We all know that a good pilot script is important to set up a series…
But what about a pilot series as a basis for an ongoing show?
Fact is, if you want your show to run longer than one season, you need to create not only a compelling story and characters that can sustain a series but ones that can lead into more stories.
This is something we can’t be too general about; the world itself, or a good recurring format, won’t be enough on its own. Characters and situations need to engage the audience, and questions can be posed but also built up to.
A series will have an arc, and that means we need some conclusion; however, we do need for the conclusion to leave us wondering, and wanting more. A good example of this was a show I watched recently on Netflix, called The 3%.
The 3% is a Brazilian dystopian thriller. Episode one launches us straight into the world and an important event: in the poverty-stricken dwellings, people who have turned 20 have the one-off chance to undergo tests in order to win a place on “the offshore” – a luxurious place that only admits 3% a year.
Before I watched the series, I assumed that the test process wouldn’t take up many episodes and that we’d join the 3% on the offshore and experience how they view it and challenges they come across living there and being separated from their old life. I was wrong: the entire first series is just the process!
Sounds boring and drawn-out, right? Wrong! It works, because we get to know a particular group of participants really well; their reasons for being there and what makes them tick. We watch the tension-filled tests which are more often than not social experiments without limits, and we also see into the world of the “elite” that run the tests and the personal problems they face.
PROTAGS NEEDN’T BE PERFECT
We do have some focus characters: a rebel recruit and the process leader (both of whom are not perfect or always likable) and through their personal challenges we come to root for each of them to succeed; which becomes extremely interesting when they are pitted against one another.
HAVE A TWIST
The series builds up to the final 3% selection and, having witnessed the motivations of each of the characters and the bonds they have formed, results in a surprising end to the process; not least on account of the twist…
ALLOW THE AUDIENCE SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE
Despite each character having a result as to their fate, we are still left with frustrations regarding the separation of some characters, the sacrifices of others, and above all we are left eager to find out how the characters deal with their new situations; especially once the lesser-informed ones realise what’s really gone on.
CREATE A BALANCE
Creating a balance like this: our strong investment in the characters and their journeys, while there’s still strong remaining questions to lure viewers back for a second season, is really effective.
NEEDN’T END ON A CLIFFHANGER
To sum up: a pilot series doesn’t necessarily need to speed its way into its world (slow-burning transition for Breaking Bad’s Walter White comes to mind here too) and a pilot series needn’t end on a cliffhanger, either (though interesting twists and/or revelations can have an equally alluring lingering effect on the audience).
IT’S ALL ABOUT A BURNING DESIRE FOR MORE; AND ANSWERS
The ending of the first season of The 3% felt conclusive like a chapter closing, but the tension felt throughout the process; as well as the audience knowing what they know while some of the characters do not, as well as the twist that creates more burning questions about the “world” the characters were fighting to be a part of, creates a burning desire for more.
Well worth a watch!