The Ultimate Pilot Checklist: Black-ish

Dre Johnson is an advertising executive, married to a doctor (Rainbow), living with four cute children (Ruby, Andre Jr, Jack and Diane) and his acerbic father (Pops). He’s expecting to be promoted to Senior Vice President, and gets it, but finds out that he’s only the SVP of the ‘urban’ division. Meanwhile, his son has gone out for field hockey instead of basketball and decides he wants a bar mitzvah. 

PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (14/20)             

The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?

Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?

Yes, it’s funny and edgy.

Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?

The tourist van driving by sort of does that: This will be a sociological study.

Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?

No.  It’s a familiar sitcom family.

Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?

He wants to be an exemplary black man, but the more exemplary he becomes the less black he feels.

Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?

It’s a very ABC show.

Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)

 The setting is pleasant.

Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?

Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?

Yes, Dre.

If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)

Well, Anderson had given up movies for TV a while before, but he had starred in some movies.

Is the show set in an unsafe space?

It’s made clear in the opening that they don’t feel entirely welcome in their neighborhood and he doesn’t feel very comfortable at work. 

Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?

No, everybody’s rich.  It’s a recurring gag that he wants his son to have poor friends, but that never pans out.

Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?

Not really.  Sitcom mini-dramas will have to be whipped up every week. 

Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?

Not really. 

Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?

Big in their own way: Have I lost touch with my culture and can I save my kids from the same fate?

Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?

Sure, little parenting goals and work difficulties.

The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?

Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?

Yes, it’s sort of a premise pilot, in that his growing dissatisfaction with his son and job reach a bit of a breaking point, and both are established at midpoint.

Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?

The family labeled “The Mythical and Majestic Black Family.”    

Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 

Not really.  It’s basically an update of “The Cosby Show” with a bit more discontent added in.   

Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?

Sort of with Junior wanting a bar mitzvah (that was showcased in the show’s ads), sort of with the Rodney King ad, but it’s generally a pretty gentle show.

Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?

Not really.

Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?

No.

PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (16/16)

Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?

Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)

 His wife looks like a mess in her sleep and he thinks funny stuff about her.  He imagines himself being gawked at by tourists.   Making the Rodney King ad is funny. 

Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?

Everybody knows that he’s going to be Senior Vice President. 

Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?

 He’s still feels like an angry working-class person on the inside.

Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?

”Keep it Real”, Succeed on his own terms, “I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black.”

Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?

His job’s metaphor family is clashing with his background.  Ironically at his job, part of his job is to tell them how a black man would talk.  He insists that a black man wouldn’t talk differently (and gets insulted when they start calling him black-sounding nicknames), but on the other hand, he gets offended when his kids say they don’t see color.  To a certain extent, this whole show is about a clash of metaphor families (aka code-switching)

Does the hero have a default personality trait?

Cocky but frustrated

Does the hero have a default argument tactic?

Absorb humiliations unflappably until he snaps.

Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?

Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?

He’s thin-skinned and oversensitive to slights, both at work at at home.

Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?

He’s only going to become more uncomfortable as he gets richer and his kids get nerdier.

Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?

Yes.

Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?

Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?

He sees problems others don’t see. 

Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?

Yes, he proves at the end that he’s good at creating advertising campaigns (“LA is Colorful”), and that he’s a pretty good father (throwing his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”)

Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?

His family has no black pride.  His coworkers are insensitive to race.

Is the hero curious?

 Sort of.  He persists with interrogating his son.

Is the hero generally resourceful?

 Sort of.

Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?

 Sort of.

PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (10/13)

Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?

If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)

Yes, Tracee Ellis Ross is a TV star and Lawrence Fishburne is a movie star.

Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)

The entire cast is strong.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?

 Both his wife and his mother make good points, from very different points of view. 

Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?

Yes, we get little glimpses of each character’s backstory, but they’re more defined by their current roles.

Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)

Very much so. 

Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)

No, his boss is not a main character yet, but will become one.

Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?

Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?

No.

Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?

NA

Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?

Dre: Gut, Junior: Heart, Rainbow: Head, Pops: Spleen, to a certain extent.  The other kids aren’t clear yet.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?

Junior: the white version of black (he calls his field hockey team the Field-Mob), Rainbow: Upper class doctor (“Breaking down barriers is equally important to money, but just so I’m clear, there is a salary increase, right?”), Pops: Working class (“…before you start in with all that mess.”)

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?

Junior: Nerdy, Rainbow: Placid, Pops: Sour and bemused

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 

Junior: Predict objections and prepare elaborate defenses, Rainbow: Hold her tongue, then call you aside, Pops: Mutter snipes, then pretend he said nothing.

Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?

Pops

PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                   

Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series

Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?

Yes, 21 minutes

If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?

Yes, 3

If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?

1st: Finds out that he’s on the “urban” vice president. 2nd: He gives a too-black presentation and his job is clearly in danger.  3rd: “Be damned if I’m calling him Andy, though.”

Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?

One day will be common.

Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?

Yes.

If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?

Yes.

Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?

Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?

Yes.

Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?

Yes.

Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?

Yes, he gets the promotion he wants but he doesn’t want to just be the “urban” vide-president.

First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?

Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?

Get his promotion and move his seat to the senior management side of the table. 

Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?

He finds out he’ll be the “urban” SVP.  He finds out his son wants to play field hockey instead of basketball.   

Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?

Yes, in the second half

Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?

His boss and co-workers behave in an inappropriate manner towards him.

Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?

He just complains to his family.  

Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?

His son wants a bar mitzvah.  He decides he’s not integrated enough at work but his family wants to integrate too much. “I may have to be urban at work, but I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black!”

Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?

Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?

He decides to give his bosses a very black ad campaign and give his son an African coming of age ritual. 

By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?

Yes.

Are the stakes increased as the pace quickens and the motivation escalates?

He’s almost fired.

Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?

His son and father mock the African ritual.  Rainbow has found out about work and she’s had enough.

After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?

His pops set him straight and he says “Whatever you do, make sure it’s right for who you are.”

Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?

Yes: He decides to do an ad campaign his boss will like and throw his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”

After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?

Yes: His new “L.A. is Colorful” ad campaign is very different, and he thinks as he presents it: “‘Urban’ can mean hip, cool and colorful, just like my family.  Taking a cue from my son, I decided to get my foot in the door and really make some noise.  Funny thing is, I didn’t feel urban.  I just felt like a dad who was willing to do whatever he had to for his family, and isn’t that the American Dream?”

PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (21/22) The scene where his son asks for a bar mitzvah and Dre calls a family meeting

The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?

Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?

Just a little.  He’s been increasing pissed about his family’s lack of blackness.  He’s just endured another humiliation at work and we’re right to be worried that he’ll take it out on his family.  

Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?

No, it begins at the beginning.

Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?

It’s the kitchen/dining room, so they’re fairly active.

Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?

The mom’s cooking is being interrupted.

Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?

Lots of plot elements are colliding.  Junior’s friend Zach is a distracting irritant.

Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?

The kids have made it clear they have other places to be.  

The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?

Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?

Yes.

Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?

Dre’s having a meltdown and upsetting everyone else “Daddy’s scaring me!”

Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?

We sort of agree with him and sort of with Rainbow. 

Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?

Very much so.  Very different ideas about how to be black in America.

Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?

Surface: Can Junior have a bar mitzvah? Can the twins have a playdate? Suppressed: How black should we be?

Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?

Dre calls it out.

Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?

Not for long.

Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?

Pops is subtly egging Dre on. (“But when I say it, I’m wrong.”)  Junior tries to convince his dad to go along with the bar mitzvah by saying “You won’t have to worry about anybody calling me ‘Andy’ anymore, because when I convert, I’ll have a Hebrew name!” 

Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?

He kisses Rainbow, Rainbow hugs Junior, Junior high-fives Zach

Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?

The mom hands out food, Zach takes a grape soda without permission, which symbolizes taking their son from them (and grape soda has previously been associated with ghettoization).  Diane squeezes a squeaky toy to feel safe.

The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?

As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?

”If she thinks I’m finished with keeping it real, well I’m just getting started.”  Dre gets pushed to the edge over the course of the scene.

Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?

The family gathers to commune but ends up upset and alienated from each other.

Are previously-asked questions answered?

Will Junior make the team?

Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?

What does Dre now intend to do at work?

Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)

We have growing fear that Dre’s going to do something drastic at work and with his family.

Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?

”If Stevens and Lido really wants an ‘urban’ SVP, I’ll give them their urban SVP!”  Then we cut to his Rodney King-focused ad. 

PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (13/13)

Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?

Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?

Yes.

Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?

We’re not supposed to fully agree with his attitudes.

Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?

Yes.

Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?

Yes.

Do the characters interrupt each other often?

Yes.

Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?

Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?

Well, he worries he’s not as culturally specific as he used to be.

Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?

Yes.

Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?

Sort of.  We learn about the culture of an ad firm.

Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?

Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?

Yes.

Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?

Yes: “Big butts, R&B, and dancing: Those were the black man’s go-to’s!”

Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?

Yes.

Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?

Yes, even the doctor.

Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?

Yes, when Rainbow finds out he’s almost been fired.

PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (7/8)

Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?

Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?

Family sitcom. 

Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?

There are no unrealistic elements.

Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?

Hip, sarcastic.

If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?

The impression is that there will not be a spectrum of moods on the show.  Both stories are in the same register.

Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?

Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?

There’s a jaundiced voiceover.

Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 

Will he accept the position under the limited terms he’s offered?

Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?

There’s an increasing sense that something will go wrong at work.  They know we’ve seen TV shows and they set us up to expect that the reversal will be that he doesn’t get the promotion, only to be surprised when we get a different reversal (he gets it but it’s only for the ‘urban’ division.) ‘Urban’ has already been set up to a ridiculous term.

Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?

He accepts the job (it’s being etched on his window) as the credits roll.

PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)  

Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?

Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?

He and his pops have one philosophy (“Sometimes I feel that in order to make it, black folks have dropped a little bit of their culture”), while his wife and children have another (“Don’t you think that’s beautiful? They don’t see color!”)

Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or _ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)

All of the above, plus “Not that I want to go back to being the big, scary, black guy, but I have to admit, it did kind of have its advantages.”

Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?

Make money or be true to your working class roots. 

Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?

Put up with humiliations at work to make money, abandon your religion to have a party, etc.

Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?

 Very much so: He feels like he’s treated too black at work and his family is not black enough at home.

Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?

The meaning of grape soda, etc

Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?

Yes.

Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?

Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?

Well, like its ABC companion “Modern Family”, they’re unrealistically wealthy, so normal rules don’t really apply.

Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?

We become aware of little slights Dre can see from his unique perspective.

Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?

Yes, his first “urban” ad campaign has flashes of Rodney King, etc.

Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?

Yes.

Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?

Yes, he almost gets fired, etc.

Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?

Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?

No, it’s voiceover heavy and he sort of synthesizes it.

Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?

Yes.

Total Score: 116/128

 

 

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The Ultimate Pilot Story Checklist: Scandal

Olivia Pope runs a media-relations-focused law firm for scandal-plagued D.C. power players. In the pilot, new girl Quinn gets trained in by smooth operator Harrison and meets sarcastic Abby, lothario Stephen, and quiet Huck. The main story involves a medal of honor winner (Sully) who didn’t kill his girlfriend, but can’t prove it without admitting that he’s gay. In the other story, President Fitz Grant uses Olivia to silence a woman (Amanda Tanner) who claims to be his lover, but Olivia realizes that the woman is telling the truth, because Olivia also had an affair with Fitz and he used the same pet-name. Olivia decides to represent Amanda, setting up the season arc.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (20/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
Well, it’s pretty original (soap, lawyer, political thriller), but it satisfies the expectations of each of these.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
It’s a very original setting, so it doesn’t need a unique point of view.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
The relationships within the firm are pretty standard, but then we get a big new relationship: a black woman fixer pursued by a white guy Republican president! Nope, we’ve never seen that one before.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
Lawyers who never enter the courtroom.  A scandal fixer who can’t stop herself from creating the biggest scandal of all.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
Yes, it’s very ABC (which would soon be renamed “Shondaland”)
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
Yes, we see that they can use their powers for both good and evil, and they’ll try to stay on the side of good, though they’ll lie to themselves a lot about that.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
Just Olivia.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes. (Though Washington’s movie career wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I had been rooting for her since I saw Lift at Sundance.)
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
Yes, it’s made clear that you’re not allowed to date any one or not know anything, or cry long as you’re there.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Yes and no.  It will be almost entirely about rich people, but there will just enough poor people.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Literally.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Yes and no.  Mostly cerebral, just a little physical. 
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
Yes, we find this out at the end when she takes on the president.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
Yes, there will also be a case of the week every week.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
Yes.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
Sadly, it’s this: A powerful black woman fronting a TV show.  (And also later kissing the president, but I don’t remember if that was shown before it aired.)
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
Lots. 
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
Kissing the president.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
Lots, for many characters.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
The big revelation to the audience only: She had an affair with the president in the past. Escalation for future episodes: She takes on the president.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (15/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Oddball: She’s giving Stephen relationship advice while casually talking about how they’re about to confront Ukranian gangsters and break a deal with them.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
The ultimate fixer.  Everybody gasps when they hear her name.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She’s kind of a mess.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
She has many explicit rules: Don’t lie. No crying. I always trust my gut.  She breaks all three of those rules by the end, which lets us know that this will be a deeply hypocritical heroine, and yet we still like her, because we’re hypocrites.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Maternal: “Good boys!”  “Too much cleavage.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
All-business
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Flusters you, then drops overwhelming leverage.  And extreme eye contact.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
She’s addicted to power (romantically and otherwise) and she’s morally and legally slippery.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
Yes.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
Very much: she solves scandals but can’t keep herself from causing new ones.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his great flaw?
She great at wielding and manipulating power.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
Very, very much so.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Not really.  Most of her employees are sort of mini-versions of her, just less so.  (I suspect that this is why Henry Cusick bailed after the short first season: he wasn’t allowed to distinguish himself.)  In fact, her employees are actually better at following her rules than she is: Quinn actually can trust her gut.
Is the hero curious?
Yes and no.  She tries not to be about certain things, but she can’t resist.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Extremely.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
Yes, she has unique pull and unique relationships.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (12/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes and no: they got Cusick but lost him. Ultimately, Olivia’s team was downplayed and the presidential politics were played up, partially because they got better actors on that side.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
Well, not great but good. 
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Yes and no: they’re distinct but not defensible: They all vote down the case for different reasons, but they then fail to defend those points of view and instantly knuckle under. Only Quinn manages to change her mind about something.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Yes, we don’t get backstories yet, except a brief mention of Huck’s CIA past.  Their backstories will become much richer (and more ludicrous) later, but for now they’re defined by their actions and reactions to this case.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 Yes and no. Though they insist that they’re serving good, they all know deep down that they aren’t for much of the time.  It’s very impressive that they admit at the end that they don’t care who really did it because they’re just representing their client, but even there, they characters aren’t prioritizing their own wants.  It’s all about Olivia’s wants.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
Olivia and the president do, of course, and the other do when out in the field.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
Quinn
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
Yes, they keep shutting her out.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Vaguely:  Stephen and Abby =gut, Quinn and Huck= heart, Harrison and Olivia = head.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Stephen: adolescent boy, Abby: MSNBC, Quinn: teen
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Stephen: insecure/unsure, Abby: cold and quippy, Quinn: vulnerable, Huck: damaged, Harrison: swaggering, Fitz: sociopathic, Cyrus: fiercely loyal
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Abby: extortion, Quinn: breathless speeches, Harrison: looks for your tell, Fitz: false sincerity
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
Well, Olivia herself basically qualifies, but if we don’t count her…they try with Abby, but the actress doesn’t create enough sparks, so they put Cyrus in this role in future episodes (and Mellie, to a certain extent), and that worked better.
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
44 minutes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
Yes.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 1st act out: Bleeding soldier comes in. 2nd act out: “You tell the president of the United States to make time.” 3rd act out: Demolishes accuser. 4th act out: Suicide attempt.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
Yes, most episodes will take place within 24 hours, to get out ahead of the scandal.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
Sort of.  The mistress storyline should take place over a longer time frame than the murder storyline, but it’s just believable enough.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
It’s not a premise pilot, it’s pretty much “center-cut”
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
It has a complete stand-alone story.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Rhimes is very good at conflating character and plot.  It’s chock full of plot, but most of the plot twists connect either directly or thematically to Olivia’s inner turmoil, so it’s fine.  
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes, she’s conflicted about the possible guilt of both of her clients, though she pretends otherwise.  (And she’s uncomfortable about how the two cases reflect each other.)
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
Yes, get the baby back from the Ukrainians.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
Yes, the guy walks in the door.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
Yes, after a bit of debate.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
Not really unforeseen, but I’ll count it: the D.A. isn’t happy and Abby is disgusted by their client.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
Solider storyline: Try to prove his alibi, President storyline: Try to threaten her away.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
Soldier: (just a mild one) Gun matches his.  President: Accuser attempt suicide.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Soldier: Try new methods. President: Watch her full time.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
Yes, for both.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
Yes.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
Soldier: They find alibi proof, but it’s video of him kissing another man.  President: Olivia actually listens to the accuser.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
Soldier: They try to convince him to come out. President: Olivia confronts the president.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
Yes.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
Yes, soldier comes out. Olivia admits to herself that her feelings for the president have comprised her judgment and morality. Soldier refuses to name his lover, then he does.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (19/23) (After being humiliated by Olivia, the president’s accuser attempts suicide. Quinn waits in the hospital and then briefs Olivia.
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Before the commercial break, we saw Quinn’s discomfort before and then her horror at the news.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
Yes, they’re already talking.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Somewhat. They spying on someone at a hospital.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Olivia doesn’t intend to have the second half of the conversation, and Quinn has to call after her to detain her.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Not really.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Olivia told the rest of her team before she left, “I’ll be back!”
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
We suddenly suspect much more strongly that Olivia had an affair with the president, and we get to see another side of her.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Olivia’s composure finally cracks.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
Our rooting interest has always been uncertain
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Quinn wants to change Olivia’s mind.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: what do we do about this suicidal woman? Suppressed: What is our relationship? Are you a good person or not? What’s really going on with you? Can anyone trust their gut? Etc.  
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Talking about someone else and talking about herself: “People are crazy, they get fixated on famous people, they stalk them.”
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Olivia is both.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
No, it’s direct.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
No touching
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
No objects.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
First inform Olivia, then make the case for the accuser.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Olivia storms off to barge into the Oval Office.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Quinn pleading does no good, until she says the one thing that would change Olivia’s mind without realizing it.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
Did they really have an affair?  What was the message that the accuser wanted to send?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
What will Olivia do?  What really happened between her and the president.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
Very much so.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Implied question: Where’s she going.  Then we cut to the White House.
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (14/15)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Ultimately, yes.  At times, the show teeters on the brink of Sorkin-disease, in which all non-stars are weak strawmen who collapse in defeat when blow away by the heroes’ brilliance, but each of their opponents eventually gets his or her own.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Yes, it turns out that she has a big blind spot.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes.  They’re constantly lying to themselves about their feelings.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
Many things are said in code.
Do the characters listen poorly?
Very much so.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
Very much so.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
No.  Everybody speaks very clearly in Rhimes shows.  There’s no cultural specificity here.  Everyone is totally deracialized in the pilot, though that will change.  
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Yes.
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
Very much so.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes and no.  There are lots of long eloquent speeches, but Rhimes knows how to break up long thoughts into a series of short, rousing, rhythmic sentences that doesn’t sound convoluted.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Yes, the oval office scene.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (8/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
It’s an odd and somewhat uncomfortable mix of soap / lawyer show / political show, and eventually spy show, though that isn’t yet obvious in the pilot.  The show didn’t really take off until the second season when it become primarily a political thriller.
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
Yes, addiction to powerful bad boys becomes a black woman’s affair with a white Republican president.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Yes, surprisingly jauntry, for all the awful stuff going on.  After horrific scenes they’ll say “kicky” things like “I love my job!”
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
Yes: the stand-alone story is a straight-up heroic narrative about protecting an innocent man.  The serialized story is much more morally murky.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
Yes, when they face down the gangster: There is mortal danger involved. Shortly afterwards, when Sully looks guilty, we get moral danger as well.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
Shockingly no, though this would become common in later episodes and later Rhimes shows. We just dive right in.  (The director makes up for this by putting in literal framing devices throughout, framing almost every shot through glass or around corners, [literally] reflecting the theme of public vs. private)
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
Will he be arrested?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Yes, the subtly prepare us for the fact that we won’t ever find out who killed the girlfriend.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
The secret that Olivia had an affair with the president is set-up very skillfully throughout the episode and then pays off big-time
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
It’s answered a little early when he’s arrested (giving Olivia time to move on to the B plot), then she comes back and springs him after all in the final act.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (11/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
Very much so: they’re “gladiators in suits,” and they have contempt for how normal law firms are run. (Although we quickly realize that this is bullshit and they know it.)
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s stated statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
There’s a false one early on:  “We all get paid crap salaries because we’re the good guys.” and “Because that’s what you are when you work for Olivia: a gladiator in a suit.”  But when she arrives, they laugh: “Did Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?” Later, he comes clean: “the reason we're not a law firm is we don't have to play within the rules of the law. We're fixers, crisis managers. We make the problems of our client, big or small, go away. It's not about solving a crime. It's not about justice. It's about our client.”  Everything is slippery on this show.
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Public vs. private
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Constantly.  Pay a kidnapper to get your son back?  Protect your client by lying to the cops? Threaten an accuser if you think she’s lying?
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
Very much so.  Olivia realizes at the end that she is living a lie just like Sully, and she can talk him out of it but not herself.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
It’s everywhere. Unseen video surveillance plays in both storylines, etc.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Very much so.  This will be a “defense lawyer” show that won’t shy away from the intense moral dilemmas of the job.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
Yes and no.  In some ways, it’s very realistic (lawyers not going to court, protecting the 1% to ludicrous extremes, etc.) but there’s no shortage of “the world doesn’t work that way” howlers. For instance: the D.A. agrees to wait outside her door for 40 minutes while she tries to find new evidence! Rhimes’s respect for  how the world works fluctuates wildly.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
Yes. Many of the unique details about law and the halls of power ring true. 
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
Very much so: Gays in the military, cheating politicians, many more.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Yes and no.  The “issue of the week” will usually be presented in a complex and non-hypocritical way.  As for the firm, the show will hypocritically twist things so that their machinations wind up serving justice, allowing us to be shocked at their bad ethics while reassuring us that nothing really bad happens as a result.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Yes: the kidnappers get away,  the real murderer is uncaught, lives are destroyed.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
She synthesizes it, but she does it in the speech to Sully, so it’s sublimated and motivated, so that’s okay.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
Yes, Sully can come out, but she can’t without wrecking the country and her career. 
Total Score: 121/133
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The Ultimate TV Pilot Checklist: How I Met Your Mother


In the year 2030, an unseen narrator named Ted tells his teen kids about how he met their mother. Cut to 2005, where lovelorn architect Ted helps his happy roommate Marshall propose to snarky Lily, and vows to get married himself. He hits a singles bar with his caddish friend Barney, who flings him at Robin, a commitment-phobic newscaster. Ted gets a date with her, but ruins it by saying he loves her. With his friends’ help, he gets another chance with her at the end.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (18/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 Yes, it’s both funny and romantic.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 Very much so: Ted is telling his kids this story in the future.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Yes, a guy who wants commitment with a girl who doesn’t.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Yes, a romantic comedy in which the man wants marriage and the woman just wants sex.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 Like “Cheers” this is another rare example of successful re-branding, CBS wanted to break their mold and make an NBC-style sitcom, and they succeeded. So yes, but not the network it ended up at.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Yes, all the characters and their goals are very appealing in the pilot, even Barney: We don’t approve of his goals, but we approve of his dedication to his craft.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
 Ted
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 No: they had to cast a total unknown and he wound up being the weakest performer on the show.  This is probably because of the character’s weakness, which actors are notoriously reluctant to play.  A-list actors  refuse to play “the bitch role” and that very much describes Ted.  This is a shame, because it’s actually a well-written role, and a better actor (someone like Jake Johnson, of “The New Girl”), could have kicked this show up a notch.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 Somewhat, Ted now feels insecure both at home, because his roommate is engaged and he isn’t, and at the bar, because it’s a singles bar and he sucks at being single.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
 Yes: Ted’s best-friends include a corporate executive and a kindergarten teacher.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
 Somewhat: new women to hit on enter the bar constantly.  Barney will issue new “challenges” every week.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
 Not forced to, no, but they will choose to.  These characters run around town more than on any other three-camera show.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Yes, will we meet the mother?
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
 Somewhat, the show is nominally focused on one quest, but they can’t possibly break that quest down into enough mini-goals to fill 200+ episodes, so the nominal situation will have be ignored often.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
 Yes.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
 Yes, the blue French horn.  A guy peacocking in a suit in a crowd where a suit doesn’t belong.
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
 Yes, the opening titles saying that it’s 2030, the whole premise, the many jump cuts and flashbacks.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
 Sort of, when he says “I love you” on the first date, it was pretty startling, at the time, to see that kind of guy on TV.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
 Yes, will Ted ever get to kiss Robin?  Who will be the mother?  Is Marshall ready for marriage?
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
 Yes, we find out that Robin is not really the mom.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (11/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Somewhat.  We feel pity for him: he plans a proposal but it’s for someone else, his life plan could be called comically vain, I suppose.  We really love him when he hits on Robin by letter her throw her drink in his face to impress her friends.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Yes, the sad-sack single guy.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Not really, they read him like a book.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Yes, he has a whole list of rules about love that he recites.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Somewhat, based on his immature naiveté, he’s always making optimistic, elaborate plans that can’t possibly work.
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Yes, romantic.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Yes, appealing to abstract theories, then stubbornly insisting on them in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
 Yes, he’s naïve and needy.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 Hmm, he wants to abandon Barney’s world and join Marshall and Lily’s world, but the irony is that the only way to one seems to be through the other.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Ironically, yes: Ted’s romanticism represents a general reversal of gender expectations in singles bars.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 Yes, he’s forthright and romantic.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 It depends on how you define his primary role: he’s a successful architect, and he’s a good friend, but he’s a bad dater.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Not really, unless you define his most valuable quality as “moderation”: he forms the middle of a spectrum between commitment (Marshall and Lily) and commitment-phobia (Barney and Robin)
Is the hero curious?
 No, not really.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Somewhat.  He steals the horn.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Somewhat, he relies on his romantic instincts to steal the horn, but they quickly lead him wrong.  He’s pretty hapless.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (11/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes: three great TV vets signed up and would go on to dominate the show: Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal. (Four if you count Bob Saget as the narrator)
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
 The one remaining role, Robin, did not attract a very strong actress.  She’s good but not great.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
 Yes.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
 Yes, very much so.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 Yes.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
 Yes, none of them seem to have any bosses.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
 Yes: the kids in the future.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
 Yes, the kids are sort-of our POV characters and they’re certainly getting very slow answers to their questions.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
 The polarization is somewhat odd: Ted is head and heart, no gut, Marshall is heart, no gut or head, Lily is all three, Barney and Robin are crotch.  This would all shift around over the years.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Nor really, Barney clearly has one: frat, but the others are a little indistinct at this point, though they’ll clear up later. (Marshall: Minnesota / Lawyer, Robin: Canada, Lily: Hip hop, for some reason)
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Yes. Marshall: wimpy, Lily: take charge, Robin: snarky, Barney: alpha male
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Yes: Marshall: gives in, Lily: brooking no opposition, Robin: skepticism, Barney: Not listening
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
 Barney
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
 Yes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
 Hmm, there are only two here.  I suspect that they broke off the tag to form another one when it aired.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 Yes: 1st: he spots Robin and implies in the VO that she’s the mom, 2nd: Ted steals the horn.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
  It establishes that this show will jump around in time. 
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
 Yes, Marshall and Lily finally drink their champagne at the same time that Ted gets rejected.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
 Yes, he’s met Robin and they’re off.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
 Yes.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Somewhat.  The plot is fairly complicated.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Yes, he has to feign interest in casual sex when he’s really obsessed with getting married.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Ted wants to stage-manage Marshall’s proposal.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
 Ted realizes that he wants to get married too.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 At first he just lets Barney introduce him to two girls, but then he proactively tries again with one of them.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 The first one’s taken.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Barney tries again and introduces Ted to Robin, and things seem to go well.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
 He fails to get a kiss at the end of their date.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, he decides to surprise her at home with the French horn.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 Yes.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
 Yes, he ups the stakes by showing up at her door.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
 Yes, he accidentally says that he loves her.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Yes, he decides to stop pretending that he doesn’t want to get married.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
 Yes, he realizes that he no longer wants to be single and swears that he will soon find a wife.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (22/23)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 Yes, he’s told Barney that he has a complex plan, but then Barney tosses him in.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Yes, it cuts away to Marshall and Lily then back to Robin and Ted when the small talk is over.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes, they’re in a meat market.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Yes, she was just getting a drink and she’s supposed to be cheering up her friend.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Yes, her “monkey playing the ukulele” story, her friend getting dumped by Daniel.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Yes, her friends are waiting for her to return and glaring at her.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
 Very much so for both.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
 Ted begins to fall in love.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 Yes, we hope he’ll pick her up.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Yes, she wants to get back, he wants a date.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Not really, they’re pretty much one and the same.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 NA
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Yes, he doesn’t tell her how into her he is (yet).
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes, he ironically overcomes her resistance by inviting her to throw a drink in his face.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Yes, the exchange of the card and the drink.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Yes, her card, the drink.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
 It’s a small scene.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, she agrees to a date.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, he gets her number by getting a drink thrown in his face.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
 Yes, who’s that girl?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 Yes, how will it go?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, we have high hopes for the date.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, it goes to the end.
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (13/14)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Yes, very much so.  Five very different characters are well-drawn and hold their own.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Yes.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Yes, except for when Ted accidentally reveals his feelings too early, but that’s the exception that proves the rule.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Yes.
Do the characters listen poorly?
 Yes. Barney refuses to hear that he’s not Ted’s best friend, or really any objections to anything.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
 Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
 Not really, this is pretty clearly a show written by L.A.-based writers (true, they had recently re-located from New York, but there’s very little real New York syntax here.)
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Very much so: “Suit up!”
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 Very much so: “Have you met Ted?”  As Barney comes to take over the show, it will become a fascinating look at the mechanics of how lotharios ply their trade.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
 Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
 Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes. (although Ted will go on to be a professor)
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes.  Robin sets him straight and he deflates.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (9/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
 Romantic comedy
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
 There are no unrealistic genre-specific elements here.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
 Yes, it’s brisk and raunchy (despite the fact that this is a story he’s telling his kids!)
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
 No, the two storylines have the same mix of zaniness and serious relationship stuff.  With only a few exceptions (like when Marshall’s dad died, or Robin found out she couldn’t have kids) this would be a show with little tonal variation.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
 Yes, cutting from Marshall to Barney, we see that Ted wants to be Marshall, but is afraid of becoming Barney.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
 Oh my yes.  That’s the whole set-up here, and the show will have Saget jump in often to pose more questions, drop more hints and “accidentally” spill details early.  It’s a great device.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
 It’s a false one: Ted implies to his kids that Robin will be their mom (they don’t know their mom’s name??), but it’s a fake out at the end.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Yes, very much so.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
 Somewhat.  The contrivance that they’re all in the cab for the conclusion is set up by Barney’s earlier obsession with Ted’s love life, and by their earlier oversharing with another cab driver.
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
 No, it gets stretched out…for nine years.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
 Yes, they’re more analytical than other singles, constantly debating their complex theories.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
 It ends with one: “Your olive theory?  Load of crap.”  Which translates to: “Don’t overthink love”
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Yes: fun vs. responsibility.
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes, Ted has to choose between lying about his emotionality so he can find love or telling the truth about it which will sabotage any relationship.
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
 Yes, they’re cleverly linked by the olives: Ted finds an olive match who turns out not to be, and Marshall and Lily realize they still fit even though Marshall’s been lying about olives.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
 Yes, Robin covering the story about the leaper foreshadowing Ted’s leap, for instance.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
 Well, more like ethical grey areas, as the continually deal with the possibility that Barney is really a bad guy.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
 Yes.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
 Yes and no.  There are lots of good specific New York details (NY1!), but there are also a lot of spectacularly wrong details (no New Yorker would check to see if a bodega had a bathroom!) betraying the fact that this was a show created by ex-New Yorkers but made in LA.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
 Not really, it’s pretty decontextualized at this point, but it’ll improve at that as time passes.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 NA
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
 Yes, Ted’s confession.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes, Ted is given no time to process the revelation that Marshall likes olives (and all his theories may therefore be incorrect).
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
 Yes, very much so.
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The Ultimate TV Pilot Checklist: 24

Hard-ass Jack Bauer works for CTU, the Counter-Terrorism Unit, while trying to control his rebellious daughter Kim. His co-workers include his ex-mistress Nina and surly Tony. They’re dealing with a threat to the life of presidential candidate David Palmer, who is in LA for the California primary with his wife, son, daughter, and campaign manager. Meanwhile, a photographer and a girl named Mandy flirt on a plane, then Mandy blows it up and sky-dives out.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (19/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 The concept does, but not quite the pilot, which is low on spy action.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 Very much so: the real-time device.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Yes: federal agent and his ex-mistress / co-worker.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Yes, the high-minded world of politics will be contrasted every week with the down and dirty world of anti-terrorism.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 Yes, rebellious partying teens and a republican hero were both Fox staples.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Yes, we stand up and cheer for Jack several times.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
 Yes, two, Jack and Palmer.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes for both: this was Keifer Sutherland’s first TV after a long movie career.  Dennis Haysbert had a much more modest movie career, but this was also his first TV.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 Yes, Jack is betrayed both at home and at the office right away
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
 Yes, we have elite euro-assassins and dopey high-school dropouts brought together in the same conspiracy.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
 Very much so: they get the call whenever anything goes wrong anywhere on the west coast!
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
 Yes.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Oh my yes.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
 No to goals, a provisional yes to mini-goals.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
 Not really!  Shockingly, this is a very mild pilot compared to the show in general.  Partially because of the real-time set-up, they just can’t get Jack doing much yet.  He’s still stuck in the office reacting when the episode ends!  No mission!  No killings!  It’s shocking.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
 Yes, the digital clock, the plane exploding, (although they had to cut because of 9/11 on original airing).
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
 Very much so.  It was totally unlike anything that came before it.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
 Yes, blowing up the plane, Jack shooting his co-worker.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
 Yes, lots, it’s almost all potential energy.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
 Tons of them: Who is Mandy?  Where are the guys taking the girls?  Etc.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (16/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 It’s an odd choice for an opening scene: Jack is muted, unfunny, untough, and not very interesting in his first scene.  It’s not really until he calls Kim’s ex and snarls “That’s real comforting, knowing I’ve got your ‘word’,” that we get a glimpse of the real Jack.  I suspect that this is why they moved up the Palmer intro first, (even though he has little to do in this episode, and having that scene there meant that Jack had to drive to work in exactly 90 seconds!)  Palmer has a much stronger intro, joking with his subordinates that “historic occasion” sounds like a brunch.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Yes: Jack the badass, Palmer the winner.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Yes: Jack feels weak and wounded as a father, Palmer seems to sense an abyss opening up beneath him.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Jack: Speak truth to power, Be in control, Kick ass, Palmer: Be forthright, Do it yourself, be human.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Jack: Military: “I don’t care how it’s interpreted on the outside, I just gave you an order and I’d like you to follow it.”
Palmer: preacher “Thank you angel”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Jack: brusque (he’s trying to change that but he can’t), Palmer: tough-but-gentle.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Yes, Jack asks nicely, then applies the thumb-screws, wants to have the info in advance, then nail you with it.  Palmer: appeals to your higher nature.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
 Jack: Reckless, distant from family, Palmer: hints of anger, insists on shouldering burdens alone.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 Very much so.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Yes, their flaws show the schism at the heart of America’s foreign policy.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 Jack: honesty, toughness, Palmer: humility, gravity, forthrightness.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 Yes for both.  We admire Palmer’s speechwriting advice.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Yes: Jack: everybody else is more focused on covering their ass than doing the job, Palmer, everybody else is trying to build him up, but he’s trying to stay humble.
Is the hero curious?
 Yes, Jack and Palmer are both micro-managers, peeking under rocks.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Yes, very much so.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Yes, Jack has special knowledge of Mason, and of Kim’s ex-boyfriends, Palmer knows how to shut down the press.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (7/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 No.  The rest of the cast were all unknowns and weren’t very strong. (Xander Berekely is an exception in both cases, but he was supposed to be a guest.  They smartly brought him back often.)
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
 No, not yet.  The caliber of actors got better as the season progressed, adding TV vet Zvelko Ivanek and movie vets Lou Diamond Philips and Dennis Hopper.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
 No.  Bauer and Palmer don’t meet much resistance yet.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
 Yes, Jack’s complicated past with Terri and Nina is in the background, and not how either is defined.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 No, but Jack and Palmer both try to serve good for good’s sake, but each is so obsessive about doing it in the way that he wants to do it, even if it infuriates everybody else, that it’s almost more of a fetish for each rather than true selflessness.  The villains have believable motivations, as we’ll find out later.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
 Very much so, Jack is the onsite boss at CTU, and he’s told by a visiting supervisor that he should be judgmental of his other superiors!  Palmer is very much the decider as well.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
 No.  We just jump right in.  Onscreen titles give us a lot of information we need, and overlapping video, in which one character describes another situation, and we get overlapping video as we cut to that situation, which is a neat trick, since it means that we don’t have to have people in the same location describe each other, which would make less sense.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
 NA: There’s no POV character.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
 Bauer and Palmer are two-way polarized into reckless brutal efficiency and thoughtful high-minded caution.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Not really.  A lot of the dialogue not spoken by the main heroes is functional and/or generic.  Underwritten CTU employees would be a problem until Chloe was introduced in the third season.
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Nina: dedicated, Tony: surly, Kim: rebellious, Teri: resentful.
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Tony: Demands info in quid pro quo,
Kim: lies, divide and conquer with parents,
Sherry: exaggerated affection hiding shrewd calculating.
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
 Not yet.  Chloe will be introduced in season three, and she’ll be a huge gust of fresh (and nasty) air.
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (20/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
 Yes. It’s just 42 minutes.

If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
 Yes, at the time, three.  (Alas, it would be five or six today)
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 Yes.  1st: we see the assassin.  Midpoint: Jack shoots his boss (not for the last time on this show!) 3rd: Palmer gets seemingly-catastrophic phone call.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
 Yes: exactly one hour each week.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
 Yes, they all take a turn for the worse almost simultaneously at the end (nothing climaxes yet, of course.)
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
 Yes.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
 Yes, “24” usually did a good job at this, (better than, say, “Hostages”): In this episode, Jack gets the source from Mason, which was his mini-goal for the episode.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Not really.  A ton of plot to get through here.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Yes, Jack really wants to be out searching for his daughter tonight.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Yes, deal with his daughter.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
 Two, first she disappears, then he gets called in for a crisis at work.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 Yes, he hands off the first so that he can commit to the second, but keep working on the other one too.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Yes, he’s outfoxed on the home front by his daughter, and finds out some of his bosses at work don’t want the assassination stopped.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Yes, he trusts Terri to find Kim, confronts Mason directly.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
 Yes, he can’t get what he wants from Mason and shoots him.  Kim situation doesn’t get worse, but he does look at her picture right at the act break.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, he blackmails his boss, has his colleague crack Kim’s password.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 No.  Tons of plot keeps arriving.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
 Yes, Mason could wake up any second.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
 Yes, first for Palmer with the phone call, then for Jack when the plane blows up.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Yes, Jack gives up on looking for Kim and focuses on the bigger crisis.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes for Jack, not yet for Palmer, but the story continues into next episode.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
 Jack is about to go look for Kim when the plane blows up and he fully commits to the work situation.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (19/23) Jack has to get a keycard from one of his superiors, Mason, so he shoots him with a tranquilizer dart.
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 Yes, Jack was warned that if Mason wouldn’t give up the source then he must be dirty.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 No, this show loves to cross-cut, but this scene plays straight through.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes, the office has glass walls and everybody is looking in.  There are also guns, as we find out.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Mason doesn’t really want to be there, tries to hurry through and not say much.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Nope, we’re all plot here.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Yes, once he shoots Mason with a tranq, they have a half-hour or less before he wakes up.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
 Yes, it’s where the plot turns and we find out a lot more about Jack.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
 Not really.  Amazingly, shooting his boss seems to be just another day at the office for Jack (and indeed it will be.)
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 Yes, we want Jack to find out if Mason’s dirty, and we want Jack to get the source.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Yes, Jack wants the source, Mason doesn’t want to give it up.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Yes: Surface: I can’t give you the source because it’s classified, Suppressed: I’m not going to help because I want Palmer to get shot.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Somewhat.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Yes, each pretends to give in to the other’s demands.  They’re very faux-chummy until Jack shoots Mason.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes, Jack asks Mason to call his boss, then listens in on another phone to discover that Mason is calling time and temperature.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Yes, lots. It start with a handshakes, ends with Jack grabbing him to muffle his scream and wrestling him to the couch.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Yes, Jack accepts Mason’s access card, offers Mason his phone, shoots him with a tranq.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
 Yes, get the source, check up on Mason, get the gun, shoot Mason, get Nina on board.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, Jack shoots Mason.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, Jack shoots a guy to stop a shooting.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
 Yes, is Mason dirty?  Will he give up the source?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 Yes, can they get the proof about Mason before he wakes up?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, we’re both afraid for and afraid of Jack at this point.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, it goes to the end.
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (12/14)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Generally, this is an empathy-light show, but the writers know how use it as needed: we like Kim’s evil date at first because he has a likable monologue about how he could never be a surfer because, among other things, “you have to get up early…you have to call everybody dude...”
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 The two heroes each see what the other doesn’t see, tactically and morally.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Jack is trying to be more open and honest, but it’s a struggle.  Palmer plays it close to the chest.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Yes. Palmer doesn’t tell anyone about the threat.
Do the characters listen poorly?
 Not really, our heroes are both excellent listeners.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
 Not really, they’re all very professional.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
 Yes, the teen talk is authentic-sounding.
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Very much so. “Forget the Middle East, they’re not doing loan-outs anymore.  Focus on Europe.  I requested an open channel with the Bureau.” Etc.
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 Not as much as later, but we do get some tricks of the trade.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
 Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
 Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes, when Jack and Nina discuss his recklessness and honesty.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (10/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
 Spy
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
 Yes, this is all a metaphor for 9/11…even though it was shot pre 9/11!  They smelled it coming.  (As did many other TV shows, movies, comics, and album covers, all coming out in September of that year, showing 9/11-like events.  It was truly creepy.)
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
 Yes, each storyline has high-tension ominousness.
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
 Sort of:. Palmer’s is political drama, Jack’s is action. The teen story seems fun, but ultimately turns out to be just as sinister as the others
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
 Yes.  In the script, we start with domestic stuff for the whole first act, which is really weird, but in the on-air version, they’re added a first scene in Kuala Lampur (although this makes no sense when we find out the ultimate plot) of a spy getting the info and calling it in to a spy-boss.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
 The clock and the split screens literally frame the action, showing that there’s always menace somewhere.  Often we just get a glimpse of something in the corner of the screen then it goes away, creating tons of dramatic questions.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
 By midway we arrive at the big questions of the episode: Will Mason give up the source, and will Mandy get hurt?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Very much so.  For instance, there’s not mention of Palmer’s competitors, and he’s already writing his acceptance speech, taking the question of him losing off the table.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
 Yes, the cross-cutting distracts us from the fact that it takes Jack 90 seconds to drive to work!
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
 Yes: Mason does give up the name, and no, Mandy is most definitely not in trouble.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
 Yes, they take a wider view, and they have little respect for either the CIA above them or the cops below them.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
 ¾ of the way in: “You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, but soon all you’re doing is compromising because you think that’s the way things are done.  You know those guys I blew the whistle on?  You think there were bad guys?  You’re wrong, they weren’t, they were no different from you and me, except they compromised… ‘once’”.
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Yes: security vs. constitutional guarantees.
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes, Jack must shoot his superior in order to accomplish his goals.  Palmer must shut down the press to become a man of the people.
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
 Yes, Jack and Palmer are both caught between morals and ethics.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
 Yes, his daughter pretends he’s dead as people are trying to kill him, etc.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
 Very much so.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
 Yes, this isn’t one of those shows where a plane goes down in one storyline and nobody notices in another storylines.  This also isn’t the sort of show like “The West Wing” where politicians make stirring speeches when they’re not on camera.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
 Yes.  It’s quickly acknowledged that FBI and CIA might not want there to be a black president.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
 Very much so.  It predicts 9/11 and everything that was coming.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 Yes, for now, but later it’ll run into trouble.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
 No.  Some will, but Jack will show a remarkable ability to get away with stuff like shooting his boss.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes, although it was often hard to synthesize the meaning of this show, which was constantly flip-flopping as the story developed.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
 Very much so.
Total Score: 116/132
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The Ultimate TV Pilot Checklist: Cheers

After squandering his money, ex-major league pitcher Sam Malone run the bar he bought, even though he’s a recovering alcoholic. His bartender is his old sweet-natured ex-coach, his waitress is wicked-tongued Carla, and his two best patrons are nerdy Cliff and sarcastic Norm. In the pilot, high-class Literature Ph.D. Diane stops in with her professor/fiancé Sumner, who leaves her there while he goes to get a ring back from his ex-wife. Sam figures out that she’s been abandoned and reluctantly offers her a job.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (14/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 Yes, it’s hilarious and has the effervescence of a great screwball romcom.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 Not really.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Yes, an earthy bar owner and his snooty waitress.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Yes, it’s about a recovering alcoholic who runs a bar (and hires a posh waitress who despises bar talk.)
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 No, this breaks the rule that “Nobody every really rebrands”.  NBC wanted to make a smarter, gentler show, like ABC’s “Taxi or CBS’s “MASH”, and succeeded.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Very much so.  This is a warm, comfortable blanket of a show.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
 Interestingly, not really.  The show deliberately makes it hard to choose between Sam and Diane, even giving them weirdly co-equal name placement in the credits.  This is a not a case where they’re co-heroes, because co-heroes must star in separate storylines.  Instead, they were allowed to fight for supremacy in the audience’s affection as much as they fought for each other’s.  It was an interesting choice, and they pulled it off.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes, both Danson and Long had budding movie careers and gave them up to do this show.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 It’s a very safe space…until Diane walks in and ruins it.  She judges them and they judge her, making it unsafe for the first time.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
 Yes, very much so.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
 It certainly can, but doesn’t have to, because trouble enters the heart of the bar once Diane is hired.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
 Yes, bartending involves a lot of physical labor, a constant barrage of quizzes, and a lot of empathy.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Not huge, but to a certain extent, both Sam and Diane are drowning here and throw each other a lifeline, and we sense that they genuinely need each other to be saved.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
 Yes, Sam is dedicated to helping customers with their problems, and tries to do so before each day’s end.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
 The premise is not established until the final moments, but Diane is already a member of the ensemble by the halfway point, though she doesn’t know it yet, so it works.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
 Yes, the old-timey photographs that make up the opening credits, the in-show Cheers logo.
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
 Not really.  That wasn’t a selling point back then.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
 No.  Again, not as much of a big deal back then.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
 Yes, Sam and Diane clearly have a potential romance.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
 Yes, against his better judgment, Sam hires Diane to work at the bar.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (16/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Yes. Same: his gentle put-down of the kid trying to get a drink proves he’s funny, ethical, and empathetic.  Diane: Her witty banter in the phone scene.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Yes: Sam: the beloved ex-relief pitcher for the Red Sox and avuncular bar owner.  Diane: the intellectual snot-nose.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Yes: Sam: the melancholy recovering alcoholic, Diane: the hopeless screw-up.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Yes: Sam: Take it easy, help everybody, any girl can be seduced, Diane: be smarter, judge everybody, maintain high standards.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Yes: Sam: old-timey “Quite a fella, that fiancé of yours.” Diane: romantic literature, psychology: “What a shame such an astute observer of human nature is stuck behind a bar.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Yes, Sam: avuncular, Diane: snooty
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Yes, Sam: announcing how the argument is going to end before it ends, Diane: making outside references others won’t get.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
 Sam: recovering alcoholism, sleaziness, Diane: Snottiness, naivete
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 He actually feels that owning the bar is a bad place for him, but he chooses to stay for economic and sentimental reasons.  She definitely feels that she must hang onto those flaws to avoid becoming like the bar patrons.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Yes, bars are sleazy places.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 Sam: empathy, charm, Diane: intelligence, innocence
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 Yes, he’s a great bartender, and she turns out to be a waitress savant, who can instantly memorize an order better than Carla.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Yes: Sam is more of a winner than the patrons, Diane is smarter than everyone else.
Is the hero curious?
 Yes, Sam divines the truth about her. She is fascinated by the patrons, though she won’t admit it.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Yes, they’re doing improv together before they’re even introduced, working together to bamboozle his floozie on the phone.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Yes, he uses his astute perspective (partially derived from his personal pain) and she uses her vast knowledge.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (13/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes, Coach and Carla were both veteran character actors.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
 Yes, Cliff and Norm were great finds.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
 Very much so.  In a way, each of them is proven right: Carla’s cynicism and Coach’s open-heartedness are both validated.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
 Very much so.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 Yes, although they care about each other (and even strangers entering the bar) very much.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
 Yes, Sam owns the bar, and the others can all stand up to him.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
Diane
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
 Yes, Diane does have to extract their backstories with some effort.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
 Yes, it’s the rare 5 way: Diane is head (so is Cliff, but he’s just a day player at this point), Coach is heart, Norm is stomach, Carla is spleen, Sam is crotch.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Yes: Coach: sports, Norm: “grumbling husband”, Carla: Southie
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Yes: Coach: sweetly dopey, Norm: proletarian, Carla: hostile
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Yes: Coach: agreeing with everybody, Cliff: making up phony trivia, Carla: reversing your turn-of-phrase in a crude manner.
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
Carla
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (21/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
 Yes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
 Yes, one after the teaser, one in the middle, one before the tag.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 The show was somewhat unique at the time for having a teaser unconnected from the rest of the show, but the only “true” act break, in the middle is a nice escalation of the tension.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
 Yes, we will often follow events from opening time to closing time, beginning with a stand-alone gently-humorous bar interaction.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
 There is just one storyline and a bunch of running gags.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
 No, but it’s fine.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
 Yes, very much so.  Diane is totally transformed.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Yes.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Yes, Sam gradually comes to the realization that the only way to help this customer is to offer a job, despite the fact that doing so will make this no longer a safe space, and her decision is even harder, since it means totally going against her values.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Yes, Sam: serve drinks, Diane: stop in for a quick drink.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
 Yes, Sam has a customer in more trouble than she realizes, Diane is suddenly abandoned there.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 Yes, Sam becomes proactively protective of Diane, Diane decides to confront Sumner if he comes back.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Yes, Diane rejects Sam’s protectiveness.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Yes, Sam leaves Diane alone, Diane insists Sumner is coming back.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
 Yes, they both realize that Sumner probably isn’t coming back, or at leas not to stay, and they both know the other knows it too.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, he determines to make her see the truth.  Sumner comes back briefly and Diane confronts him, unsuccessfully.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 Yes.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
 Yes, the day is ending, and with it the chances that he will return.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
 Yes, they both hear that Sumner has gone to Barbados with his ex-wife and they both come to realize that she needs to be there.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Yes, he offers her a job, but she seems as if she’ll never accept.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes for him, he’s actively courting her.  She becomes proactive at the very end when she enthusiastically commits to waitressing.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
 Yes, Diane has a total life change and Sam quietly has a personal revelation when he comes to suspect he needs a woman like Diane.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (20/23)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 NA, this is the first scene of the whole show.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 No, it begins at the beginning.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes, a bar is an intimidating place for an underage teen.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 No, they both want to be there.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Yes, it’s all non-plot.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Yes, can he get the drink before Sam examines the ID?
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
 It’s all character, no plot.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Yes, Sam is oddly upset by it.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 Yes, we’re rooting for Sam to give this kid his comeuppance.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Yes, the kid wants a drink, Sam wants to let him down gently.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Yes: The surface conflict: is this a valid ID?  Suppressed conflict: should you be drinking? Can I run a bar ethically?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Yes, by echoing back the kid’s claim that “war is gross”, he implies that the kid is woefully naïve about the dangers of adult life.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Yes, Sam’s gentle good humor masks the feelings of melancholy this scene clearly brings up for him.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes, the kid attempts to trick Sam into not checking the ID “I’ll have to tell the mrs!” and Sam tricks the kid into lying more, “What was Vietnam like?”
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Just the object exchange.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Yes, the ID is offered and then taken back.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
 It’s a very small scene.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, the kid leaves empty-handed.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, the kid doesn’t get what he wants but he gets what he needs.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
 It’s the very first scene, but given that this is a show about a bar owner, the audience is automatically going to have the question, “Is this going to be a rotten guy?”  This scene immediately shuts that question down.
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 Yes, why is this bartender so melancholy and compassionate?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Not really.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 It ends on a great punchline.
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (13/14)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Very much so.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  If the show was about just Sam or Diane, we would go crazy.  Each can see what the other can’t.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Yes, they each attempt to hide their baggage, except Carla, but the others drag it out.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Yes.  Nobody directly confronts Coach on his senility, or Norm on his alcoholism, or Carla on her bad home situation, but they do it through sympathetic looks.  Diane doesn’t want to acknowledge an attraction to Sam, but the situation forces her to say, “You’re a magnificent pagan beast.”
Do the characters listen poorly?
 No, some do, but the others are great listeners, even Diane.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
 Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
 Yes: “What are you, nuts?  They’re up to their ears in linebackers!”
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Yes: sports: “You call that a football team?  Did they get a jackrabbit for the back field?  No.  Did they get a gunslinger for quarterback?  No,” and bartending (elaborate drink orders galore)
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 Yes, Sam not only does the job, he astutely evaluates and helps everyone with their personal lives, and steers bar conversations in fun directions.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
 Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
 Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes, Diane, a would-be professor character, frequently begins parallel constructions only to be cut off by Sam halfway through.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes, Sam finally yells, “That goof will probably be in Barbados tomorrow rubbing suntan oil on his ex-wife!”
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (9/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
 Semi-serious workplace comedy
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
 Yes, our pov character gets a useless degree and has to work in a bar, which happens to a lot of people, but it happens in a more extreme way, with her boss / thesis advisor / fiance dumping her (in more ways than one) in the bar on the eve of their wedding.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
 Yes, warm-hearted.
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
 Sort of: the runners are very light and the main storyline is actually fairly heavy.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
 Yes, Sam turns the kid down for a drink, doing the kid a favor, and the kid resents it, foreshadowing that Sam will help his customers with gentle fairness, but always be left behind after he helps them move on.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
 Not really.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
 Yes, will Sumner and Diane make that plane?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Yes, the phone becomes more and more ominous.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
 Yes, he has predicted that Sumner will fly to Barbados with his ex-wife, and that turns out to be true, which distracts us from the fact that it’s a bit of a plot contrivance for him to overhear the final phone call.
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
 Yes, the plane takes off with Sumner, but without Diane.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (14/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
 Yes, they’re the friendly bar.  We don’t find out about their competition yet, but we sense that this bar is different.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
“What are you doing?” “Just trying to cheer you up a little bit.” “What a shame such an astute observer of human nature is stuck behind a bar.”
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Yes, goods: winning vs. community-building, evils: alcoholism vs. loneliness.
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes, for Diane: faith vs. wariness, for Sam: bragging rights vs. compassion.
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
 There’s only one storyline.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
 Yes, it’s great that Sumner knows the sweatiest movie, tipping us off that he’s sleazier than the bar customers.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
 Yes, Sam is peddling the poison that ruined his life, and trying to gently protect his customers from his fate while profiting off their self-destructiveness.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
 Yes.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
 Yes, lots.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
 Yes, as the episode begins a kid pretends to be a Vietnam veteran, and then when Sam rejects this, the kid says “This is the thanks we get.”  This ties the show into the heart of the ‘80s: which was all about America turning its back on the working class.  Our heroes will spend the next 11 years huddled down in this underground bunker as their proletarian world is dismantled above them.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 Yes.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
 Yes.  This is one of the few episodes where they worry about Norm driving drunk.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes, Sam doesn’t try, Diane tries and fails, in her speech to the tourists.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
 Yes, in getting her to stay did he win power (putting this posh woman under his thumb) or surrender power (inviting her to enrich him and his community with her higher ambitions)?
Total Score: 120/133
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The Ultimate TV Pilot Checklist: Mad Men

Cocky Don Draper is an advertising copy writer in 1960 trying to find a way to sell cigarettes now that it’s well known that they cause cancer. Shy Peggy is his new secretary, getting trained in by worldly secretary Joan, who is secretly having an affair with Don’s boss Roger. Don must work with slimy account executive Pete, and his equally slimy sidekicks Harry, Ken and Paul. In the pilot, Don nails the pitch, asks his mistress to marry him, then goes back to his wife. Peggy finds out that she’s to be sexually harassed, gets birth control, then agrees to sleep with Pete.
 PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (14/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 Not really.  It was unlike anything ever seen, and had to build an audience based almost solely on good reviews and word-of-mouth.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 No.  We enter the story from a different angle every week.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Yes, competing ad men.  Secretaries as friends.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Yes, we’re rooting for characters that we know are doomed, enjoy their transgression and also enjoy being horrified by them.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 Yes, it invented the template for AMC: smart, morally ambiguous, boldly shot, concerned with unintended consequences.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Yes, we don’t like Don much, but we cheer for his opposition to Pete.  We root for Peggy more.  We’re not convinced that we’re going to like the ad writing, but we love the sex.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
 Two heroes: Don and Peggy
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Maybe it could have, but Weiner did the near-impossible: he convinced a network to hire two virtually unknown American actors for the leads, who are both insanely good.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 Very much so: They prey on each other and there are none of our office workplace protections.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
 Yes, the agency is an uncomfortable mix of poor secretaries, self-made-men and silver-spoon-men.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
 Sort of: A different client every week, but that won’t always be the source of the trouble.  Sometimes the trouble will be as simple as some memory from the past that wells up to bother one of the characters.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
 Sort of.  They aren’t required to be physical, but their machismo keeps getting them up on their feet.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Sort of.  We won’t always care about the pitch, some weeks we’re just worried about their souls, or their victims,
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?