by Marla White
So you’ve come up with a great idea but you aren’t sure if it’s a television series, a movie, a book or a mini-series. Or maybe you’re convinced this is the best idea to come across the TV screen since the color television. (Look it up kids, TV used to only come in black and white – things were so primitive back then!)
Here’s a few things you need to have to be sure your idea is really going to make it as a series:
1. Does it lack character arc? Hang on, before you start putting nasty comments up, hear me out. If your main character – or characters – are going to be learning, growing, or evolving dramatically in less than a season, your idea might be better suited to be a movie rather than an on-going sustainable series. In “Law & Order” for instance, very few characters had any kind of measurable arc, at least not one that didn’t take seasons to resolve. Even binge-worthy dramas like “Game of Thrones,” or “Breaking Bad” don’t have the kinds of arcs that are easily wrapped up. Poor Ned never did learn good guys finish last, but we loved watching him try. It took Walter White five years to go from a broken down teacher to total bad ass; it was undeniably an arc, but one that took a long time to resolve. If your characters are going to discover there’s no place like home in the first episode, consider the reason “The Wizard of Oz” makes a great movie rather than a series. Yes, you want characters to continue to change and evolve, but they shouldn’t make any great self-discoveries like “there are more important things than money” or the opposite, “greed is good” in anything less than a season. And if their arcs aren’t straight trajectories but have some twists along the way, more’s the better.
2. Is there character conflict? If the conflict between your characters is too easily resolved – and this applies to comedies as well as dramas – than it’s less than ideal for a series. This is easy for episodic dramas – your cop is never going to run out of cases, or your doctor of sick people, but it’s even more important for serialized dramas. You have to be able to keep throwing curves at your characters, bring their hopes and dreams crashing down just when everything seems like it’s going to work out. And by the way, if the only conflict can be resolved by one character killing another, it’s too easy. The same goes for comedies of any format – if there’s a chance for the conflict driving the show to be resolved, there’s no more show. As long as Leonard and Sheldon continue to not only walk to the beat of their own drum, but not even realize there is a drummer, audiences will continue to be entertained. This is part of why shows with the “will they or won’t they” of “Castle,” “Cheers” and “Moonlighting” often lose their punch once the romance has been resolved.
3. Is there a variety of storylines? Often times execs need to be convinced that your idea won’t quickly become repetitive and lose the audiences interest. This can be tougher for straight up procedurals – how many murders can a cop solve before they all start to look the same? This is where having unique characters with great dynamics PLUS lots of examples of the many many places your show can go is crucial. No matter what the genre, if you manage to come up with a cold open that’s so unique it proves you have original ideas coming out of your butt like flying monkeys, you’re practically halfway home. When you think about your storyline, have you ever seen anything like it before? If the answer is yes, it’s time to knuckle down and do some more work on it.
If you can legitimately answer yes to all three of these questions, you might be on the way to a series-worthy idea.