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Writing the Pilot [Kindle Edition]

William Rabkin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Television networks are so desperate for new voices and fresh ideas that for the first time in history they're buying spec pilot scripts and turning them into series. Today's aspiring writer can be tomorrow's showrunner. But it's not easy. Conceiving and writing a pilot that can launch a series is a complex assignment even for a seasoned pro. This book will take you through the entire process, from your initial idea through the finished script. You'll learn how to identify a concept that can carry one hundred episodes or more; how to create characters who will stay interesting year after year; how to design the unique world those characters will live in; how to identify the essential elements that will set your series apart from everyone else's; and most importantly, how to capture it all in one 60-page script.

William Rabkin is a veteran showrunner whose executive producing credits include the long-running Diagnosis Murder and the action hit Martial Law. His recent writing credits include Monk, Psych, and The Glades. He has written a dozen pilots for broadcast and cable networks, and written and/or produced more than 300 hours of dramatic television. He currently teaches screenwriting in the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert's low residency MFA program.

Editorial Reviews


Everything you wanted to know -- and things you didn't even know to     ask -- about writing a successful TV pilot.  Before you type FADE IN, back away from the computer and read this terrific book!
-- Terence Winter
   Creator & Executive Producer
   Boardwalk Empire - HBO

Here is a sometimes touching, often hilarious, always insightful book on writing that is enormously useful not only to writers of TV pilots but also novelists, poets, and all souls who traffic in creative expression. In a voice that is at once lighthearted and serious, and perpetually engaging, William Rabkin reveals the rules to follow and also those to break. He tackles both the artistic issues regarding story, character, dialogue and more, and provides a road map for navigating the occasionally murky--sometimes perilous--waters of TV writing.
-- Richard Walter

If you've ever thought of writing a TV pilot script, buy this book, then read it from start to finish two or three times. Rabkin's insider narrative is spot on.

Veteran television writer and showrunner William Rabkin, as usual, spells it out with focused logic and clear, real-life examples. If this book doesn't help you hammer out a decent pilot script, hang up your keyboard and try crochet.
 Focused, insightful, and absolutely practical guidance from a television industry insider with a proven track record in the field. 
-- Aimée and David Thurlo
   Co-authors of the Ella Clah mystery series

Packed with wit and wisdom, William Rabkin gives a TV insider's perspective and tells you what you need to know to write a successful pilot. It's like having your very own scriptwriting Guru.
-- Mark Haskell Smith

From the Author

For updates, news about spec pilots, and answers to your writing-related questions, please come visit me at

Product Details

  • File Size: 177 KB
  • Print Length: 96 pages
  • Publisher: moon & sun & whiskey inc.; 1 edition (April 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,730 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and to the point August 7, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A short but information-packed book. I wrote the novel FLASHFORWARD, upon which the ABC series was based, and was also a scriptwriter for that show; the analysis of what went wrong in transitioning FLASHFORWARD (which is referred to as FLASH FORWARD -- two words -- in this book) from a pilot into a TV series is cogent, and the advice on writing pilot scripts is excellent. The last chapter should, perhaps, be the first, though: yes, spec pilots are selling -- the claim made on page one and here on the Amazon page for the book -- but almost exclusively from established writers who have years of experience working in writing rooms on other shows; otherwise, as the author says, without some other reason -- huge Twitter following, real-life experience in a heroic profession -- the chances of getting your pilot script read by someone who can actually produce it are almost nil. Still, the book is called WRITING THE PILOT, not SELLING THE PILOT, and it very much delivers on that score.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining June 29, 2011
By Matt
Format:Kindle Edition
I've written two pilots for networks, and two pilots on spec, and I found Bill Rabkin's book to be dead on. Not only that, it taught me things I'd never thought of, or was never able to articulate. It's a fun read, with lots of real-life Hollywood stories. And speaking of fun, that was my favorite chapter in the book: where Rabkin talks about never getting so wrapped up in the structure and plot that you forget about keeping the script fun from beginning to end.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly Helpful Book for TV Writers July 5, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I read "Successful Television Writing" by Rabkin and Goldberg last year (great book!), and this book -- "Writing the Pilot" -- is the perfect follow-up. The first two chapters are particularly motivating and fascinating -- details about why writing a spec pilot might be the ticket into the industry in today's market (pretty compelling argument). And the book, from start to finish, is laugh-out-loud funny and a really easy read -- accessible and short enough that you can finish it in an evening.

I highly recommend this book. Great explanations in here about how to conceive of a series (not just the pilot episode) -- and you'll come away with a solid understanding of why some shows last multiple seasons and why others fail after just the first -- and what you need to do with your own script to create a show that might have a chance of making it. PLUS, by the end of the book, you'll be motivated to get to work! (He's really a very inspiring writer....)

Much of the advice is also applicable to writing screenplays, plays, and fiction too.... Actually, I think this book might be especially interesting to the person looking to write a book series or film series -- Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, etc -- applies to all writing, but tons of great information if you want to build a "series" of any kind.

Ten stars! Not five.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, Especially for Feature Writers October 14, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Rabkin writes about writing the dramatic 1-hour pilot. If you're planning on writing a half hour, read something else. Half hour comedies are a weird animal. But back to this book: It's a straightforward insightful book that I would suggest you read at the outset of your endeavor to write a pilot. And if possible, know your logline first. Otherwise, Rabkin's ideas will be too abstract if you can't immediately use them to scrutinize what you're working on. This book is not for the novice writer who has never written a play, screenplay or at least attempted to write a dramatic pilot. I say this because it's not a nuts and bolts step by step instruction manual for writing pilots. There are those out there, but this isn't it. Neither is it a book that's going to tell you how to put a scene together or write dramatically. Writing is a tenuous dance between a psychotic dissociative state and structural engineering, and reading books like this is great for reinforcing the engineering. Rabkin takes writing a pilot down to the conceptual fundamentals of conceiving a television series. If you're a feature writer and figure writing a TV pilot is easy--it's just a feature only half as long--read this book. There is so much you have to get right in creating a series, and you'll have a much easier time of things if the scrutiny comes sooner rather than later. And lastly, Rabkin references a lot of shows I really dig, and his prose style is articulate but breezy. I have the attention span of a toddler when it comes to books on writing, but I managed to tear through this book from cover to cover (figuratively speaking) in one sitting. I am now going to write my new pilot. If it sells or I get staffed, I'll update this review ;-)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, No-Nonsense July 16, 2012
By Chris
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had my first Pilot script, or at least the outline of it, pretty well under way before buying this book. It occurred to me that, despite having written a number of short films of varying length, and even a feature-length screenplay, I knew nothing about writing for TV - aside from the fact that there are generally more than 3 acts in an hour-long drama.

After reading this book - a quick and easy read - I'm not a whole lot closer to having the format of the teleplay mastered, but I do have a much more concise idea about what it takes to make a worthwhile pilot. It's about ending up with something much more that fifty-some-odd pages. It's about creating something that can sustain dozens and hundreds of such scripts and setting it up properly.

The author's advice is very practical and down-to-earth, with plenty of contemporary real world examples. He discusses the viability of the pitch pilot in the contemporary TV business but gives you realistic expectations about the challenge of it. I'm convinced that in the current day, writing a pitch pilot is something every aspiring writer should be doing, not because it's going to sell and make them rich, but because it's part of what makes you a TV writer.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very useful.
This was disappointing. Not very useful.
Published 14 days ago by AJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Good outline
This was a very good outline of the key points necessary to write your pilot. The authors were also very candid about the high mountains you have to climb to be successful. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Robin Capehart
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 19 days ago by Terry McFadden
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent read. I learned a lot!
Published 20 days ago by C. Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars If you only buy one book about conceiving a TV Pilot, this should be...
I bought this book in preparation for a class I will be teaching about writing a TV pilot. Rabkin is entertaining and he knows what he is writing about. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Johannes Bockwoldt
5.0 out of 5 stars great read!
Rabkin plays it straight, enlightening the reader about endless television Pilot writing possibilities while making sure one doesn't foolishly deviate from the realities of the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Johnny Colon
5.0 out of 5 stars Helped Me Make Sense of My Life
I enjoyed how the author gave specific examples to explain the ideas he was trying to get across. This book contained a lot of information that was new to me and that is... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nicole Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth it's weight in platinum
A power packed little gem. Covers all the broad strokes of creating a successful tv series, in a way that is crystal clear and VERY EASY TO APPLY. A rarity in screenwriting books. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I bought the book because I need this info for my creations. I will recommend it. It's full of wisdom.
Published 1 month ago by Michael Gaines
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
Good, cold hard facts about the TV industry. Like another person said, the advice in here could also be used for a trilogy of movies.
Published 1 month ago by Umar
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More About the Author

William Rabkin is a two-time Edgar Award nominee who writes the Psych series of novels and is the author of Writing the Pilot. He has consulted for studios in Canada, Germany, and Spain on television series production and teaches screenwriting at UCLA Extension and as an adjunct professor in UC Riverside's low-residency masters program.

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