It’s now time to expand your premise into a short synopsis. You do this by writing out the pilot as if you were writing a short story, in prose, in the present tense.
Remember, every story has three acts—a beginning, middle, and an end—and when you’re writing a television pilot, these acts are very, very important because they are timed for the commercial breaks.
What are your beginning, middle, and end? Where do your commercial breaks fall? See if you can get them to land at major plot points. Someone kisses someone they shouldn’t. So-and-so finds out who stole her grandfather’s antique watch. And so on. Cliffhangers before a commercial help keep the audience tuned in to your show!
Once you have defined your beginning, middle, and end, the next step is to identify your hero and your villain. Keep in mind that no matter how many characters in your story, you’re really always only writing about one, the protagonist, and that he or she has one problem to overcome.
For example, in Cheers, at the beginning of the story, Sam is in the bar, Diane comes in with her boyfriend, and when Diane meets Sam they immediately hate each other. At the end of Act I, the boyfriend leaves to go home and talk to his wife. In Act II, Diane waits for him to return and is exposed to the kooky people in Sam’s bar—and the fun and hostility begin. In Act III, Diane learns that her boyfriend has decided to stay with his wife, and Diane is left stranded. At the end of the episode, however, Sam offers Diane a job, and this sets the series in motion for 11 seasons.
Now, once you have plotted this much of your pilot, you’re ready for the next step…