What makes a good TV series?

Tue 1 Dec 2020

The entertainment industry is a tough business to break into, but the good news is that television executives are always looking for fresh new ideas. If you have an idea for a script, make sure it includes these crucial elements before you pitch it to a network.

Strong character development

Memorable characters are the core of good television shows and the reason people tune in week after week. They drive the plot of each episode and unlike films, which have a limited space in which to show character development, a good television series enables them to develop and progress (think of Walter White’s transition from suburban dad to drug king pin throughout Breaking Bad or Meredith Grey’s progress from shy intern to well-respected doctor in Grey’s Anatomy). Make sure you include between 2-5 main characters in your pitch that are well rounded, with weaknesses, strengths, and struggles that the target audience will be able to identify with.

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Original plot

Given the vast number of scripts that are pitched on a daily basis it’s difficult to produce completely unique content that’s never been done before, but that’s not always a bad thing. Executives are often more comfortable greenlighting a proven concept that they are confident will be successful. However, your plot should be different enough from anything that’s currently televised so it can stand on its own. The best plots combine strong writing with original ideas and have a very good understanding of what drives and motivates characters.  

Conventional structure

If you’ve listened to a friend or colleague tell a rambling story with no coherent beginning, middle, or end, you already understand the importance of structure. Television sitcoms and dramas unfold in four or five acts: they introduce a conflict to hook the viewer and set the stage for the plot, build tension in the middle of the episode, and resolve the conflict at the end of the episode. Reading as many scripts as possible from the genre you want to write or emulate is the best way to learn how to write for television effectively – you can download them from websites such as SimplyScripts.

Solid working plan

You may have a great idea for a television show, but have you worked out the overarching plan for your entire series? What happens to the main characters two or three seasons in? Before you pitch your idea, make sure you know your characters and their world inside out. Develop a comprehensive 3-10-page treatment that includes:

  • Title – This should be dynamic and catchy to help you sell your idea.
  • Logline – An enticing one or two-sentence summary of your show that describes the main plot and/or character.
  • Synopsis – Three engaging paragraphs that outline your idea in more depth (include details such as the setting, overarching plot, and episode arc).
  • Characters – Brief descriptive outlines for each of the main characters (focus on motivations rather than physical appearances).
  • Episode arcs – Provide a storyline summary of 3-4 episodes to give an insight into how each episode will play out and how the series will develop.

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