Otherwise skip the pilot’s dependence on set-up and exposition, and (please!) skip the voice-over narration, in which the character tells you his or her life story up to now. This has to be the laziest way to write a TV script yet shows up in a few too many shows this fall. (Even when a pilot is charming, like “The Mindy Project,” it reveals its insecurities when the lead character starts in with the voice-over.) Often what’s most clear from a pilot is that the people who made the show don’t trust you to figure out what they’re trying to do. Everything is overstated. The jokes are driven too hard. The premises are flattened until they are far too broad. The characters come in explaining who they are and what motivates them. The drama is overcooked and supplied with its blandly meaningful rock ballad. There may as well be a text crawl across the bottom of the screen, containing the many, many notes from an unseen army of producers: Does her name have to be Cassandra? How about we call her Alex? Should the neighbor be black? Should there be more sexual tension between the leads? Can you change this line? Can you change that one? We need to recast the little girl.
Be a brave pilot. Begin your story with the delusion that there will be 100 more episodes and a safe landing in syndication. Begin with the delusion that you’re the head of HBO or AMC. Begin with the delusion that television is once again in a glorious age, that it is the only entertainment medium worth talking about (still, in 2012) and that America is watching raptly. Take flight without calling so much attention to your fancy wings. Assume you are soaring right up until you hear the splat.
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