Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Writing The Pilot by William Rabkin (moon&sun&whiskey Incorporated, paperback and kindle version)

If you've ever considered writing a TV pilot, get this book.

If you're an executive or development person who want to be able to communicate in a sensible and effective way with writers developing a pilot for you, get this book.

If you've written TV pilots and want to make sure your next pilot contains all the essential elements for a succesful run, or you want to find out more about the potential pitfalls of some ostensibly powerful high concept ideas, get this book.

And if you just want to find out more about what makes TV pilots tick -- well, you know the drill by now.

William Rabkin, writer/producer of over 300 hours of television (including Diagnosis Murder, Monk and Psych) has written the definiive tract on television pilots.

You will learn what the most important elements of a good pilot are (some you will beforehand, some may surprise you), and how it differs from a feature script or from an 'ordinary' episode. What may surprise many, is that certain extremely cool and powerful high concept pilots, which may be very rewarding on their own terms, are actually fundamentally and fatally flawed when it comes to building an entire series off them - especially in the American, 22 episodes/year network environment. Rabkin proves this quite convincingly by analysing and dissecting the concepts behind Life On Mars (American version, which failed miserably) and Flashforward. This section of the book is an eye-opener both for writers and for execs, because a strong high concept can 'blind' the audience to the flaws or weaknesses which will become clearer as the series progresses. I, for one, am pretty apprehensive about Awake, which has a universally praised pilot epispode, but a high concept at its core which makes it hard to predict which way they're going to take the series over (hopefully) many, many episodes.

The strength of the essential building blocks of the pilot is also one of the deciding factors in whether a show keeps going from strength to strength (The Shield was as good in season 7 as it had ever been and the series could easily have continued for a couple of seasons more), whereas others visibly dwindle in quality, though not necessarily in popularity (Nip/Tuck, for instance).

Rabkin also provides an in-depth look at the creation process of two pilots he developed with Lee Goldberg (both of which were ultimately passed on), as well as instruction on how to craft the script for the pilot, and what to do with your spec pilot once you've finished it. Because although the situation has changed since the early 2000's, when spec pilots were a waste of paper, it's still a fact that the doors of Hollywood will remain closed to outsiders who come bearing gifts (i.e. a pilot + bible) unless they can somehow prove it will be a worthwhile and relatively safe investment. Rabkin suggests a strategy to gain access - it's difficult and time-consuming, and not everyone will be able to implement it, but if you do, the rewards can be enormous.

You can get the paperback here:

and the Kindle option is right here:

1 comment:

David LeVack said...

After watching green lantern today to see what beats it missed or hit poorly, then reading your apt review on how it sputtered, I grabbed this book on Kindle from your recommendation. Its topical, on point and fantastic. Its earned its place on my shelf next to the Blake Snyder books. Keep the suggestions coming!