A pilot episode is the first episode of a TV show that is used to sell the series to a network or streaming platform. The purpose of a pilot is to establish the world that we’re going to be living in for the next 100 episodes. It introduces the characters, setting, and main conflicts of the show, and to give a sense of the tone and style of the series. The success of a pilot can determine whether or not a show gets picked up for a full season.
Now, there are different types of pilot episodes. One type is a premise pilot.
What is a Premise Pilot?
A premise pilot is a type of pilot episode that shows how we got into the world of the TV show. The way that Michael Jamin explains it, imagine a TV show about a high spending, Silicon Valley douchebag who is living the life and then one day he wakes up and his company goes belly up. He loses all of his money and his friends want nothing to do with him. His girlfriend is gone and he can’t get another job due to his bad reputation.
Then, he does the one thing he swore he would never do: return home. So, the end of this first episode would be ding dong, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Episode 2 would then be him moving on by living in this small town, getting a regular job, learning humility, and meeting up with the girl he took to the prom all those years ago.
TV buyers, such as network executives or streaming platform executives, may not be as interested in premise pilots, because it’s so different from the rest of the series. Continuing with Jamin’s example, the premise takes place in the big city with all of the characters over there, but Episode 2 and beyond take place in the small town with all of the characters there. The contrast is huge, and it’s literally not the show.
Instead of doing the premise style, it may be best to go about the storyline by having the first act break of Episode 1 feature him ringing Mom and Dad’s doorbell. Yet, even that might be too late, because then all of Act 1 isn’t the show. So, you may need to move it up even further.
Ready to Write Your Pilot Episode?
Writing a pilot episode can be a challenging but rewarding task, and understanding the best way to craft your pilot can help writers create a strong and compelling first episode. To learn more about the process of writing a TV show and get insights and tips from a real Hollywood industry professional, consider signing up for Michael Jamin’s newsletter, The Watchlist. You can also check out his podcast “Screenwriters Need to Hear This” on your favorite podcast platform, like Spotify or Audible, or you can even watch the podcast on YouTube.