If you’re writing a comedy pilot script and you want to learn how to become a writer for TV, you need to be reading and watching as many comedy pilots as possible.
Are You Writing A Comedy Pilot Script?
Here are eight pilot scripts worth discussing. For more information about comedy pilot scripts including 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family, and Community, check out 10 Most Wanted TV Pilot Scripts.
What Hit TV Show You Should Spec?
For those of you who are developing specs as well as original comedy pilots, Alex Freedman from TV Calling has put together a great round up of what comedies are hot or not to spec in 2015.
Kenya Barris co-created America’s Next Top Model and wrote the TV versions of Soul Food and Are We There Yet? He created Black-ish loosely based on his life.
“Honestly, a little bit of the evolution of this comes from my life. My wife’s a doctor. She’s mixed [ethnically], as Tracee [Ellis Ross, who plays Anderson’s wife] is, and we have five kids. This was something that I wanted to do that was really personal. And it sort of came up – my youngest daughter Lola came into the room, and [what happened inspired] one of the scenes that was actually in the pilot.
She was trying to explain a little girl in her class to me, and I was like, ‘Hold on, who are you talking about?’ And she’s like, ‘You know, with the …’ and I was like, ‘Hold on. Do you mean the only other little black girl in your class?’ And she was like, ‘I guess.’ My wife was like, ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ And I was like, ‘This is ridiculous. Why couldn’t she just say that? But it made me realize they are coming up in a different world.’
When Barris pitched the project to Laurence Fishburne’s company, Fishburne immediately agreed to be in it. Barris shared “We sold it everywhere we pitched.”Discuss the Blackish TV Pilot Script
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson met taking improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade. They developed a web series which they produced and starred in for a year and a half. In this interview with Splitsider, Jacobson shared a key moment in the development process.
“We were going to end the web series, and we were in the middle of writing the pilot, and we were thinking about going out to LA and pitching it… So we were like, let’s end this with a bang, and see if we can get somebody who not only we really admire but would be, like, crazy to have in it.
And because we had come up through UCB, we thought that Amy [Poehler] would be somebody who like, why not? And one of our teachers was nice enough to reach out to her for us, and she had seen the web series and liked it, and was totally on board to be involved. And then the day of the shoot, we just hit it off. And when we sent her the finished product – which was the season finale of Season 2 – we asked her if she would ever consider being the executive producer, and she said yes. You can imagine that moment was a little insane for us.”
“Abbi and I had – let’s say prematurely – quit our jobs. We just wanted to take time off and do some pitching, do whatever it takes, and figure it out later. So we pitched to a bunch of places. Comedy Central was interested in it; they wanted it. But FX ended up purchasing a script commitment from us. They were like, ‘We want a 22-minute pilot script from you.’ So we developed that and wrote it, and sent notes back and forth. And by the time summer rolled around, we heard back from FX that the script wasn’t right for their channel.
We’ve been talking lately about how grateful we are for the way everything happened because we learned so much at FX. And when we went to Comedy Central, we at least had some experience. We just learned a lot. Obviously, FX makes great content, and they’re great about giving notes. And then in the summer, Comedy Central purchased the script back from FX and committed to a pilot.”
Jacobson adds, “When we got back to Comedy Central, Brooke Posch was the new development head, and she was a person who we loved working with. I’m so glad we ended up there because I couldn’t imagine working on the show with anyone else. A year earlier, Comedy Central was still settling, and they were figuring out who was going to be running what, but by the time we came back to them, they were raring to go. It was just beautiful, beautiful timing.”Discuss the Broad City TV Pilot Script
Mike Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Office) and Dan Goor (The Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien) worked together on Parks and Recreation. They pitched Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Universal, then sold the show to Fox. In this interview with HitFix, Goor shared,
“In our pitch we would say — and it’s true — that you can have a five foot three inch Taiwanese lady who became a cop and you could have like a six foot six inch biker, you can have Terry Crews and you put him in a cop outfit and they’re a cop. And they come from all different boroughs and they interact with every single person in Brooklyn, which seems like a funny subset of New York. So all of those elements were fun little ingredients in the recipe. And then the specifics of, ‘Well, should it be a high crime area, should it be a low crime area, should it just be an area?’
The hookiest version would be that they’re all screw-ups in the worst precinct in the most distant part of New York. And it’s like you can imagine how you sell that as a pilot. And that actually could be a good show, but like there was something appealing also about like pulling it back and making it a little less hooky and a little less high concept.”
Mike Schur said,
“And then we found out Andy [Samberg] left SNL, which we read about in the newspapers like everybody else. And it was like we went to Fox, we’d already sold the show and said, ‘If he wanted to do a show, is this a guy?’ And before we finished the sentence they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go get that guy.’ So we went and pitched it to him and he liked it and signed on board.
In this interview with Splitsider, Schur explains how he hires his writing staff and Goor also shares the plot of his The Office spec that got him hired (and it sounds pretty great). Brooklyn Nine-Nine won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2014.
Discuss the Brooklyn Nine-Nine TV Pilot Script
Fresh Off The Boat
Nahnatchka “Natch” Khan wrote on American Dad, Malcolm In The Middle and created Don’t Trust The B—— in Apartment 23. Fresh Off The Boat is a comedy based on Eddie Huang’s book Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir.
In this interview with Entertainment Weekly, Khan shares,
“I’d just done this show, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23, that had been canceled. I drank for like two months straight. I was like, “I can’t handle this.” So after I came out of my drunken stupor, I read the book [Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat], and I thought it was great. I really related to the first generation American/immigrant idea, because that’s my story as well. I’m not Chinese, but both of my parents were born in Iran; my brother and I were the first ones born here. First in our family to go to college, that whole thing. It just really resonated with me, [being] that sort of bridge generation between where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
The memoir Eddie Huang wrote literally takes it all the way up to adulthood, but there was a section based in Orlando in the mid-’90s, when his dad moved their whole family to start this Old West-themed steakhouse. I was like, ‘That’s where I would set the show.’
ABC really got it—I pitched it to [ABC president] Paul Lee directly. He likes to say that he’s also an immigrant, but he comes from England, so I don’t know if that really counts. That’s like bringing in whiter people, you know? But they totally got it.”
Listen to this in-depth KCRW interview with Khan to learn more about the process of adapting the memoir to television.Discuss the Fresh Off The Boat TV Pilot Script
The Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling started on The Office at age 24 after Mike Schur read one of her spec scripts and is the first Indian-American woman to star in an American television series. The show was originally titled It’s Messy.
In this interview with the WGA, Kaling shares the valuable support she has gotten from Kevin Reilly.
“I’m lucky because I’m in this kind of rare position where [Fox chairman of entertainment] Kevin Reilly, even though he’s extremely busy with all of his many jobs, has been great about feedback on even a script level.
I don’t know a lot of network presidents that are reading every single script and giving their input on certain jokes and watching every single permutation of a cut of an episode. I have found his feedback to be incredibly valuable.”
The project was originally developed at NBC via Kaling’s overall deal with Universal Television, but NBC decided to pass on the concept, putting the show on the open market. Fox purchased the show.Discuss The Mindy Project TV Pilot Script
Jill Soloway wrote on Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and wrote and directed the film Afternoon Delight. “It was the frustration of working on a particularly horrid one [sitcom Nikki] that made her sit down and write her first short story, Courteney Cox’s Asshole–told from the perspective of Cox’s fictional personal assistant, whose duties include fielding press calls about a rumor that Cox bleaches her anus.” After the short story started getting attention, Solway’s agents sent the story to Alan Ball who hired Soloway on Six Feet Under.
In this interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Soloway shares how she was inspired by Lena Dunham’s Girls:
“The reason HBO picked up that show instead of mine was because they can see her voice,” Soloway recalled telling her husband, music supervisor Bruce Gilbert. “No one can see my voice. All I am is that girl who used to write on Six Feet Under. “I always had a dream project in mind post-‘Six Feet Under,’ this idea for about a family who inherited a secret about sexuality as opposed to a funeral home.
So I took all my TV experience and what I learned about by writing and directing and bringing a movie to Sundance about the realities of the independent film market — ‘Transparent’ is the marriage of those two situations. It’s very mathematical, having a season. The pilot almost has to be the first 15 minutes of a movie, a first act.
I was sitting down with Joe Lewis from Amazon this one Saturday, and drew out and talked about what it meant for the pilot to be the beginning of a 10-episode, five-hour piece of work — the trigger of the binge watch. We want people to watch the next one, and the next one, and the next one.”
Transparent won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy.Discuss the Transparent TV Pilot Script
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey (SNL, Mean Girls, Baby Mama, Date Night, 30 Rock) and Robert Carlock (Dana Carvey Show, Saturday Night Live, Friends, Joey, 30 Rock) were considering follow-up projects to 30 Rock and NBC encouraged them to develop a project for Ellie Kemper. While thinking about various scenarios for Ellie Kemper, Carlock shared in this interview with Entertainment Weekly,
“It took us down a variety of paths—[maybe] she’s someone who just woke up from a coma. We wanted to center this around her, do the kind of Mary Tyler Moore template of the girl in the big city. We thought, ‘All right, how do you kind of erase her back to all the experiences a person should’ve had by the time she’s 30?’ And so we talked about a variety of different things.”
“This one seemed the least commercial. Very often, pilots are about people starting their lives over for various reasons—[it’s] my first job, or I’ve just gotten a divorce, or whatever. And what we hope is that in spite of its strange origin story, Kimmy as a character is very relatable.
It’s like a very heightened version of Girls. Like, ‘I’m here, and I’m new, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life.’ A woman who’s an extreme case of that, because she’s lost a chunk of her life. She doesn’t know anything.
In this interview with the New York Times, Fey shared, “The show was originally called Tooken, which in part was something I heard my kid say. Like that’s the way a child speaks about something that is taken from them. It was meant to sort of represent that part of Kimmy’s life had been taken from her and that she was determined to get it back.”
While Fey and Carlock wanted to keep the title Tooken, NBC did not. “That was the one thing that NBC was like, ‘Absolutely not,’” Fey recalled with a chuckle. “I thought it was so catchy, so memorable, and they were like, ‘It’s a hard no.’”Discuss the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TV Pilot Script
“Peter Roth, the head of Warner Bros. thought it was a great title, and then Adam and I had to figure out what the show was.”
“It was like, ‘We’re gonna make a show out of this title,’ and we just kicked around what that was. We settled on the idea of doing it in a bar and setting it in Detroit, as an underdog city. And then, the odd couple dynamic emerged, that Danny and Justin have on the show. But truthfully, I feel like, from very early on, Bill was like, ‘I want to do a show with stand-up comics.’”
Lawrence added, “When we went out and about and sold the show, Adam said, ‘Every young man and young woman goes through a stage in their life that, due to their job, their appearance, how comfortable they are socially, that they’re undateable.’ We all brought pictures of ourselves at our most undateable point. I’m from Connecticut and I so badly wanted to be cool that for awhile, in my 20s, I had peroxide white hair and earrings. I just looked so much like a white guy from Connecticut with peroxide hair and earrings. It was so bad. And he said that this was a show about people who, for whatever reason, are stuck there a little longer than they should be. I thought that would be a good show because that’s got an every-person quality.”
Lawrence and Sztykiel also focused on casting standup comics. Lawrence said, “It was part of the pitch. I love multi-camera. I know that part of multi-camera is hopefully pleasantly familiar characters and hopefully different comedic situations. You know, we let our guys riff a lot more and speechify a lot more.
My favorite ones, the ones that stood out — that weren’t Cheers — were the ones that were boldly built around comics. I watched Roseanne, Seinfeld, Home Improvement and The Drew Carey Show religiously, and the thing I marveled at was, even when a comic didn’t have huge acting skills, they often developed them.
Watching a real pro vibe off a real audience, to me, I’m more amazed by the non-comedians that can do it. When I saw the Friends gang and Will & Grace gang, some of them were amazing at it right away. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool skill set!'”Discuss the Undatable TV Pilot Script