The Helpful Reviewer

WRITING FOR TV – Premise Pilots

Monday, November 4, 2019

We’re currently in the golden age of television. There’s so much rich content, so many opportunities for writers, and so much that can be explored on television, that more and more writers are making the transition from writing features to writing TV pilots. And that makes so much sense. TV is where you can let your story breathe. You can explore character over time. You can connect with audiences week after week, creating rich storylines that evolve over time. Thus, we’ll be starting a series of blog posts talking about the fundamentals of writing for TV. First up—Premise pilots.

When writing a pilot episode, what you need to remember is that you need to show readers what a normal episode would look like. They want to know what to expect week after week. That’s what makes audiences connect with a TV show—they know what they’re coming back for every week. One of the most common mistakes writers make is writing a premise pilot: a pilot that tells mostly backstory, and only at the very end, the show really kicks off. Thus, it’s only on episode two that we’ll see how the story really develops, and what the week to week will be like. However, nobody will read episode 2 if they’re not hooked by episode 1. That’s the one chance you get. So you need to figure out a quick and powerful way to set up your show in the first Act, and then let it kick off, showing the reader what to expect, while also exploring your main character’s journey and goal, and giving us glimpses of the (hopefully unique) secondary characters, all of which will make us want to tune in and welcome a new show into our homes. Whether you’re writing an episodic or a serialized show, always remember to try and stay away from premise pilots—show us the show you envision right away. Readers (and audiences) will thank you.

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.