10 Pilot Ideas No TV Exec Could Resist (Guest Column)

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Shonda Rhimes

Network and streaming gatekeepers all want the same things — a noisy premise and sex in the first five pages — so these pitches from a 'Newsroom' and 'Nashville' writers-room veteran can't possibly miss.

Although the TV Critics’ Association bi-annual press tour is in full swing, most working TV writers are actually already toiling away at their pitches for the next development season, just in case some of this year’s crop falters.

If you work in the business long enough, you discern the reasons why certain pilots make it through the phalanx of gatekeepers — agents, managers, studios and networks — who are looking for certain key phrases in your pitch. So why not accelerate the process by building those phrases into titles, and simply work out the subject matter accordingly. The loglines practically write themselves. Here then, are 10 pilots guaranteed to sell.

Underlying Property: A real estate battle turns ugly when an old Indian Burial ground in Williamsburg proves to be doubly rich after contractors strike oil.

Sex in the First Five Pages: A battle royale amongst recent college grads hired as NBC pages, who find out that only the top five in performance review will allowed to break the celibacy clause.

The Hero Is A Serial Killer: A Mom-and-Pop sandwich shop must go rogue after a shipment of roast beef is linked to an outbreak of e.coli.

Noisy Premise: College science students take turns shouting down each other with theorems, sometimes using percussion instruments or even, in a thrilling mid-season cliffhanger, explosives.

A Shonda Production: Yiddish theater troupe decides to stage a musical about the diaspora, unwittingly promoting interfaith marriage for generations to come.

Existing Franchise: A new entrepreneur comes to town and slowly buys up every fast-food and chain store, aiming to put mom-and-pop stores back in business.

Amazing Auspices: A bird-watching group is able to predict the future by tracking the flights and feeding patterns of a flock of vultures.

Clooney Is Interested: Half-hour follows mild-mannered barista Arnold Clooney as he chats up his customers and extracts the compelling sagas of their lives.

A Dystopian Future: The rapper Future is embedded with a microchip that removes his humanity, but his adoring fans follow him anyway.

Movie-Based: A group of twenty-somethings living in their parents’ houses discover a cache of old 35mm prints and accidentally set them on fire, discovering that the resulting concoction has hallucinogenic properties, and create a whole new mode of freebasing, leading them to wacky adventures.

David Handelman has written on seven dramas, one sitcom, six unproduced pilots (two that sold), two daytime shows, six CNN news programs and a webisode series.

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