The Helpful Reviewer

Original Pilot Scripts

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Writing spec scripts for existing TV shows used to be the one and only way to get noticed as an aspiring TV writer. But nowadays, it’s become more common and desired to have an original pilot script under your belt. Writing an original pilot script is the best way to show your unique voice as a writer and that you can come up with an original world, interesting characters, overall story, and kick-ass idea we haven’t seen on TV before. So if you’re looking to write for TV, this is your best bet. That said, don’t expect for your pilot to be bought right away and for you to become a showrunner overnight. Most likely, an amazing spec pilot will get you hired as a staff writer and from that, as you build your career and your credits, you’ll get to a point where you can pitch an original show. But don’t be discouraged by this—your writing style will only improve, which means your show will benefit from rewrites you can do with that experience, and your understanding of the inner-workings of a TV show will grow, making you more likely to land that coveted showrunner gig one day.

But to even dream of getting there, you first need to write a killer sample spec pilot. For that:

  • First of all, you need an interesting world we haven’t seen before on TV, or a unique character we haven’t seen before, or a completely original take on a story we’ve been seen before.
  • You also need a mind-blowing cold opening. Readers focus on those first three pages, and you need to draw your audience in right away. Make them want to keep turning the pages of your script.
  • You also need a great protagonist that has real-life flaws and makes us connect with him. But don’t forget about the supporting cast—it’s just as important as your lead, and will enrich your story, letting you take some risks with them that are harder to take with your protagonist. Whether it’s the main or the secondary characters, write roles that actors will kill to play. Nowadays, shows get greenlit because of cast. And attracting great talent can make or break your show.
  • Focus on Act outs and make your audience want to come back after commercial breaks.
  • Write a pilot ending that has a great twist and makes audiences crave to watch episode #2.
  • Make sure your story has legs and that you can write multiple episodes for seasons to come, and that you won’t just be coming up with absurd ways to extend your story or be forced to explain plot holes.

Cody Smart

Cody Smart


Cody is an independent writer and script doctor from Santiago, Chile. She attended the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, where she double majored in English Literature and Linguistics, with a minor in Dramatic Literature. She moved to L.A. and got her MFA in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios location, while at the same time working at Sony Pictures as a reader and story analyst. She also received two Certificates from UCLA, in Development and Producing for Film and TV.

Aside from her years of experience as a studio reader, she’s a judge for multiple script and film competitions, has written some award-winning short films and feature film scripts, she’s been working as a script analyst and doctor for years helping writers take their scripts to the next level, and is currently the head of the coverage department at Story Data.