Top 10 Most Wanted TV Pilot Scripts

If you want to learn how to write a TV pilot, the first step is to read TV pilot scripts.

Have You Read These TV Pilot Scripts?

If you want to become a writer for TV, and if you want to discuss any of these pilot scripts, just click on the script and you’ll be taken to the discussion page.

Want to learn how to write a TV pilot?

Check out this spreadsheet keeping track of the scripts being considered for the 2014 Pilot Season.  If you want to read a book about how to write TV pilot scripts, Ellen Sandler’s The TV Writer’s Workbook: A Creative Approach To Television Scripts is a great place to start.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad TV Pilot Script

Writer/director Jason Reitman said at a live reading of this script, “If you’re a writer tonight, you might want to hide your knives. This script is so good you’ll never want to write again. You f***er, Vince.” Watch Vince Gilligan talk about how Breaking Bad came to be and time lapse view of what it was like in the writer’s room.

Discuss the Breaking Bad TV Pilot Script

Mad Men

 

Mad Men TV Pilot Script

Matthew Weiner wrote the Mad Men pilot script in 2000 and originally used it as a writing sample to get hired on The Sopranos. Terence Winter, Oscar-nominated writer of Wolf of Wall Street, creator of Boardwalk Empire and a writer on The Sopranos, recalls being bowled over when Sopranos creator David Chase asked him to read the Mad Men script. “It was all there on the page right out of the gate. The complexity of human interaction he captures — Matt always goes deeper with his writing. He is easily one of the smartest, most well-read people I’ve ever met.” The Mad Men pilot script was rejected by HBO, Showtime and others, but was embraced by AMC. Watch Matt Weiner talk about the few notes he received from AMC on the pilot episode.

This show built a network,” says AMC president Charlie Collier. “You really can’t say that in the same way about any other (modern) show I can think of.”

Discuss the Mad Men TV Pilot Script

30 Rock

30 Rock TV Pilot Script

Tina Fey, then head writer of Saturday Night Live, pitched the idea for a series about a cable news network to NBC, who rejected it. She was encouraged to make the show more like Curb Your Enthusiasm where she was at the center and really “herself” in the show. Nine months later, Fey approached NBC with a similar idea but it was problematic when based too much on real life. She reworked the concept again. Finally, the third time she pitched the show, NBC purchased.

During development of the show, some characters were altered. Watch clips from the unaired 30 Rock pilot with Rachel Dratch playing the role of Jenna, later replaced by Jane Krakowski.

Watch Tina Fey talk about how the show was originally pitched, working with NBC, and her favorite 30 Rock episodes.

Discuss the 30 Rock TV Pilot Script

The Office

The Office TV Pilot Script

The Office pilot episode is a direct adaptation from the first episode of the British series. Although the episode was a ratings success, many critics criticized it as too much of a copy of the original. One critic stated, “Maybe, after The Office dies a quick death on NBC, the network will decide that trying to Americanize British TV comedies isn’t such a great idea.

Head writer Greg Daniels shared that the pilot episode was, “About two-thirds their version and one-third new stuff. It felt — every time you heard a line that you’d already seen on the English show, it was jarring. People were not loving that part of it, I would say. There was a lot of strategy behind it. Initially I figured we would try to sell this to HBO, but the person who loved it best was Kevin Reilly at FX. Then we were like, “All right, cool, FX.” But then he moved and became the head of NBC. So we were like, “NBC?” It didn’t seem like it would be the right home for this at the time.”

In this interview, Greg Daniels talks about the challenges of writing the final season for the long-running show.

Editor’s note: Apparently this script is not the pilot, but a later episode.  I will update the link if I find the pilot episode. (7.18.14)

Discuss the Office TV Pilot Script

Modern Family

Modern Family TV Pilot Script

The series was originally called My American Family. When Christopher Lloyd was asked, “Is the show as it currently stands close to what you pitched?” Lloyd said, ”The only real change was that at the very outset, we had a character who was the documentary filmmaker. The idea was that this guy had been a Dutch exchange student who had stayed with the family 20 years earlier, and he always remembered them as “my American family.” And now he’s in his 30s, he’s become a documentarian, and he realizes, the dad is now on his second marriage, both the kids have grown up, one’s gay, so if I were to make a documentary about the American family, it would be a great place to start. But as we got into it, it became a little bit cumbersome to service this Dutch documentarian every week. And it became a little bit self-conscious, I think. So we got rid of it.”

The creators pitched it to three of the four major networks (they did not pitch it to Fox due to problems Lloyd had with the network with previous shows). CBS was interested, but not ready to make a big commitment. NBC already had two mockumentary shows, The Office and Parks and Recreation, and ABC was the best match.

The pilot episode by Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd won the Episodic Comedy award at the Writers Guild of America Awards 2009.

Discuss the Modern Family TV Pilot Script

New Girl

New Girl TV Pilot Script

Elizabeth (Liz) Meriwether started as a film writer and playwright.  She had developed a pilot previously that hadn’t gotten picked up. Jonathan Davis, executive V.P. of comedy development for 20th Century Fox Television, was sent a playbill for one of Meriwether’s plays by his mother-in-law. Davis read a few of her plays, loved her voice, and contacted her. Meriwether pitched an idea about an offbeat girl moving in with three single guys, and the show was born.

New Girl was originally titled Chicks and Dicks.

Watch Elizabeth Meriwether talk about how real life moments end up in the show and an in-depth interview from the Writer’s Guild Foundation with Meriwether and executive producers Brett Baer and Dave Finkel.

Discuss the New Girl TV Pilot Script

Community

Community TV Pilot Script

Writer Chris McKenna said, “The first time I saw Dan [Harmon]’s work, part of my brain exploded.

The premise of Community was based on Harmon’s real-life experiences. In an attempt to save his relationship with his girlfriend, at the age of 32, he enrolled in Glendale Community College, where they would take Spanish together. Harmon found himself drawn into the lives of fellow students as he helped them with classwork.

Read the wild story behind Dan Harmon’s firing and rehiring and listen to Harmon’s terrific advice to writers about how to pitch.

Discuss the Community TV Pilot Script

Lost

Lost TV Pilot Script

Initially, Lost came about because Lloyd Braun who was president of ABC at the time ‘wanted to do a drama version of Survivor.

After developing a pilot with Jeffrey Lieber, ABC approached J.J. Abrams. Abrams agreed, but was too busy with Alias to do the show himself and wanted to work with another writer. Damon Lindelof had been wanting to write on Alias, but couldn’t get a meeting with Abrams. But then the executive Heather Kadin called Lindelof to meet with Abrams about another project. “The bad news is,” he recalled her saying, “it’s this ridiculous show idea about a plane that crashes on an island and everyone here doesn’t think anything is ever gonna happen with it. So you meet with J.J., this pilot goes nowhere, but then you get a job on Alias!

In a very quick time frame, Abrams and Lindelof wrote the pilot script and a document to prove to ABC that Lost was a viable series that should be picked up.

Read the original document that was recently leaked and this interview with Lindelof which explains that it was not meant for the public and more about the direction of the show.

The Lost pilot was one of the most expensive to produce (estimates range between $10-$14 million) and is one of the most critically acclaimed television pilots of all time.

Discuss the Lost TV Pilot Script

The Sopranos

Sopranos TV Pilot Script

The Sopranos began as a feature script idea, then turned into a network series idea (almost airing on Fox without any killings), and finally finding a home at HBO.

Creator David Chase said, “The Sopranos was just this idea about a mobster in therapy… This was uncharted territory. I mean, all of a sudden the guy that your entire network is riding on is going to strangle somebody to death with a piece of piano wire? That had never been done… I said ‘This guy is a mob boss in New Jersey. If he doesn’t kill this guy, he’s worthless as a mob boss. He’s worthless as a TV gangster.’ And I knew I was right about that.”

Watch David Chase talk about his network meetings and then his first meeting with Chris Albrecht of HBO.

In a review of the pilot completed more recently, Todd VanDerWerff of the A.V. Club said, “To say that The Sopranos was an influential show is an understatement. Virtually every drama on the air today follows at least some part of The Sopranos model.

Discuss The Sopranos TV Pilot Script

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones TV Pilot Script

After the fourth book in his series debuted at #1 on the New York Times best-seller list, author George R.R. Martin was getting many inquiries from studio executives who wanted to turn his book series into a feature film.  Writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss pitched Martin over a five-hour lunch at The Palm about why it should be a TV series on HBO instead.  Thankfully, Martin agreed as he only envisioned it as a TV series.

Watch David Benioff and D.B. Weiss interviewed on The Writer’s Room about when they first read the books, how they pitched George R.R Martin and their writing process.

Initially, Tom McCarthy directed the pilot episode.  However, due to artistic and casting reasons, it was decided that this pilot would not serve as the first episode. Several parts were recast and the reshot pilot episode that aired was directed by Tim Van Patten. In this detailed article, io9 dissects the differences between the two Game of Thrones’ pilots based on a copy of the script posted online.

Discuss the Game of Thrones TV Pilot Script

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Discussion About Top 10 Most Wanted TV Pilot Scripts

  1. Kate

    I don’t know where you got this BB script, but it’s not the production draft of the Breaking Bad pilot — it’s a much earlier draft, written before the decision to film the series in New Mexico, and for aspiring writers who want to understand what made the pilot really work, the production draft is the much better place to start.

    The collected S1 scripts are available as an ebook from Amazon.com — and I highly recommend giving them a read. The production draft of the Breaking Bad pilot is the best script I’ve ever read.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, comparing the original draft that sold to the production draft would be interesting. I’m sure someone has likely done this comparison already, perhaps even you?

      It’s valuable to see the discrepancies between different drafts of scripts as they make their way through the development, production and post-production process. I’m always interested to see what gets changed and what stays consistent.

      • Justin Thompson

        Yeah, don’t be a twat about it. This shows you where Vince Gilligan started and what he was selling before re-drafts / rewrites. I think it’s more inspiring, because you can see the process, and see where it went from there. Production drafts are the result of serious refining and polishing that happens After you get in the room, and you start getting relevant / budgetary / discretionary feedback.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks, Justin.

  2. Top 10 Most Requested TV Pilots – with screenplays! | ScreenCraft

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  3. It all starts with a script | Arthur Cooper, csc

    […] to see these pilot scripts in their original versions, before they went to camera and were refined, but they were obviously […]

  4. It all starts with a Script | Arthur Cooper, csc

    […] all starts with a script. A Pilot Script to be precise. This website published 10 great examples in their original versions, before they were refined and polished, but […]

  5. HéctorM

    Such a nice post! I´m downloading all of them, especially the “Chicks and Dicks ” one. I would love to have the pilot from Glee and the pilot of Awkward or Pretty Little Liars if possible.
    Thanks!

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  7. Mike Pedrana

    Great guidance for a novice

  8. victor swearingen

    I have the pilot script of the Sopranos with 11 felt/ink pen autographs that include Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, and James Gandolfini. I’m interested in selling the script to the highest buyer. I won the script at a Beverly Hills charity event in 2004 at a silent auction which Edie Falco personally donated. Please have all interested buyers email me for details and proof of ownership.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I will forward anyone who is interested, Victor, but I don’t think my site is going to generate bids in comparison to a movie memorabilia auction site.

      • Victor

        Thank you Ms. Palmer for the heads up.

        Reading your articles on the top ten scripts is the reason for my solicitation. While I know that this may not be the best site for this activity, I am hoping that someone on this site may have a resource for me or know of potential buyers.

        Kind regards,

        Vic

  9. Kezia

    Hi Stephanie,
    I noticed that the link you had for The Office pilot script is actually to a later episode.
    Do you have a copy of the actual pilot that you can email?

    Thanks,
    Kezia

  10. Neil Landau

    Please check out my book, THE TV SHOWRUNNER’S ROADMAP: 21 Navigational Routes for Screenwriters to Create and Sustain a Hit Series (published my Focal Press, January, 2014). It’s also available in Kindle edition. I’m a professor of screenwriting in the MFA Screenwriting and Producing Programs at UCLA School of Film, TV and Digitial Media. It includes my instruction, plus interviews with 21 showrunners including Vince Gilligan, Shonda Rhimes, David Shore, Christopher Lloyd, and Damon Lindelof. Many thanks!

  11. The 7 Award-Winning & 8 Animation Scripts Screenwriters Should Know ‹ SSN Insider

    […] is in contrast to TV pilot scripts, which are typically written by an individual (or writing team) in a much shorter period of […]

  12. The 8 Animation Scripts Screenwriters Should Read ‹ SSN Insider

    […] is in contrast to TV pilot scripts, which are typically written by an individual (or writing team) in a much shorter period of […]

  13. john

    I have a pitch for animated feature films and animated television series, it can also be turned to live-action. themes epic, spirits, immortals, aliens, animals, dragons, fairy tales, merfolk, magic, racing, super powers, monsters, mecha etc. my stories were meant for Japanese animation, with epic battle, comedic and romantic scenes. I live in Europe, do you have any recommendation to which studio I should pitch it to? or should i turn it into a book?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi John. I don’t know which studio you should pitch to, but I’d start by researching all the studios who have produced projects like yours in the past.

  14. Guido

    Hi Stephanie I have a reality show I want to launch.
    All the networks I approach, told me they do not take unsolicited pitches/scripts and that I should contact an agent or production company.
    Who do I contact if I want to launch the show?

  15. Kenneth

    Hey Stephanie. I actually have two questions. When writing a pilot, should one have actors/actresses in mind for their characters or can that curve the creative process in a negative way? The other question is the same but based on networks. Should someone have a specific network in mind when writing a pilot? I ask the second question because you’d obviously have more freedom at HBO as opposed to NBC. But, can having that in the back of your mind hinder the originality and creative process?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Kenneth. I think imagining specific actors/actresses can be very helpful, but this is a matter of personal preference. Yes, you definitely want to decide whether your show would be a network or cable show and be consistent with tone, language and content. Too often, I read pilots that don’t seem to have a particular audience in mind and become the dreaded “feathered fish” —- an awkward blend that no one wants.

  16. Clip Carson

    Stephanie.

    When writing a pilot, how should one format the title page? I have it where the show’s title is in all caps and underlined, and underneath that, the word “PILOT”, written just like that. Then, some spaces down is the “Written by” credit. Is it worth putting an episode number on there, or no, since the pilot we’re writing is one we haven’t approached anyone with yet. One thing that I’m pondering, especially if you haven’t gone into the pitching stage yet, is indicating what draft the script is. Is it worth putting on there what draft the script is, or is that a number that can scare execs away when they see you’re submitting them draft number four on a pilot? Should you even indicate previous drafts on the title page, or just stick on there the latest draft number and date, or just not even include what draft the version of the script is at all?

    Also, is it alright to bold, and even sometimes underline, your slug lines, or is there no industry standard on that? I know that I’m one to definitely bold and underline, as well as center, my TEASER and ACT tags.

    • Clip Carson

      And also, forgot to ask this in my post – when going from TEASER to ACT I to ACT II and so forth, should each new act start on a brand new page, or is it okay to just push enter a few times and leave it on whatever page it ended up on?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        This is what I recommend: 1) never put what draft you’re on – just keep the title page simple, or if you must, say it’s the first draft. You don’t get any points for saying it’s the 3rd or 8th or 25th draft. 2) Find a copy of a script for a show that you like, in a genre where you’d like to be hired, and format your spec pilot like that. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if you bold or don’t or page break or don’t – what matters is that the format of the script maximizes readability, and a good way to achieve this is to use the same formatting guidelines of a script for an already successful show.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      This is what I recommend: 1) never put what draft you’re on – just keep the title page simple, or if you must, say it’s the first draft. You don’t get any points for saying it’s the 3rd or 8th or 25th draft. 2) Find a copy of a script for a show that you like, in a genre where you’d like to be hired, and format your spec pilot like that. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if you bold or don’t or page break or don’t – what matters is that the format of the script maximizes readability, and a good way to achieve this is to use the same formatting guidelines of a script for an already successful show.

  17. Graham Lomas

    43 Fisher Street portarlington, Geelong Victoria, Australia.ZIP Code. 3223.

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  18. The 7 Most Wanted TV Drama Pilot Scripts ‹ SSN Insider

    […] Click here to get the 7 scripts emailed to your inbox or click on the pilot titles in blue below to open a PDF of that script. If you’d like to read the pilot scripts for Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lost, The Sopranos, and more, check out the 10 Most Wanted TV Pilot Scripts. […]

  19. Niksa

    I’ve read some of the ten pilots here as well as dozens of other TV series pilots. Just to make things clear, all the pilots here are PRODUCTION or FINAL DRAFTS. Each has: CUT TO: WE PAN TO: CLOSE ON… It’s good read but most people make mistakes by using these terms in pilots and if I remember correctly, we should be writing RUNS, not RUNNING, WALKS, not WALKING… Just an observation, nothing more. Thank you for another good post, Stephanie!

  20. 7 Most Wanted Pilot Scripts | Smash Cut Culture

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  21. Jeff Langham

    Thanks Stephanie for these pilots! I agree that this Breaking Bad pilot script (real early version) is valuable. There is some great writing on display and could visualize the script from his writing, which brings me to a question.

    I’ve been told that amateur scripts need “a lot of white on the page.” To keep it lean, without all the flowery description. When I read these, there is great (long) descriptions of what is going on. Now these are pros, Vince Gilligan for example wrote X-Files, etc. prior to Breaking Bad, so I know they get away with more.

    Now my question: Should we (amateurs) follow the advice to “keep it lean” or let it go and put that description on page?

    I’m not talking about big blocks of writing, just the essentials. I mean, sometimes having to break the 3 lines of action rule.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Jeff. It depends on the project and no one rule works in every situation, but I am definitely of the “keep it lean” camp whenever possible. Too often, when I read someone for the first time and I open the first page to big blocks of text, I get that sinking feeling, “Oh man, this probably is going to be terrible…” simply because most scripts that have too much description are not professional calibre.

      • Adam Pitzler

        Stephanie,

        Your comment frightened me a bit, the one about the first page having large blocks of text that makes you shudder. I agree with you fundamentally, but in the case of the very first page – isn’t it the screenwriter’s job to accurately depict the setting and characters clearly to set up the story? I sort of always thought that I had a little more free reign for description on page 1, then I need to be very clean the remainder of the way. Am I misguided?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Just as in dating and job interviews, the first impression is important. The more you can grab a reader’s interest quickly and economically, the better. But like most things, there are exceptions and this isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are plenty of excellent scripts that open with dense scene description.

  22. Jason Van Eman

    Understand camerawork and don’t be shy to know how to use one yourself. Go to film school. Prepare a portfolio of any short films, script-writing. Be prepared for a stressful existence. Look for internships and entry-level positions with film studios.

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  25. Stephanie P.

    Do you have any pilot scripts from animated series? Is the formatting the same? How do you format a spec script for an animation series?

  26. Edward Reid

    Hi there. I am kind of stuck. I actually have my pilot produced. Now what? I think the agents/mangers all want just scripts, of course I am willing to sell the concept/script. I just can’t even seem to get a chance to get a pitch now? What should be the next step for someone like me who has a quality production pilot? Thanks

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You can try and get TV producers and executives to watch the pilot. If you have the show available online and can get tons of views to show interest, this can help bolster your case. Unfortunately, you are right that it is very difficult to get people to watch pilots as this is rarely how shows are purchased.

  27. Mary Ann

    I have finished a pilot, and I have read the next best thing to do is to try to pitch it. I am new to writing and I don’t have an agent. What is the best way to go about pitching?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Now that you have finished your pilot, I recommend writing two specs for shows that are currently on the air and in the same genre as your pilot. Or you can write a spec feature, but I wouldn’t start pitching and taking your project into the marketplace until you have a library of at least 2-3 projects that are ready to be sold.

  28. Keep Calm and Carry On | Good Morning, Good Morning!

    […] Go back to reading the masters. Here’s a starter list from Stephanie Palmer’s GoodInARoom.com, which is an excellent blog in general, full of anecdotes, advice and reading material which […]

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    […] I’m not sharing any shows that haven’t aired yet and this is for educational purposes. Här finns bloggposten som länkar vidare till de enskilda […]

  30. Red Bud

    Hi. I wrote a lot of scripts lately, but my main problem is that I don’t know the format to write the script. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

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