A year ago I didn't quite get English Dave's emphasis on the concept in your spec script. After all, you can create a strong story and characters from a low concept premise just as you can create weak stories and characters from a high concept idea.
However, I now realise that we're competing against other people who can do good dialogue, strong stories and vivid characters and it's the potential of the premise that will get both executives and ultimately the audience interested.
Even allowing for the disparities between the BBC and ITV in terms of funding and the amount of trailer time, the original Bonekickers got nearly twice as many people interested in watching its début than the familiar Harley Street managed. In the long run, hypothetically, Harley Street could retain all of its audience and Bonekickers could keep losing one and a half million viewers each week but the important thing is getting the audience watching in the first place to sample the show and keep them watching beyond the first ten minutes.
I love pilots and I've seen almost every pilot broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic in the past few years. Even if I wasn't writing as a hobby I probably would still be watching them and reading the scripts because it's fascinating to try and predict their success or failure.
For those of us who have doubts about their ability to write a pilot for the Red Planet Prize let me stress just how completely rubbish a lot of those pilots were and yet they made it to air. I've also seen a lot of non-broadcast pilots and I can't believe the millions of money wasted on such obviously flawed scripts.
While there are pilots that are just badly written, that's actually quite rare. What is more common is that the show has a flawed concept. Either it's too derivative of another show or it hasn't got the long-running potential or the story/characters are under-developed or not interesting enough. One early cancelled show had a great concept and characters but the creator/showrunner couldn't break stories to save their life.
When we come up with a good concept then it's useful to try and think of episode stories for the rest of the series and even for the next season. The idea might work well for a pilot or even a few episodes but we're got to look beyond that to 6 or 13 episodes and then another 6 or 13 the following year. While you haven't got to have it planned out to to the minute, should a producer ask us what happens in series 2, we should be able to answer confidently instead of trying to make something up on the spot. And "whatever you want to happen, sir" isn't an answer.
Although you can interpret all that as "If experienced writers fail so often then I'm bound to fail", instead I think we can look at it as "if experienced writers fail so often then there's plenty of opportunities for new writers to get a break."
We're not writing shooting scripts and it hasn't got to be absolutely perfect, that's what development is for. The only thing we need to do is try in the first place and make it the best we can.
"The industry is full of people who'll go for a mechanism before they'll go with instinct. You just have to write with honesty. Emotional truth is the most powerful thing you've got." Paul Abbott
"What has to happen? For me, I have to find myself in the writing. I have to fall in love with my story. I have to share a common emotion with my characters. I become intimate with what I’m trying to say, and my story becomes honest." Gordy Hoffman
"Finding a concept or precinct that will offer enough stories to maintain 6 or 8 parts, and that can return, is a real challenge. It's about creating a world that people really want to visit, creating characters they can care about, and that's tough to achieve." Sophie Gardiner
"Besides, the Red Planet prize, as fun and important as it is, is only one target. Realistically, I have to be prepared that only the first ten pages will get read. But I will have a pilot and series breakdown to continue working on and refining. So everyone's a winner. Hooray and - if I might be so bold - marvellous!" Stuart Perry
I shall be posting the cold open or teaser of some dramas over the next few weeks - if I'm not made to cease and desist.
9 hours ago