How to Write a TV Pilot Script Like a Pro
in 8 Steps

A practical step-by-step guide on writing a TV pilot script that'll help get your foot in the door.

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by Script Reader Pro in TV Writing
November 15, 2021 70 comments
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How to write a TV pilot script like a pro.

So you want to learn how to write a TV pilot script? Good call. The market’s growing. Writers rule in television. And you probably need a pilot TV show in your arsenal anyway to increase your options.

The problem is the world of TV can be a confusing place for an aspiring writer…

There’s multi-camera vs. single-camera, networks vs. cable, serials vs. episodic, limited series vs. anthologies, etc. And something called a “TV show bible” that you’re not even sure if you need.

Confused by how to write a pilot for Netflix or Hulu? (Or any cable channel or network for that matter.) 

This post aims to dispel much of the confusion surrounding how to write a TV pilot episode. We’ll strip everything back to its bare basics and give you a solid foundation on which to write one. From the ground-up.

The problem with most advice on writing a TV pilot is that it’s top-down. That is, you’ll hear lots of nuggets of information like “know your audience” “include set-ups and payoffs” and “your show must have legs.” What’s missing here is real advice on how to actually craft a compelling story execs will want to buy.

We all know, for example, that “writing is rewriting.” But advice like this doesn’t really help much if you don’t have a strategic plan for writing the first draft in the first place. You might be left blindly writing and rewriting the same mistakes.

To approach how to write a TV pilot script from the ground-up means approaching it systematically with a game plan. And this is what we’re going to show you how to do. Before we get started let’s take a look at a few industry definitions.

Click to tweet this post. 

What is a pilot script?

As an aspiring writer, you’ll be writing a TV pilot episode “on spec.” That is, speculatively for free, with the hope someone in the industry will read it and like it enough to either take you on. Either as a client, as a staff member or maybe even buy the show.

Back in the day, it was common for aspiring writers to write a spec television pilot based on an existing (usually currently on-air) show. This would then be used as a calling card  to show off their writing chops and get hired on the writing staff. Or on a similar show.

How to write a TV pilot script for today’s market.

However, after years of industry people getting flooded with spec 30 Rock and Sopranos scripts, the process has changed a little. You might still get somewhere writing a spec of an existing show. Nowadays, though, it’s more advisable to write a TV pilot based on your own original idea.

People want to see not only that you can write to order, but that you have the imagination to come up with original, exciting ideas. And sustain them over the course of a whole season.

What’s pilot season? Some kind of shooting spree?

Very few writers (especially aspiring writers) are lucky enough to have their script go “straight-to-series.” In other words, have a studio buy their entire series and put it straight on air, without first making a pilot.

This is slowly changing but most TV writers still have to go through the nail-biting hell known as “pilot season.”

This is the five or so months from January through May when dozens of pilots get made, but not all of them get “picked up.” Or given the green light to be made into a series.

It’s a very stressful time.

What’s a TV bible and do I need one?

For now, though, all you need to worry about is how to write a TV pilot episode. Don’t worry about coming up with ten episodes for a whole season. And there’s no need right now to come up with a show bible. (This is a more polished outline designed to show to execs and producers when you’re hawking the script around town.)

You’ll need to write an outline—a breakdown of the story and characters—but a bible can wait until you’ve garnered some interest in the pilot TV show. When you really need to give people something more concrete. (We include some TV bible examples later in the post.)

For now, though, let’s get started with writing a pilot script.

How to write a TV pilot script step #1: Focus on your reason for writing it. 

You may already have a pilot series you’re working on or at least an idea of the kind of one you’d like to write. When it comes to writing a television pilot though, the first step is to understand why you want to write it.

We often hear writers give reasons like these as to why they want to write a TV pilot episode:

“I heard I need one in my portfolio.”

“It’s easier than writing a feature.”

“I want to sell it asap.”

“I’ll write a sitcom because it’s only 30 pages.”

All of these reasons are fair enough. But you’ll stand much more chance of writing a TV pilot episode that will actually sell if you’re actually passionate about television in the first place.

Passion + the long haul. 

If you have an idea for a story that you’re excited about and think it belongs on the small screen rather than the big screen, then this passion is more likely to come out in your writing.

While comedy TV pilots, for example, are often only around 25-35 pages long, this doesn’t make writing them any easier. In fact, it’s often harder to write comedy. So you need to make sure you’re certain you’re in it for the long haul—i.e. months and months of rewrites.

And about potentially repeating this process over multiple episodes without getting bored with writing about the same characters.

Rather than just having a vague sense of “wanting to write a TV pilot,” really try to pinpoint why. Is it for a calculated reason like those outlined above? Or because you really have a passion for telling extended stories over multiple seasons. As opposed to self-contained ones that wrap in 110 pages?

Do you feel like you’re “born” to do this?

Let’s stick with the comedy pilot example for a moment. Have you spent your life watching sitcoms from when you were a kid? Can you recite lines from your favorite episodes? Do you love throwing out one-liners with your friends? Do you know the names of your favorite writers and follow them from show to show?

Answering “yes” to most of the above is a sign you have the dedication and passion to succeed as a TV comedy writer.

Alternatively, if you’ve already mastered how to write features and decided now’s the time to write a pilot script, this is a more strategic move, but it’s also a sensible one.

It’s true that the more variety you have in your portfolio the better. Television’s a great place for writers at the moment, so don’t hesitate to grab a piece of the pie.

How to write a TV pilot script step #2: select 3 of your favorite shows. 

This is where you take all that repetitive top-down advice you’ve heard on how to write a TV pilot script, and instead approach it from the other way around: from the ground-up.

Advice such as “make sure you fully set up the world of the story,” or “remember to include three clear A, B and C stories” isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just not very easy to actually apply.

However, by studying how the pilots of three of your favorite shows set up the story world, define their A, B and C stories, plant pay-offs, etc. you’ll learn how to do the same in your own TV pilot episode.

Start with 6 TV shows. 

Start by selecting six TV shows that most resemble the kind of TV pilot script you want to write. These should arc back to your reason for wanting to write the show in the first place and your passion for television as discussed in the previous step.

To help with this, have a think about the following three questions:

1. What are the six TV shows you wish you’d written?

2. What is it about them that you love so much?

3. What shows can you watch over and over again?

Got six? Good. Now it’s time to refine the list in two ways, by genre and format.

TV pilot genre. 

Start by seeing which shows overlap on the list when it comes to genre. Focus on which major similarities there are between your choices. Are they mainly comedies, political dramas or fantasy action/adventures? If so, you already know pretty much what genre your television pilot is going to be.

On the other hand, if you selected one comedy, a crime drama, three police procedurals and a sci-fi thriller, then you need to give it a little more thought. This is because as you’re starting out learning how to write a TV pilot script, it’s best to hone your skills in only one genre.

Even though there’s much blending of genres going on in TV right now—with shows like Stranger Things mixing sci-fi, crime drama, comedy, fantasy and horror—try to nail down which broad genre you think you’d have most fun writing.

Don’t worry about budgets or what’s hot right now on TV. Focus on your passion and what types of characters and situations you can imagine still being inspired to write about in a year’s time.

TV pilot script format. 

Once you’ve decided which genre you’d like to focus on, it’s time to refine the list down to a single TV pilot format. Take a look at your six shows and see where they overlap regarding the four major formats: Episodic, Serial, Anthology or Limited.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each. You can find TV pilot examples of each in our post 50 Best TV Scripts to Download and Read for Free.

1. Episodic pilot script template.

These are shows with self-contained stories each week. You generally don’t need to know what happened the previous week because it’s a new episode and an entirely new story, but with the same cast of characters.

Examples of episodic TV shows are:


 Law & Order

 The X-Files

While each episode is self-contained, these shows can also often have overarching stories from season to season. Ross and Rachel’s relationship in Friends, for example, has continual ups and downs that span the entire course of the show in one long sustained storyline.

2. Serial pilot script template.

The key difference here is that it’s essential you’ve seen the previous episode because otherwise you’re not going to know what’s going on. It’s one big story, told over many seasons, with each episode progressing the plot.

Examples of TV serials include:

 Breaking Bad

 Game of Thrones

 The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Generally regarded as more high-brow than episodic TV, serials tend to be where we get the notion we’re in the middle of television’s “golden age.”

3. Anthology pilot script template.

Anthology series are kind of a mix of episodic and serial TV shows in that they contain self-contained seasons instead of episodes. An anthology series will usually feature the same location, genre and themes, but change its cast from season to season.

Some examples include:

 American Horror Story


 The Sinner

Anthology series have made a major comeback in recent years as the general trend toward better written and produced television has increased.

4. Limited pilot script template.

Formerly known as a “mini-series,” a limited series tells a complete story from beginning to end in around eight to ten episodes—a bit like taking a whole serial and condensing it down to just one season.

Here are some examples of popular limited TV series:

 Feud: Bette and Joan

 Sharp Objects

 Twin Peaks: The Return

The problem with limited series is that they’re often so popular that producers can’t resist extending them into anthologies or serials but at the risk of losing their appeal.

Some people argue that Big Little Lies and Stranger Things, for example, might have been better off left as limited series.

Check out our post 50 Best TV Scripts to Download and Read for Free for a comprehensive list of pilots to study.

Nail it down to 3 TV shows. 

By considering how your six favorite TV shows fit into these genres and formats, you’ll hopefully be able to select three that share both of these elements in common.

If your list contains 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Frasier, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, for example, then it’s clear the three TV pilots to select should either be single-camera or multi-camera sitcoms.

(30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, are single-camera sitcoms, while The Big Bang Theory and Frasier are multi-camera. Read more about the difference between the two in our post on how to write a TV show.)

If, on the other hand, your list contains Big Little Lies, The Sinner, Sharp Objects and Twin Peaks: The Return, then it’s clear you’re more inclined toward crime drama, whether that’s as a limited series or a serial.

Analyze your 3 TV pilots.  

Once you have three shows, it’s time to break down and analyze them. Yes, great writing requires originality, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s built upon and inspired by great writing that came before it.

Look at each one as a kind of pilot script template that you can use to launch your own story from. Not to copy, but to be inspired by.

By analyzing the TV pilots and shows you love you’ll gain a stronger grasp of why you love them and what makes them work. Then can you move on to actually writing your own.

While you might have a great idea and just want to get stuck into the writing, don’t underestimate the importance of this prep work.

To skip it is essentially the same as expecting Jimi Hendrix to have come up with Purple Haze out of nowhere—without first spending years studying and playing rhythm and blues.

You need a solid foundation for this harder-than-it-looks enterprise of writing a TV pilot episode. And that foundation can be built through watching, re-watching, studying and breaking down the kind of pilot TV show you want to write.

how to write a tv pilot script

How to write a TV pilot script step #3: outline other TV pilots. 

This is the initial first step in order to get you really stuck into the process of deconstructing your three favorite TV shows: outlining them.

This is a simple, yet very powerful practical exercise that will help you understand all about strong character introductions, story world set-ups, A, B, and C stories and so on, in a much more hands-on way than just being told you need them.

How to outline a TV pilot. 

Start with the first TV pilot episode on your list and follow these steps. Create a new document and name it after the pilot TV series, something like The Purge TV pilot outline.”

In another tab, bring up the show’s details in IMDb. This is handy for adding character names as each episode progresses.

Start the pilot show and simply begin typing what you see on screen. Summarize each scene into a few short sentences that capture the absolute essentials needed to know what’s happening.

For example, the opening three scenes of The Purge pilot should look something like this:

People shower together in some kind of facility. Afterwards they put on identical blue robes. They look happy.

One of the women, Penelope, drives down the freeway while narrating a letter to Miguel, letting him know she’s okay. She’s joining her parents on the anniversary of their “giving.”

SUPER: 97 minutes to Purge.

Miguel enters the facility and asks a nurse if he can see Penelope. The nurse tells him she checked out months ago. He finds out she left with a guy named Henry.

Note how you don’t need to include every little detail, such as what Miguel’s wearing or his pep talk about overcoming fear to the nurse’s son. Just put down the bare bones needed to understand what the overall purpose of each scene is.

It can be tricky at first to keep up with the speed of the action, but after a little practice, it becomes fairly easy to outline in real-time without continually having to pause the show.

You should end up with a document a few pages long with each paragraph or sentence representing a scene in the pilot.

How to write a TV pilot script step #4: break down the completed outline. 

Now it’s time to go back and break down the outline’s scenes into acts. Depending on the show you’re outlining it can have anything from two to five acts, but some have more.

Just like in a movie, act breaks in a TV show occur at cliffhanger moments designed to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next.

This is true for shows with and without commercials, and by breaking down enough shows you’ll start to see a pattern of where they occur.

Break down the acts to master TV pilot structure.

Take a look at the pilot to the classic sitcom, Frasier, in which Frasier is forced by his brother Niles (and fate) to take in his father, Martin, and hire a home care provider for him, Daphne Moon.

By writing a TV pilot outline PDF, you’ll be able to clearly see that the show contains two acts, with the end of the Act 1 occurring with this exact event: Martin moving in with his dog, Eddie.

Act 2 then explores this conflict further, ending with Daphne moving in and Frasier being forced to get used to his new life.

You can also read the script of course, but outlining is a better method because it’s more hands-on. It will force you to think about TV pilot structure by working out where its act breaks occur, rather than just seeing them laid out on the page. (Also, unlike the ones in this post, not all TV pilot scripts are available to download and read.)

You’ll also begin to notice how many scenes roughly make up each act. In the case of the Frasier pilot, it breaks down like this:

• Act 1: 5 scenes

• Act 2: 3 scenes

This means, rather than just blindly writing a show not knowing how many scenes you should be writing, you can now see whether you’re writing too few or too many.

But always bear in mind this will only give you a rough guideline. Nothing’s set in stone that says “you must include three scenes in Act 2 of a multi-cam sitcom.”

Finally, the length of your show should become apparent. In today’s TV world there’s a blurry line between comedy and drama, but the former still usually come in at around 30 pages and the latter at 60.

Break down the A, B and C stories of TV shows. 

Returning to the Frasier pilot, the multiple plotlines break down like this:

• A-story: Frasier and Martin

• B-story: Frasier and Niles

• C-story: Frasier and Roz/work

• D-story: Frasier/Martin and Daphne

• E-story: Niles and Maris

As you can see some of the most memorable aspects of the show aren’t properly set up in the pilot episode: Frasier’s fraught love life and Niles’ unrequited relationship with Daphne.

It’s these kinds of details that will become obvious the more outlines you write.

It’s a good idea to label each A, B and C story etc. in the outline either with a tag at the end or by making its scenes a different color. This way you’ll be able to look at the document and easily see which plotline each scene belongs to and how much time is devoted to it.

Break down the story world.

By writing outlines you’ll also get a stronger grasp of the kind of story world you need to emulate, what’s included and what’s left out.

In Frasier, the main story worlds are Frasier’s apartment (home) the radio station (work) and coffee shop (leisure.) We don’t have any scenes shot outside or in locations that deviate from one of these three, such as seeing Frasier at the opera.

In later episodes, we see the characters in a variety of locations but how and why we do so are all elements that you’ll come to understand by outlining the pilot series.

The core sets that remain a constant throughout are all established in the pilot: Frasier’s apartment, his workplace and Cafe Nervosa.

• Likewise, in Big Little Lies, each characters’ home serves as a core location, as well as the school, the coffee shop and Monterey itself.

•  In American Horror Story, the core location is the “murder house,” so outlining will help draw attention to where scenes take place and what the show’s main locations are.

Break down the characters.

Finally, break down the show’s characters by noting how each one influences and causes conflict in the main protagonist’s life. Every character needs to earn their place in the show and so by noting just what each characters’ role is you’ll be influenced to strengthen the relationships in your own show.

For example, Frasier is the flawed protagonist who just wants to be left alone. Martin moves in, inconveniencing him. Niles instigates this. Daphne with her eccentric personality and Eddie with his staring move in, inconveniencing him further. Martin instigates this.

At the end, Roz tells Frasier the story of Lupe Vélez, making him see that when things don’t go as we planned, they have a way of working out anyway. She’s his advice-giver.

See what patterns emerge.

The more episodes you outline, the more patterns you’ll see when it comes to the characters and how they influence and cause conflict with the protagonist. As well, of course, how the protagonist causes conflict for themselves.

You’ll notice that there are never any characters in a pilot TV series that don’t have a specific role to play, and so it’ll be that much easier to cut extraneous characters out of your own script—the ones that aren’t doing much except sitting around shooting the breeze.

Furthermore, you’ll see how each character is introduced and developed in order to elicit the maximum amount of conflict from the show.

Frasier isn’t just any old shrink, he’s a grumpy snob. His father isn’t just any old guy, he’s a blue-collar straight-talker—the exact opposite to Frasier.

Niles, his brother, is just as stuck-up and principled and this is the cause of their friction, while Daphne’s ditzy English ways are specifically designed to exasperate him. In fact, each character annoys him but in a different way, and these kinds of character contradictions and conflicts will become more apparent as you outline your chosen shows.

Repeat the process on the TV show’s whole season.

Once you’ve broken down the pilot, it’s time to repeat with the entire season. Then move onto the television pilot of your second choice and repeat, followed by the third one on your list.

You’re welcome to repeat the exercise for the entire series of each show, but by breaking down three opening seasons of three series you’ll gain a terrific understanding of your chosen genre’s characters, worlds, storylines, TV pilot structure, dialogue and more.

• Is the main idea high or low concept?

• Are the stories complex or simple?

• How many plotlines are there?

• What’s each character’s goal?

• Is the tone dramatic with comedic moments or relentlessly downbeat?

Writing around thirty outlines (three seasons) is probably enough to give you answers to all these questions and more. Then it’s time to move on to the next phase.

how to write a tv pilot script

How to write a TV pilot script step #5: read other TV scripts.

Actually, it’s not really a “next phase” but something you should be doing concurrently as you write outlines of your favorite shows: reading the TV pilot scripts as well.

We have a post that contains 50 of the best TV scripts to read that you should definitely take a look at. And here are some more TV pilot scripts worth reading depending on your TV pilot’s genre:

American Horror Story pilot script

 Breaking Bad pilot script

Community pilot script

Fargo pilot script

Friends pilot script

Game of Thrones pilot script

If your chosen pilots aren’t on the list we recommend trying an internet search. The best way to find scripts is if you look for: “name of the TV show” in quotation marks, followed by “pilot pdf download.”

The difference between outlining a TV pilot episode and reading one is that the latter will really help with dialogue and scene construction.

By seeing how each scene looks on the page, as opposed to merely on screen, you’ll gain a much better idea of how characters speak and how their personalities are shown by what they say.

Also, breaking down how each scene starts late and finishes early, pushes the story forward and/or reveals character is much easier on the page than by watching it on-screen when we tend to easily get wrapped up in the story.

Read as many TV scripts as you can but you should definitely be reading at least the pilot TV show and three or four episodes of each of your three shows.

How to write a TV pilot script step #6: come up with (or refine) your concept. 

Now that you’ve built a solid foundation in your script’s chosen genre having written a ton of outlines and read a ton of TV pilot show scripts, the real work begins… writing.

The advice that you only get better if you “write write write every day” is fine, but it doesn’t make much sense unless you have a clear idea of what to write.

As you’ve probably already heard, your core concept should be original, interesting and conflict-filled. If so many aspiring TV writers already know this, then why are so many spec TV pilots lacking in these areas?

The answer lies in the writer taking on board this advice but not acting on it. In other words, not actually applying tests to their own idea in order to make sure it’s strong enough to start working on the script. And that’s what we’re going to do in this section.

Concept is king.

The biggest reason most TV pilots don’t move forward is that the studio script readers, producers and execs are underwhelmed by the core concept—either when being pitched the logline or after reading the script.

Whether you already have a TV pilot episode you’re working on, or if you intend to start writing one, the best thing to do is first make sure you have a rock-solid core concept and logline.

Try to take a objective view.

The first step is to write out the logline to your pilot TV series one more time and be honest with yourself as you answer the following questions:

What’s the conflict inherent in this idea?

What makes this idea different from similar shows?

 What are each of the characters’ goals and what makes them interesting?

 Is this an idea that’s likely to stand out in the marketplace?

 Would you be confident enough in this idea to pitch it to a producer?

 If you could write your dream show, would this be it?

 If you heard this show was being made, would you be excited to watch it?

Answering these should flag up any originality and conflict issues if they exist. For example, imagine you’re face-to-face with a producer and have 30 seconds to pitch your idea. Would you be 100 percent confident in doing so?

If not, this means it probably needs work.

We have a post called How to Write a Logline: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide that you can read for more info on the subject.

We understand that being objective about your own ideas and creativity can be extremely tough. The logline may seem fine to you, but is “fine” good enough? Is it really strong enough to start writing the pilot script?

On the other hand you may think the idea’s not up to much but in reality, it’s an incredible idea that you’ve been putting off writing for way too long.

That’s why it’s never a good idea to rely solely on your own judgment but, instead, get some input from other people—specifically writers who work in TV.

Get feedback on your TV pilot.

If you know someone who works in the industry, ask them what they think of your idea. Try to get them to be as objective as possible by saying something like “I’m not wedded to this idea so just be honest. I can take it.”

If you don’t know anyone in the business, you can also ask friends and family, post the logline on sites like Stage 32 or get some script coverage on your idea from a professional script consultancy.

If you’re feeling really brave, ask strangers in coffee shops. This way you’ll get a straight-up no-frills reaction to your idea. If they’re excited to know what happens next or wish they’d thought of the idea themselves then you’re onto a winner. If they’re confused or uninspired then you know you have work to do.

How to write a TV pilot script with enough conflict.

A TV pilot episode can never have too much conflict. Return to the logline and think about how, in line with all the shows you’ve outlined and read, the conflict could be tightened and made even more exciting. When it comes to the core concept in television, the idea can be broken down like this:

Protagonist + Story World = Conflict

All three elements should be more or less indistinguishable from each other and feed off each other. As touched on earlier, the protagonist should be the one person who’s got the most to lose from being placed in that particular story world.

They should be the one character who’s going to suffer the most from this conflict. And also the one who does the most week in and week out to drive the action trying to solve it.

A few examples.

Let’s take a look at Frasier, Stranger Things and Sharp Objects again for examples:


Frasier being a stuck-up snob is the perfect character to be forced into a story world living with his blue-collar father, dog and home care provider.

If he was more easy-going, the show wouldn’t work because the characters wouldn’t cause conflict in each other’s lives. Frasier is the character who drives the action, trying to solve his various problems.

Stranger Things.

Three innocent, imaginative boys are the perfect characters to have a best friend be abducted by an alien.

If they were all grown-up UFO hunters the concept wouldn’t be as interesting because they’d already be familiar with living in an adult world and the extraterrestrial. They’re the primary characters who push the story forward as they try to find their friend.

Sharp Objects.

Camille, the self-harming alcoholic reporter, is the perfect character to be forced to return to her hometown to report on the murder of a young girl and move back in with her deranged mother.

If Camille’s childhood had been great and she was just a regular reporter, then returning home to cover the case wouldn’t generate any conflict within her, or for the show.

How to make sure your TV show’s idea Is original.

TV shows live or die on their originality. With so many spec TV pilots circulating Hollywood, for something new to catch the attention of an exec or producer, it needs to be super original.

It needs to be something we’ve never seen before. Or at least something we’ve seen before but with a different twist on it.

For a deep dive on the subject of originality and pushing your imagination as far as it can go, read our post How to Write a Screenplay: The 5 Steps Most Beginners Miss.

Again, getting feedback from other people is often a great way of highlighting any lack of originality in your show’s basic premise.

If your television pilot is about a kid who develops supernatural powers after being sent to a school built on a chemical dump site, they may say, “Wait, that sounds like that show The Secret World of Alex Mack from the 90s. Except he got hit by a chemical truck.”

3 more examples. 

Let’s take a look again at our three shows as examples:

 Yes, we’ve seen many sitcoms before revolving around a father and son, but not one in which the son is a snobbish radio show psychiatrist, and the father is a gruff retired police officer. This is the heart of what makes the Frasier pilot unique.

 We’ve seen a hundred shows and movies in which kids run around trying to solve a mystery, but not one which so successfully mixes mystery, sci-fi, humor and horror with a wonderfully nostalgic 80s retro vibe. This is what makes the Stranger Things pilot stand out.

 We’ve seen a journalist be sent back to a hometown to report on a murder, but not one which is the source of so much pain that they’re not only an alcoholic but a self-harmer who can’t wait to get out again. This is what draws us into the Sharp Objects pilot.

Keep your TV pilot idea simple and logical. 

Likewise, any confusing logic issues will likely be picked up by anyone you tell your idea to if there are any.

In the above example, you don’t want to write a whole pilot episode about a kid who gains superpowers after being sent to a school built on a chemical dump site, only to realize you haven’t explained why no other kid develops the powers.

Or that your reasoning behind it doesn’t make much sense.

The big idea. 

Stick to one core idea that you want to develop over the course of the season. So rather than having a logline like this:

A group of supernatural beings raised by American foster-parents become pseudo superheroes and try to understand their powers while reaping the souls of malevolent individuals and saving the world from an evil mastermind intent on world domination.

This logline has too much going on. The ideas are good but it needs refining down to one single, clear conflict. Otherwise, the story feels muddied. The best way to do this is to focus on the protagonist’s main goal and make sure the antagonist is in direct opposition to it.

Back to the 3 examples. 

Let’s take a look at how this is done in our three shows:

 Frasier wants to live alone / his father moves in

 The kids want to find their missing friend / he’s been kidnapped by a powerful mystery force

 Camille wants to find out who murdered the girl / her past gets in the way.

Or if you’re writing a lower-key comedy or drama, like Mad Men, then it’s all about creating an unusual setting and strong characters. It’s about pulling the audience in through the characters’ individual stories and slowly developing relationships.

List all of your major characters and make sure each one has a goal during the course of the pilot series. Ask yourself and others if this is something you/they’d want to watch. Is it original? Is it exciting? etc. Repeat the feedback exercises above and repeat.

When you’re sure the logline is watertight, it’s time to start the next step in the process of writing a TV pilot episode…

how to write a tv pilot script

How to write a TV show step #7: start outlining (or editing) your pilot. 

We recommend that you leave writing the TV pilot script until last. The best next step is to write an outline of what you want to include in it.

As you should already be used to the practice of writing outlines, this process should be somewhat easier than if you haven’t already broken down numerous TV episodes.

Different outlining methods. 

Different writers have different methods of coming up with blueprints for their television pilot show before actually writing it. Some write a one scene per sentence/paragraph outline as we’ve previously discussed.

Others write out their scenes on index cards and stick them to a cork board so they can visually see how everything maps out. Others prefer to start by writing a detailed document in prose form. Either a treatment or show bible.

This isn’t an exact science. It doesn’t really matter which method you choose, the important thing is that you get down a skeletal blueprint of what happens in your TV pilot before you start writing it.

While some writers like to dive straight in and start writing the pilot script without an outline, this is a risky move.

Without an outline, it’s hard to properly structure the pilot episode and make sure the conflict is as focused as it can be. In short, going this route is likely to result in quite a bit of rewriting which can be avoided by mapping out the show beforehand.

How to outline your TV pilot.

Whichever outlining method you choose, probably the best way to start is with a blank page. Jot down all of the elements we’ve already discussed. Who are your main characters are? What do they want? What’s the core conflict? What’s at stake? etc.

Then start thinking about how you’re going to approach the TV pilot structure in the script. Start with the big act breaks. What happens at each? What big event throws the story in a completely unexpected direction, pouring more misery on the protagonist? What are the big story beats for each plotline?

Acts > scenes > beats. 

Then get into the scenes in each act. Plot each one so the protagonist is actively working toward their goal. One that succeeds or fails at the end of each act break. Write a sentence or two for each scene, just like in the outlines you created for your favorite shows.

What’s the purpose of each scene? What do you want to show the audience about a particular character or relationship?

There’s no real need to include dialogue in here unless something particularly telling or witty jumps out at you. Once it’s finished, step away for at least a week before re-reading it. This small amount of distance should give you the chance to see it again with fresh eyes.

If you keep plowing on without backing away once in a while, you’re likely to become too close to the story and unable to see obvious faults in it or with the characters. So write a draft of the outline, take a break, rewrite, take a break, etc.

For more info, check out our post How to Write a Script Outline That’ll Save You Months of Rewrites.

Read TV show bibles.

Although you don’t actually need to write a full TV bible at this stage, reading bibles for existing shows can be really helpful. It will help you see how the creators formulate their ideas in one concise document.

Here are some TV bible examples:

Fargo TV bible

Freaks and Geeks TV bible

New Girl TV bible

Poltergeist TV bible

Stranger Things bible

And in our post 40 TV Show Bible Examples to Download you’ll find all these and more.

They can be harder to find than TV pilot scripts, but try to find the pitch bibles online of your chosen three shows too and dissect them.

Get feedback on your TV pilot outline.

Also, remember to ask others for feedback along the way. If you don’t know anyone in the industry, we have a Story Analysis service in which you can send us your outline, treatment or bible. One of our professional TV writers will then give you feedback on what’s working and how to fix what’s not.

Overall, we advise not skipping on the outlining part. It may be tiresome but you don’t want to wind up having to do a huge rewrite because you’ve just had a major epiphany about the protagonist midway through writing the script.

How to write a TV pilot script step #8: start writing!  

Finally, it’s time to write the script. If you’ve already spent a great deal of time outlining and breaking down your favorite shows, as well as your own pilot, this stage should actually be “fairly” straightforward.

If the concept, story and characters are air-tight, now it’s a case of following the outline and writing the scenes in as exciting a way as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done.

There’s too much information on how to write characters and dialogue, develop themes and conflict to go into here in this post, so we recommend checking out our post How to Write for TV.

Also, here are some books and guides on how to write a TV pilot that we strongly recommend you purchase and read. (They contain affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Writing The Drama Series: Pam Douglas

Writing the Pilot: William Rabkin

TV pilot script format. 

TV script formatting is slightly different from feature script formatting and can seem tricky at first with its multi-camera and single-camera rules.

However, it’s not particularly difficult to master if you use professional screenwriting software and do a little research on how to format the genre you’re writing in.

In our post on How to Write For TV, we go into detail on formatting 60-min, and 30-min single cam and multi-cam episodes.

Get feedback on your TV pilot script.

Once you have a completed draft, repeat the exercise of getting as much feedback as you can on your TV pilot episode. That is, before you send out into the industry.

Another great way to get a really strong idea of just how good your script is, is to put it through the trials and tribulations of a table read.

Get some friends together or join a writing group that does table reads and hear how your pilot show sounds when read out loud. This is something professional writers do all the time and it should be in your arsenal of feedback options too.

TV pilot script coverage. 

We also have a TV Script Coverage service dedicated to this. All of our consultants are also working writers, many of whom have worked in TV for major production companies and can help get your TV pilot sold too.

And we have a Mentorship Program in which we can work with you one-on-one in developing your television pilot, every week over twelve sessions.

Whoever you choose to look over your TV pilot, make sure you check out their credentials before parting with your hard-earned cash. Are they professional writers or just college grads? Do you know who’ll be working on your script? How long have they been in business?

Some websites also run TV pilot competitions which offer feedback as well as giving you the chance to win prize money or set you up with a manager or producer. Do your research first and you’ll be just fine.

Frequently asked questions on how to write a TV pilot script. 

Q. What makes a good TV pilot script above all else? 
A. There is no one thing that’s going to make your pilot get picked up over someone else’s. It’s a conglomeration of things including your “voice,” style, wit, originality, imagination and confidence on the page. But more important, perhaps, is just a good story, well told.

Q. How long should a TV pilot script be? 
A. It depends whether you’re writing a comedy or a drama. As a rule of thumb, comedies should be around 30 pages and dramas around 60.

Q. How are TV scripts written?
A. As we’ve said many times before, the first thing you want to do is grab a copy of a professional screenwriting software. (Preferably a paid one, or a free one if money’s tight.) Then, get typing. The formatting will be taken care of as your write if you’re using decent software, but be aware of the differences in formatting between the types of shows as outlined in this post.

Q. How do you write a script for a pilot? 
A. Start by going back and carefully reading this post. No skimming this time!

Click to tweet this post. 

How to write a TV pilot script: conclusion.

This was a long post but we hope we’ve gone some way to answering how to write a TV pilot script for you. In short, for your TV pilot to be successful requires as much research and background work as it does actually writing.

Don’t fall into the trap of jumping straight into writing the script. Work out what the core conflict is. Discover what makes it engaging and what sets it apart from everything that’s gone before.  

If you really want to know how to write a TV pilot script…

Ask yourself what kind of new TV pilot episode would you want to watch? What kind of characters and situations would you most like to see on screen? What kind of show do you wish was available on Netflix but isn’t? This is the TV pilot script you should aim to write.

Next comes the business of getting your pilot script into the right hands, by getting a job as an assistant, networking, moving to LA, etc. all of which you can read more about in our post on how to write for TV.


We’d love to hear your input on how to write a TV pilot script. How do you go about writing a pilot for a TV show? What are your favorite TV pilot scripts? Let us know in the comments section below.

how to write a tv pilot script

More posts on how to write a TV pilot script and become a TV writer…

How to Write for TV: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Career

How to Write a Pilot For Netflix, Networks and More

50 of the Best TV Scripts to Download and Study to Improve Your Writing

[© Photo credits: Pexels]

  1. ali hamidi says:

    Thank you. that was perfect….

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Ali!

  2. Harold Romo says:

    Esta guía es tremaneda clase de escritura práctica, esa que adolecen las escuelas de guion, muchas gracias por compartir y motivar a tantos, que como yo, queremos que nuestras historias salgan al aire por cualquier paltaforma.

  3. Darren G. says:

    This is a great site for those who have contemplated writing a script, but did not know where to start. I have been toying with an idea, but never actually sat down to write. This website inspired me to at least begin the process of writing and see where it goes. Thank you for the open-ended suggestions.

    From a small place in Canada called PEI!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s great to hear – glad we inspired you to get started 🙂

  4. Claudio Martinez-Valle says:

    Congratulations on the video. My question: I have written five unproduced screenplays. So, I have experience in storytelling and format. From UCLA teachers to people who work in advertising have recommended that one of the scripts will be an excellent TV show. Is it challenging to adapt It? My biggest challenge is the number of characters like Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, or Sopranos has. More characters, more episodes. I only have three protagonists and one antagonist.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hey, Claudio – it’s hard to say. Adapting your own feature into a TV show is probably easier than writing a TV show from scratch as you already know the story and characters. But as you know, all writing has its challenges 🙂

  5. David Perlmutter says:

    Hi, intertesing article. I’m an author of 15 books, with three being a crime fiction trilogy. Many of my readers would love to see a TV series of my work, but my question is, should the author of the books write the script?

    I am in the process of doing that, but wanted your thoughts.

    Many thanks.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks David – Yes, you’re the person best qualified to write the script.

  6. Archie Sil says:

    How do I go about writing a tv pilot based on a true story of which there is no blueprint to go off of? I wrote the feature script but think it’s better as a tv show. Can anyone advise please? Is there anyone who would be willing to co-write with me? I’m based in LA. Thanks!

  7. Stefany Franco says:

    So Helpful, detailed, on-point- making great recommendations. There is no easy road: research, breakdown episodes, been honest with our motivations and material, and then we can get close to a tv pilot that someone in the industry wants to read. If we don’t take time on our own project, why someone else should be doing it? Thx a lot from Spain.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Stefany, keep at it and you’ll get there. 🙂

  8. Chris says:

    Do you have outline examples for famous pilot scripts? Drama and comedy?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Chris – no but we do have TV bible examples you can check out here – some of which contain synopses.

  9. Helen Cornelia Godolley says:

    After 4 feature films, written, rewritten and critiqued, finally a full hearted advice, that I needed so much for venturing into TV pilots.
    So well done, thank you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      So glad to hear it helped, Helen 🙂

  10. Rosa Hough says:

    Thanks for the information. I learned a lot.
    I am writing a TV pilot.
    Question: Is the outline format for the TV pilot different from the
    screenplay outline?
    Thanks again.

  11. Desheila says:

    All this information has been very helpful.. I’m excited about moving forward and write the damn show that refuses to lay down and go to sleep because of my insecurities. The work and clarity is what I needed. Thank you so much.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s great to hear, Desheila – best of luck with the script!

  12. K Brian says:

    Wow this has really been very helpful.
    Thanks again

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the shout out!

  13. H Parker says:

    Does anyone have the scrpt for Scrubs pilot episode?

  14. john j says:

    Excellent advice on how to write a tv pilot, thanks you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, John!

  15. Debbie Finn says:

    I have amazing dreams of new TV show ideas and concepts. I don’t care to write them, but I would love to share them for someone else to make money on them. Where would I go to share this information?
    PS: I am not crazy, I am employed, a normal grandma. I just have great nighttime dreams that seem like they want to be shared.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Debbie, make it happen 🙂

  16. Afolabi Nnamani says:

    Is it better to write for cable of network?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Not sure I get the question.

  17. Raj says:

    Thanks, i have been looking a long time find info this good on how to write a TV pilot script it is quite informative

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks a lot for the comment, Raj!

  18. Marianne says:

    Thank you so much for great advice. Quick question though; would you say it is possible to Pitch a script in the US while living in (and writing from) Norway? You mention that it is a good idea to move to LA, but unfortunately this is not an option for me.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No it’s not a must to move to LA – there’s Skype, email etc. so if you’re happy to fly in for meetings it might be doable to remain out of the country. Even meetings can be conducted on Skype but it’s just that much easier for managers/producers/agents to work with someone who’s in town.

  19. Elisha Hunt Rhodes says:

    My cowriter and I need help with our tv script can you help us get it to where it can be sold?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, we have a TV coverage service you can check out here.

  20. JP says:

    I have an amazing idea for a new TV show, it’s finished and ready to buy. Set in Alaska during the cold war and called Cold Hearts. I can send to you for your appraisal at your convenience. Thank you!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We’re not a production company.

  21. Julia Harris says:

    Whoa, this is my “master plan”! Thank you a million times over 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Julia!

  22. Olana. W. says:

    This is awesome but I have a question How do I know when my script is really ready to send out?

  23. Terence Newman says:

    Hеy, this is just awesome. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Terrence, glad you enjoyed it.

  24. Dee Stapleton says:

    I have a tv series based on climate change disaster. Can you read it and tell me what you think?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Here’s our TV Coverage service.

  25. Adebare says:

    Just studying this to prepare a Pilot Tv script for the first time. It’s helpful so far, I only hope am able to maximize it and get the best out of it. Thanks so much

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Adebare, and best of luck with the pilot!

  26. Fiona Mason says:

    A ‘master plan’ is misleading. There is so much more that goes into selling a tv script so you should change it.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:


  27. Erica says:

    Amazing resource for the first-time scriptwriter. Clear, concise and confident – thankyou!

  28. tanya schneider says:

    Do you have the Tv script to Orange is New Black? Love that show and really want to read it .

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, it’s one of our 50 best TV scripts to download.

  29. Ivor Lomberg says:

    It’s aϲtually very difficult to break into TV. I just want to sell my script but it’s so hard. Thanks for posting this though it’s very helpful.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Keep at it, Ivor. You’ll get there.

  30. Kristan Croxford says:

    Very good thanks. I have a much better idea of what to do with my pilot now.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s good to hear, Kristan.

    2. Script Reader Pro says:

      That’s good to hear, thanks, Kristan.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Do you have to copywrite a TV script before sending it to companies? Thank you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No, but most writers do for peace of mind.

  32. Neil Whittle says:

    Becoming a TV writer is even harder than a feature writer in my humble opinion.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It’s all very subjective, yes. There’s no way of saying really that one’s easier than the other.

  33. Alec Biribin says:

    I learned a lot here about bibles and have a more structured vision now of what I need to do to become a writer for tv.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Great, thanks, Alec!

  34. Cosma says:

    I study screenwriting in LA and I’m annoyed that we waste the whole first year on mindless busywork instead of learning how to write a TV pilot or spec script. So, thanks for putting this guide together. You should teach screenwriting.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Cosma. That’s a complaint about screenwriting courses we hear a lot. Good luck with the script!

  35. Kate Lili says:

    So much to take in here, thank you for all these practical tasks. I feel like I have homework that I can’t wait to tuck into now. Great post, thanks again!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad it inspired you! Cheers, Kate.

  36. Benjamin Smith says:

    Nice work! You are right before you start writing any script you need to decide why you need it. I think that the correct understanding of the main goals of the tasks helps you to get there. It is very important at the start of writing some text to understand why you do it, what motivates you, what you want to get at the end.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks a lot, Benjamin. Totally agree.

  37. Elizabeth Keefe says:

    So helpful and so far so good. I love this instruction. I love the sit com Frazier and am watching reruns at the moment to help me write a couple of TV comedies myself. Thank you for your instructional post. Have to finish it later.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Elizabeth! Good luck with the scripts.

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