Screenwriting : Pilot versus Series Finale by Cannon Rosenau

Cannon Rosenau

Pilot versus Series Finale

Having some extra TV time for the last month for some reason, I have started bingeing shows that I used to catch here and there and loved but didn't necessarily watch regularly. For example one being Scrubs. This one in particular got me thinking about how awkward the pilot is in hindsight after already knowing the characters but worse the conclusion of the series. Scrubs thought for their entire 8th season that they were done, but then got renewed for a 9th. It got weird. Still funny and true to the humor. Anyhow, not important. My question:

What is more awkward in your opinion for any TV runs - the Pilot with all the awkward expose or the Finale with all the hurrying of tying up loose ends?

Nick Assunto

I only ever saw the pilot for Lost when it aired a sneak peak back in early 2004, then went off to college so didn't follow it, and eventually heard it was ending so I figured I'd watch the series finale for kicks. Weird experiment, I was a bored. Pilot was definitely stronger. I had zero context for the finale, of course, but it was like a strange inter-dimensional soap opera to me as opposed to the action-packed crash landing episode. In fact I can't recall what the finale was about at all, just remember people standing around and smiling, but I remember so much from the pilot that I only saw once 16 years ago because it was so epic.

Mary Helen Norris

For me, I find finales to be more awkward. I am that rare person that adores watching pilots. I love discovering new stories and I love learning from other writers. For example, last night I watched the Psych pilot for the second time in a week but this time I turned on the commentary that the show's creator and a couple of the producers did.

Finales are hard. Psych's had to tie up loose ends and I'll be honest, while I've watched the pilot no less than a dozen times, I've only watched the finale once (when it aired).

Jason Mirch

Finales are tough because the audience has so many expectations and the our imaginations are perfect, so even when series tend to nail it, there can be a sense of a "let down". Does anyone remember the finale of The Sopranos? Mad Men was the same way. It felt like there was more story there. Both were so divisive. Breaking Bad stuck the landing for sure because there was a definitive end to Walter White's story.

Dan MaxXx

Sons of Anarchy Pilot was one of the best, same network who did "The Shield", another pilot I remember

Jax killing himself in SOA finale was a tear jerker.

Cannon Rosenau

Friends and Cheers both wrapped up perfectly in my opinion. I always like the perfect ending with no loose ends. How I Met Your Mother is the elephant in the room because of the twist ending. I remember being so upset at how they did that. But then the more I thought about it the more clever I knew it was.

Jason Mirch

Cannon Rosenau I still remember watching the Cheers finale as a kid - I think it was the first "finale" or saying goodbye to characters that I remember. And even as a child I remember it was bitter sweet.

Which reminds me, there was a study done a few years ago that concluded audiences react to the deaths of characters or "saying goodbye" in a similar way we react to losing a friend or loved one.

John Ellis

Two shows that had really bad (IMO) pilots that got a lot better (tho the finales weren't that awesome):

Babylon 5 - the pilot is horrific, stiff performances, poor production value, OTN dialogue

ST:TNG - the cast was good, production value was decent (1987), but man, the plot was awkward, contrived and too melodramatic for me.

Thankfully, both got better. Tho with B5, if I hadn't been so starved for sci-fi at the time, I probably wouldn't have kept watching it, it was so bad. Sorry, JMS!

Thom Reese

I work in television market research and see many many pilots, both from shows that get picked up and ones that never make it past the pilot. There are some very common problems with pilots.1) The cast hasn't yet developed chemistry..Also, the writers/producers may not have really fleshed out the characters yet, in terms of what they want. They haven't yet had a chance to see what the actors bring to these parts. Another issue is that a pilot is basically a marketing tool. It's meant to give the network executives a feel for the show, where it's going, the whole cast and their relationships. That's very difficult to do effectively in 22 or 43 minutes. So the episodes are often bloated with too much information and not enough plot or honest relationships.

Cannon Rosenau

Thom Reese That is exactly why it is so much fun to go back and watch the pilot at least a couple seasons later.

My next gripe is when you LOVE a show and its characters, but the plots get too wacky wild koolaid style in the later seasons. Like when Friends brought in the monkey (I guess this wasn't too late) or Rosanne and the lottery or the opposite and it seems there's a lull in the plot for an entire season. I guess the monkey/lottery gimmick is what happens when they are trying to avoid that lull. Thoughts?

Eoin O'Sullivan

Penny Dreadful - the finale lived up the second part of the title, in fact the whole final season was sadly rudderless.

Cannon Rosenau

I haven't seen Penny Dreadful, but it sounds like I should avoid it!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Penny Dreadful, created by the incredible playwright/screenwriter/producer John Logan, who also produced it alongside Sam Mendes, is really quite outstanding: the dialogue poetic, the production skillful, and the acting superb. It was conceived to be three seasons, the final and third season received critical acclaim. Sure, it brings gothic horror to new heights, and may not be for everyone, but the ending is perfectly setup by the beginning. Truly enjoyed it. I often read/study John Logan's screenplays. I recommend reading the pilot for Penny Dreadful. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Another fantastic series is Justified, based on the Elmore Leonard short story "Fire in the Hole." Incredible writing/production/acting throughout its five seasons. The series final episode is very satisfying, well done, again, perfectly set up by the very beginning—they are rather bookends, if you will. I highly recommend reading the pilot and any episode script you can get your hands on. ;)

Beth Fox Heisinger

One more... Hannibal, the TV series, developed by Bryan Fuller. Yeah... again, it may not be for everyone, but the series is incredibly well done. I had a family friend's relative on the writing team, so it was fun to hear tidbits about the production. Again, three seasons are perfect here too. Writing is fantastic. Cinematography is beautiful, but sometimes its over-importance and focus on the minutiae get a bit too distracting here and there, go on for too long, however, it is fitting with the series themes and abstract tones. The pilot and final episode work well together, but this series ends with some open interpretation, which works well in my opinion. For anyone who may be interested, Bryan Fuller posted the entire series, all three season's script pdfs on his website: ;)

Rob Tobin

"The Good Fight," by the writers and producers of "The Good Wife." Not as well written as the truly brilliant "Good Wife," it's still showing the Kings' briliance. BUT... it's getting really dark and depressing as it shows the futility of trying to deal with Trump and the republicans who sold out to him. Also, the new Star Trek; "Discovery" is addictive.

Thom Reese

Rob, I'm a fan of both The Good Fight and Star Trek Discovery. Both are very well done. The first couple of episodes of Discovery were a little uneven but once it found its footing it became excellent.

Thom Reese

Beth, Penny Dreadful was amazing both in writing and production. John Logan's writing was often nearly Shakespearean.

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