What makes a good sci-fi pilot?

Any fan of genre television probably has a mental list of dos and don’ts when it comes to pilots. With so many entries into the sci-fi category in the past few years, we’ve seen them all. You probably have your own. These are a few of my “dos.”

firefly-pilot-episode

Mal Reynolds. Awesome. Not crazy.

1. Don’t overdo it on the exposition.

Nothing kills a pilot like heavy exposition, but there’s a little room for forgiveness with science fiction or supernatural settings. There’s simply more that needs explaining. Still, a long voice-over that tells us a bunch of information that we’re going to learn anyway, more organically, is a waste of time. The single episode of Delirium is the best recent example of this. In addition to boring the audience, the opening VO revealed a character much more mature and aware than the one who belonged to the voice. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Orphan Black pilot, which left us saying “WTF”? In a good way. Continue reading

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A Quick Update

Cincinnati-fountain-squareJust in case anyone’s paying attention, I wanted to post a quick explanation for where I’ve been lately. I have every intention of watching lots more pilots and blogging the crap out of them.

However, I’ve recently lost a family member, moved across the country, started a new job, and become a homeowner. It’s a lot. It’s kind of like Hot in Cleveland meets Mary Tyler Moore meets WKRP in Cincinnati and a little touch of Suburgatory. Except I’m married and all these shows are about single people. Hey, that gives me an idea for a new show.

Check back — I promise I’ll write something interesting.

Five Ways to Ruin Your Pilot

I’ve been trying to think of a good reason to write a post on this topic for a long time. The Mindy Project is as good a reason as any.

The Mindy Project has everything going for it, with Mindy Kaling having amused us for years as both an actress and writer on The Office. She plays a doctor; we haven’t had a good doctor comedy since Scrubs. As much as I hate the term “adorkable,” she is that, a point not unnoticed by executives who scheduled her show back-to-back with New Girl. She’s got B.J. Novak on board as a producer and a director (Charles McDougall) with The Office and Parks and Recreation cred.

The pilot was released a month early, along with those of some other Fox shows, on Hulu. Some people like it. I do not. Here’s why. It commits a number of sins that are sure to damn a pilot straight to hell. Continue reading

Can you tell from the pilot?

Can you tell if a TV show is going to be any good based on its pilot? io9’s Charlie Jane Anders recently posted How to Tell from a Pilot if a TV Show is Going to be Any Good and offered some insightful tips on how to tell. She makes some great points, like how writing oneself into a hole or having a boring “thing of the week” is a recipe for failure. But quite simply, the answer to the question above is “no.” Continue reading

Arrow and Revolution

It’s official. Bows and arrows are the hottest accessory for fall. I don’t know if Darryl from The Walking Dead started it, or if we can credit Katniss Everdeen, but two of the fall pilots screened at Comic-Con last night heavily featured this handy but rustic weapon.

Continue reading

Best Deaths in Pilots

Inspired by i09’s Death Week* and more specifically, their re-posting of Charlie Jane Anders‘  Ten Coolest Death Scenes in Science Fiction History, I got to thinking about how many characters bite the big one in pilots. Death often marks a beginning — often for the survivor learning to carry on, but sometimes even for the dead getting on with the afterlife. So, going to the great DVR in the sky makes a good event for a first episode. Here are some of my favs, in no particular order.

Major spoilers after the jump.

*Conveniently the week that saw the death of science fiction icon Ray Bradbury. Coincidence? io9’s tagline is “We come from the future.” Continue reading

Family Guy: Back to the Pilot

If, like me, you have given up on Family Guy, you probably didn’t bother to watch the Nov. 20 episode. The show has become really repetitive and juvenile. They even managed to F up Star Wars–their Return of the Jedi episode, “It’s a Trap,” was terrible. Here is a good article from 2009 about the show’s decline. Continue reading

Point of Attack, or Where to Start your Pilot

Jack Bauer, 24Anyone sitting down to write a story, whether it’s for television or any other medium, has to decide where to start. It seems like a simple question. You start at the beginning.

A protagonist’s story arguably starts from the moment of his or her birth, or earlier. So for purposes of this discussion we’ll call the beginning the “inciting incident” that kicks off the action of the story at hand. The inciting incident can happen before or after the camera begins to roll, however, giving the writer choices to make about Point of Attack. Continue reading

Will It Fly?

Source CodeWhen I first heard that the movie Source Code, which I haven’t seen but which looks pretty cool, is being developed for TV, my instinctive first question was, “What network?” (The answer is CBS.) Because, with sci-fi and genre TV, the network is everything. It will largely determine how the material will be handled and whether it will succeed. Continue reading

Pilot-y Tidbits from Comic-Con

H+

This new web series, produced by Bryan Singer, was teased to minimal fanfare–actually, lumped together in a panel with Mortal Combat: Legacy–but it looks highly promising. The premise is that a good chunk of the world’s population has been tied into some futuristic version of the internet, where information is downloaded straight to your brain. Due to a glitch, a third of those people have dropped dead. Those remaining are left to figure out what the frak happened. Here’s a trailer.

What sounds cool about this series is, you will be able to view the episodes (48 total) in the order of your choosing, organizing them by character, chronologically, or geographically. This approach capitalizes on the uniqueness of the medium, rather than just creating a show as one would for television and throwing it up on the web.

Effin With Tonight

This animated series created by former Tonight Show writer Jim Shaughnessy is set to launch on the web at Crackle.com. They screened a clip and it looks pretty damn funny. It stars Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Family Guy, Venture Bros., etc., etc., etc. This guy is in everything.) as well as Joe Cipriano (the voice of Animation Domination). It’s basically an animated late night talk show that parodies everything that Shaughnessy despised about his old gig. And, in the panel, he made no bones about how much he hated it. They’re hoping to take it to a network, but I can see it being about as successful as the equally irreverent and highly underrated Sit Down, Shut Up.

Writing for TV

This was just a random tidbit I picked up in a panel on writing genre TV. It used to be you needed to write spec scripts of existing shows to break into writing. Now, according to the panelists, there is more demand for scribes who have written their own pilots. Still no solid advice on how the hell you get that script into the hands of anyone who gives a damn, but one writer had an interesting story about how she wooed Joss Whedon.

Archer

This was not a pilot, but the first of three-part story arc that will run this September. It was too awesome not to mention. This mini-story takes our hero, “Duchess,” out of his usual surroundings at ISIS and places him on the high seas, and introduces a new character, played by–you guessed it–Patrick Warburton. There are pirates. ‘Nuff said.

Partial or complete pilots of a number of other shows were screened during the Con, including Terra Nova, Alcatraz, Person of Interest, The Secret Circle and Locke & Key. Reviews and opinions abound so I won’t rehash. But the fall season is looking up.