets made, I will thank that friend in person. But for now, thank you, all of you, for being my friends, and for sharing your crazy, twisty, fascinating stories.