Vampire Weekend by Alex John Beck
Time Stacks by Matt Molloy
A lot of times when people talk to me about the pilot they want to write, they’ll say that they want to build a world as rich and deep in characters as The Simpsons.
All shows should be so rich. It’s an admirable goal. And completely insane for the pilot.
The pilot has to give us as much as it can about the main characters of the world. To have enough room to do that well, the pilot will probably have to sacrifice a lot of world-building that isn’t absolutely necessary, and even sacrifice a lot of the side stories you’d see in later episodes.
We need a pilot to be, in essence, a simple, straightforward character delivery mechanism.
Let’s examine Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, the pilot episode of The Simpsons.
A story: Homer and Marge face difficulties buying family Christmas presents.
B story: There really isn’t one. If anything it’s Homer’s sisters-in-law come over and are jerks to him, but it’s just barely a B story.
That’s it though. Very simple. And within that A story, we learn that Marge manages the family and takes care of the household and does the planning. We learn that Bart is impulsive and mischievous but also has a good heart. We learn that Homer will do anything for his family but often finds himself coming up short.
Through the side-action and the “B” story, we get a sense of Lisa’s smarts and precociousness, but even her character development got sacrificed to an extent to give us Homer, Marge and Bart.
In terms of characters, here’s who we get:
- The core Simpson family (though nothing about Maggie apart from her being present)
- Grampa (mention-only)
- Skinner (with no character game and 3 basic “principal” lines)
- Dewey Largo (the music teacher who doesn’t get a name and has just one throwaway line that could have gone to Skinner)
- Ned Flanders (we do get a sense of the one-sided neighbor rivalry)
- Todd Flanders (no name, no characteristics we’ve come to think of when we think of Todd, and no Rod by his side)
- Mr. Burns (enough to get a sense of him as a Scrooge type)
- Smithers (no name, VO only)
- Moe (just a regular bartender)
- Milhouse (again, without any of the character games we’ve come to know as Milhouse).
That’s all. You see glimpses of some characters in the background that would become characters later (Lewis Clark and Wendell Borton), and we see a character who clearly evolved into Ralph Wiggum but definitely is not currently Ralph Wiggum.
Here’s who we don’t see:
- Edna Krabapple or Elizabeth Hoover
- Drs. Hibbert or Nick Riviera (they go to a doctor that isn’t one of them which would be unheard of later)
- Lenny and Carl (not even a glimpse at the power plant)
- Any of Moe’s regulars
- Maude or Rod Flanders
- Sherri and Terri
- Krusty (or Itchy or Scratchy)
And that’s just some of the primary recurring characters that, if we saw an episode now where none of them played a part, it would be crazy time.
Then you have all the characters that really fill out the world and make Springfield seem so rich and colorful, like Crazy Cat Lady, Bumblebee Man, Kent Brockman, Snake, Chief Wiggum, Super Nintendo Chalmers… the list goes on.
If you look at the list of who shows up in the episode, it really represents almost the bare minimum of characters. We get the main family first and foremost. Then we get just the tiniest of tastes of the neighbor, Homer’s workplace, Homer’s bar, Bart’s friend, and the school. That’s it. It covers all the important places that are part of these characters’ lives. It’s super efficient.
A rich sitcom world is built over time by necessity. For your pilot, focus on giving us all we need about your main characters. There’s nothing wrong with having a big world in mind, but don’t sacrifice telling us everything we need to know about your main characters just to do world-building.
BRING ME SCHRÖDINGER’S HEAD
TID appreciation week → day one
↳favorite character: Theresa “Tessa" Gray
"We live and breathe words. It was books that kept me from taking my own life after I thought I could never love anyone, never be loved again. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them."
in a healthy, close relationship of any kind, when something upsets you, you need to bring it up. as soon as possible, even. cultivate an environment in which you both can talk about things that upset you, with the utmost attention to everyone’s feelings. it’s a really simple thing to do but it’s a thing i’ve been working on for a while and i’m getting actual nice things happening as a result