Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Writer/Creators – Beth Kilcoyne & Emma Kilcoyne – Director – Jamie Rafn
30 mins – Comedy / Drama - 2010 – UK

This is not our life. This is paper”

Episode synopsis

A storyline – The need to find the guarantee
B storyline – Contemplation of death and the future
C storyline – Esther in legal.

ACT 1 – When Roger gets home Val is in the kitchen sorting thru old paperwork looking for the Hoover guarantee. They are in dispute with the small shop that sold it to them, and need to produce the guarantee before they can get a refund. So far no luck., she is worried they may have to look for it in the Big Drawer. Val is also concerned there is a funny smell in the hall, but Roger can't smell anything. He tells her about a meeting at work, when he stood up for workers rights. He thinks he impressed Esther from Legal. And decides to call her for advice on the Hoover situation. Val tells him not to, but he does, and then panics and hands the phone over to her. She is mortified, apologises and makes him hang up. He is horrified he did this. This is what the situation has brought them to, there is nothing else to do, they have to face the Big Drawer.
They are in stasis over the Hoover issue and cannot move forward despite everything they try. They have to face the thing they have been avoiding.
ACT 2 – They go through into the garage and drag out a massive drawer brimming with paperwork. Val tells Roger to not worry about Esther, the real reason is that he is stressed about his dad, who is ill in hospital. As they go through the drawer they are distracted by why they have kept certain things, like a stone from a beach trip. Val wonders who will clear all this out when they are gone. And thinks their nephews will have the task. She decides she is going to sort it all out, and then throw it. As her last act before she dies. Roger debates the practicality of this but Val has a plan. She starts to throw stuff out. And finds the guarantee. They celebrate together, and then she rips it up.
All is lost, They had the solution in their hands, but they have thrown it away.
ACT 3 – Val is angry at herself for what she has done, but Roger says it is all fine, he can tape it back together, and he likes the fact that she is rebellious like that. He tells her he wouldn't want it to be any other way, that everything is good. She starts to make dinner, and we see Roger's terrible attempt at sticking the guarantee back together.
Together they turn the situation around and are ready for the next stage of this battle.
The final shot is of the empty garage, and the small child's chair Roger sat on.

The main ( and only ) characters are ROGER STEPHENSON and VAL STEPHENSON, we meet them, as in every episode, in the half hour after they get back from work. They are two people united against the world. The bigger stories of their lives are picked up in passing from their conversation. Roger is the dreamer and the worrier, imagining possible futures, dwelling on past mistakes. Val is the practical one, always galvanising herself and Roger into action. Val is sorting through paperwork when we first meet her, something we all know the pain of. Roger is cheery when he gets home, but as soon as he sees what Val is doing his heart drops. She tells him, straight up, they have to tackle the Big Drawer. We understand, we all have a Big Drawer, something we put off doing because it is daunting. We empathise with them because they are doing what we all do, they are like us. And life is like the guarantee, no matter how ripped up it gets, we can always patch it back up.

This is not a pilot episode in that it doesn't tell the story of how a specific situation came to be, Like 'White Collar'. In most 'sit-com's the situation is already well established and the first episode is us dropping in on the characters to discover them. Roger and Val are a unit, they work together. They share the small details of their day apart ( what they had for lunch, what happened at the meeting...) and in tho they share the bigger, heavier burdens of their life, burdens that are slowly hinted at across the series. 

The 'do a Big smell' line when Val asks Roger if he can smell anything funny sets the tone. Again something we all do, the constant underlying vigilance for things being not right, that when voiced becomes amusing. Our own often faintly ridiculous behaviour is mirrored to us, and we laugh at the recognition. There isn no title music, just the rustle of the papers. Until the Big Smell line there is no indication of how we are to read this as comedy. ( Well that, and the fact DAWN FRENCH is playing Val )


One of the things I currently enjoy seeing is how different shows use Act 2 as the start of a new world, the characters have moved on from stasis into an altered world that will help them solve the problem. And Roger and Val is no different. They move from the kitchen to the garage to tackle the Big Drawer. It is their quest for the thing that will solve their current problems. And here they face difficulties, distractions and even Death. I like how, in something as apparently small and domestic as this the rules of storytelling still hold true.

Favourite lines

Discussing Esther from Legal

I am of no nutritional value to Esther at all”

Friday, 30 May 2014


THE BIG C – 'Pilot'
Writer/Creator – Darlene Hunt – Director – Bill Condon
30 mins – Comedy / Drama - 2010 – USA

I want to be the one who spills the fruit punch”

Episode synopsis

A storyline – She needs to tell her family she has Cancer.
B storyline – Building a swimming pool.
C storyline – Her relationship with her pupil Audrey

ACT 1 – Cathy wants to build a pool in her back yard, but is easily talked into a hot tub instead. Her husband Paul wants to be allowed to move back in, doesn't know why she has kicked him out. She doesn't give him an answer. She has cancer and has known for a few days. Dr. Mauer, her oncologist, wants her to focus on telling her family this. She goes to tell her Brother Sean, but can't do it, tries to offer him money, which he refuses and tells her she is boring. She goes to dinner with husband, he tells her she isn't fun. When she gets home her Son Adam, just returned from a holiday, pretends to be an intruder. She is angry and sends him to bed.
She is in stasis. She has, up to this point, too easily been what others want. The Cancer is the catalyst but she is trying to manage the change it brings on her terms.
ACT 2 – The next day she insists on a pool, and gets her way. She attempts to make friends with her Neighbour Marlene but is snubbed. At school she has no desire to teach anymore, and when she is dissed by one pupil, Audrey, she turns on her and gives as good as she gets. Whilst cooking chilli, Adam plays another prank, which upsets her. The Police arrive to tell her Marlene has complained about the building work. She storms into Marlene's house and gives her a piece of her mind, and in doing so comes the closest yet to talking about the cancer. Her husband comes back, tells her it is all about her now. She is ready to tell him her news, but he jumps to the wrong conclusion, thinks she is having an affair, and storms out.
She has grown enough to be ready to tell others, but they fail to listen. False Victory / Defeat.
She has lunch with the Doctor, flirts whit him a little, he tells her she is his first terminal patient. She challenges Audrey to get smart and lose weight. Marlene introduces herself, they talk about dying.
She is taking control, and those around her are starting to pay attention to her.
ACT 3 – She pranks Adam back by pretending to have committed suicide. He freaks. She tells him he needs to grow up and take responsibility as she won't be around all the time. She locks Adam in the bathroom until he has learnt to plunge the toilet. She pours herself a glass of red wine, and then, pours the rest over her cream sofa. Satisfied, she flips the cushions over, hiding the stain, and sits, happy. She takes her Brother the last of the chilli and invites him to come and help burn her sofa. He tells her she is starting to get her weird back. She tells him “you have no idea.”
She finally sits on the sofa and opens her heart about the cancer and how she is feeling, she laughs, jokes, cries, let's it all out. She has finally found someone to tell. It turns out she is only talking to Marlene's dog. But he is enough.

The main character is CATHY JAMISON, A Suburban Mom and high school teacher who has just discovered she has cancer.

We first meet her instructing the pool guy on where and how to build a swimming pool. She is light and happy. It is the first day of summer. He quickly points out the problems in her plan and suggests a hot tub instead. She gives in and agrees. This is a woman too used to being the sensible one, to subduing her own desires. Some of her light fades at this. We recognise her disappointment, it is a universal feeling. We are with her. She also has an urgency to getting this done that intrigues us. Her husband Peter arrives and we learn that she has kicked him out. He pleads to be let back home, she says she has to leave. He says he doesn't know who she is any more. We want to know what has happened here, to them, to her. ? We have connected with her, felt her disappointment, but do not know why is she acting this way towards this man ? Several questions are set up in this one scene.

The secondary regular characters are all those who orbit her in her world
Her Husband, PETER, whose every word and action is that of a child. He drives a scooter, uses words like Meany, and Stinky poopoo, is needy, tells her it is all about her, but seconds later asks “how could you do that to me ? “
Her son, ADAM, who at least has the excuse of still being a teenager to explain his juvenile behaviour and disrespect.
Her brother, SHAUN, an eco warrior drop out who still relates to her as they did as young siblings.
Her Doctor, TODD MAUER, young and handsome.And concerned.
Her neighbour, MARLENE, who has lost everyone she cared about and is literally waiting to die.
Her pupil, ANDREA, whose weight issues have marginalised her in her world.

All the men are in some way juvenile, and all the women have, like her, been sidelined by the wider world.

The underlying theme of the episode is death and time. Aside from her contemplation of her own demise, and her pretend suicide, Shaun talks about suffocating a child with a plastic bag, and later fakes hanging himself outside the supermarket, Marlene's husband and friends are all dead, even her lawn mower is. They all talk of the first day of summer,  Shaun declaims “don't let it be the last” When Adam pretends to be an intruder she pleads to not be killed. Peter tells her people die in Pools.

Given the subject matter, the tone of the show is set before we even see anything, in the title music, which is catchy and bouncy. From this we go to two people, in a sun drenched garden, discussing pools. Cathy carries this light quality over into the next scene in the hospital where, despite the examination table and gown, her talk is of summer memories swimming with her brother.

The need for a pool is how she externalises her cancer. She has fixed on needing to recreate for her son this one perfect memory of diving into a pool. All her fear and anger displaced to this one goal. In the opening scene we wonder why she needs this pool so urgently. As the episode unfolds we learn what it means to her, what she values, and wants to pass on to her son before she goes. A wisdom she, in the end, can only pass on to the dog, sitting in the hole in the yard that might one day be the pool, but not yet.


A good example of the rule of three for comedy beats. ( set up, development, punchline ) She accidentally exposes her breast to Dr Mauer during her examination, she laughs and apologies, he says he didn't notice. Then screw you she tells him. Later, her robe falls open when talking to the Police. He tells her her boob is hanging out, embarrassing her. And at the end, when she has opened her heart, she lifts the scene to a close with her final line by asking the dog if it wants to see her breasts, “because no one else seems to give a shit” These three beats sit at the beginning, middle and end of the episode like ribbon on map pins, tying the whole script together.

Adam's pranks run along the same beats. He first pretends to be an intruder, scaring her, then, later he pretends to have cut off his finger, and finally, she pretends to have commuted suicide. Each prank escalates on the last, and her's emphasises the cruelness of all three. She takes Adam on in his own language.

Favourite lines

Cathy to Paul when told what to order in the restaurant

I'm having deserts, and liquor.”

Shaun to Cathy, when she tries to give him money

I don't want to judge, that's your thing.”

Thursday, 29 May 2014


Writer/Creator - Jeff Eastin – Director – Bronwen Hughes
1 hour – FBI Procedural – 2009 - USA

“Neal's smart. You know how much I like smart.”

Episode synopsis

A storyline – Set up of team and solving the case of the 'Dutchman' forger.
B storyline – Where is Kate ?
C storyline – What to get Elizabeth for wedding anniversary ?

ACT 1 – Neal Caffrey escapes from prison with only 3 months of a 4 year sentence to serve. Peter Burke, the F.B.I. Agent who caught him is taken off another case ( the Dutchman forger ) to help find him. He quickly tracks a dejected Neal down to his ex wife's apartment. She has disappeared. ( Set up of B storyline ) Facing a further four year sentence for this Neal bargains with Peter to help find the Dutchman in return for his release. Peter says no. ( Set up of A storyline )
Set up of a situation that needs to change for both characters. Kate's leaving is the catalyst that upsets the stasis for both men. Solution offered but refused.
ACT 2 - Peter sees that Neal is the thing he needs on the team, but his sense of what is right gives him doubt. His wife convinces him to believe Neal's motivation. Neal is released into his custody. He checks him into a run down motel. Unhappy with this situation, Neal goes to a thrift shop for clothes and meets June, a wealthy widow who takes to him and offers him lodging in her house. Peter is incredulous. They have a lead on the Dutchman, a rare book importer has been stopped at the airport with a load of Spanish books. But before they can question him properly he is killed.
False victory. They have the answers, but are thwarted in understanding it.
ACT 3 - Neal uses his skills to discern what might be going on. They visit the museum where they see a Spanish War bond. Neal deduces it is a fake. They are going to try and print and then redeem a whole load of them. Peter's wife calls as it is late, he apologises, she is fine with it. Peter tells Neal he doesn't know what to get her for their anniversary. ( Set up of C storyline ) Neal meet Mozzie who identifies the forger's work. Neal takes Peter to a church where the forger is working. The forger sees them and they are nearly rumbled. The forger is spooked and Peter tells Neal they have to close the case within a week or Neal will go back to jail. Mozzie is determined that won't happen, tells Neal he has found Kate. But Neal thinks she is in danger.
All seems lost. Their actions have escalated the events to another level, more is at stake now.
ACT 4 – Peter tells Neal to forget Kate.  Mozzie locates the forger's warehouse where they are printing bonds, But Peter can't enter without a warrant. Neal reads a law book and sees a way around it. He breaks his restraining order and gets the forger to lock him up in the warehouse. Alerted, Peter and the team track him, and now have a legal reason to enter the warehouse to arrest Neal. They, of course, seize the fake bonds and arrest the forger. Neal and Peter have their first success as a team. (Resolution of A storyline).
Act 5 – Peter gives Elizabeth tickets to the Caribbean as an anniversary present. (Resolution of B storyline). Neal has been made an official part of the team. Neal makes up his mind to find Kate despite everything. (Resolution of C storyline).


There are two main characters, The FBI Agent PETER BURKE and the Criminal NEAL CAFFREY. They have a history. Neal is a highly intelligent fraudster and Peter was the only Agent clever enough to catch him. They validate each other, a perfect match, like all TV double acts.

We meet Neal in a series of rapid close ups hurriedly shaving. The flash of orange jumpsuit tells us he is a prisoner. The nervous reactions to slamming doors tells us he is doing something he shouldn't. He has our interest. He is handsome, which inclines us away from hardened thug. He changes into the Guard uniform hidden in the cistern and walks, with literal bare-faced cheek, out of the prison in front of all the guards. The other Cons register this, but no one speaks up. They are on his side, which connects us to his actions. The prison is a place of hard manual labour, which he walks away from, cool and unnerved. Once outside, after a small moment of jeopardy, on screen graphics list his crimes, all non violent, 'safe' crimes.. We relax. He smiles, hot wires a truck and, to the soundtrack of “Hold on, I'm coming” he quickly trades up from haggling the cost of a second hand raincoat ( a bright yellow coat we wonder at until it's purpose is revealed ) to driving a Rolls Royce across Brooklyn Bridge. From the tight shots at the start to the expanse of New York at the end the sense is of freedom, which aligns us to him. The tone is set. Light and clever. We are being asked to enjoy his skill, intelligence and nerve.

We then meet Peter in the middle of a crime operation. We see a bank vault being painstakingly opened by an safe cracker. An activity we associate with villains is being used by the good guys. This again draws out interest, and sets up the idea of the good guys using less than legal means. Every lock that slips is a victory for the assembled team. But there is a twist. The safe has been booby trapped, and only Name realises, but not before the safe blows and the evidence is destroyed. Peter rescues the safe cracker, and then berates his team. We learn that they are all Harvard graduates, and yet the bad guys they are chasing have proved cleverer than them. The team isn't quite good enough, which frustrates him. This scene sets up both the lack that Peter needs to fill to succeed ( someone as clever as the bad guys ) and the crime they will solve this episode ( the forger ).

The episode also introduces five secondary regular characters.
ELIZABETH, Peter's wife, who offers advice and love, who understands her husband's commitment to his job and whose response to the traditional forgotten evening dinner she has prepared is to joke with the dog as it eats it instead. There is no hint of marital conflict here. The show's tone is lighter than that. She helps Peter see the wood for the trees.
DIANA, Peter's probie. Not present at the safe cracking debacle, entering only at the end of the scene and therefore not included in the 'failure' of Peter's team. Smart and to the point, Peter has time for her, listens to what she has to say, which is useful because in this episode she is mostly there to give exposition. ( Diana doesn't appear in the rest of the series, is replaced by the character LAUREN CRUZ, but returns as a regular from season 2 onwards )
The wealthy widow JUNE, who welcomes Neal into her home as a house guest because he reminds her of her late husband when he was younger. Nobody's fool, sees the world for what it is. 
MOZZIE, Neal's best friend, fellow aesthete, and white collar criminal, his link with the larger criminal world, Mozzie acts as a sort of prophylatic, so Neal doesn't have to actually connect with criminals for information. This reemphasises the light tone of the show.
CLINTON., another FBI agent in Peter's team. Here again used mainly for exposition, and to not be as smart as Neal.
And KATE, Neal's absent wife, who, by necessity, remains a mystery in this episode.

All the characters are untiled by the core theme of family and love. Peter and Elizabeth love each other deeply. Elizabeth jokes that his team and work are like an extended family, and her argument that Neal acted from love is what sways Peter to take him on. Neal is willing to risk four more years in prison to keep his wife from leaving. June misses her deceased husband and welcomes Neal into her family. There are no dark undertones here, this is all bright, sharp and fun. 

The Pilot clearly sets up that each episode will deal with this ying/yang duo catching White Collar criminals using Peter's ability and position within the Law, and Neal's intelligence and willingness to bend the rules to get what he wants. With an over arcing storyline of finding Kate. But it is for the relationship between the two leads that we will keep watching.


A good pilot will still find room for A, B and C storylines, despite the extra burden of setting up series premise. I think this show manages it all with great skill. That the B and C storylines are a further black/white reflection of the main characters and their relationships with their respective wives gives the pilot a rounded unity.

The ankle restrain Neal has to wear, and the 2 mile boundary imposed on him in the set up become the mean by which they catch the Forger in the end. Neal tests the boundary three times ( rule of three ) First he leaves the hotel and moves in with June – a small distance, then he breaks the boundary by going to Peter's house – a bigger distance, then he uses it as a means of getting Peter legal access to the Forger's warehouse – the biggest distance of all that breaks his parole and alerts the F.B.I. to his whereabouts. So what is initially set up as one of the rules of the story world turns out to be the solution to the problem.

Thursday, 25 April 2013


One thing it's good to be aware of is the Arena of a show.

By Arena I mean the world a show exists in, it's 'venue', the source of how stories are generated for each episode. The Arena becomes a key part of the 'rules' of that show. Understanding which Arena best suits an idea is a vital part of developing any show.

I think there are three main categories of Arena.

1 - The Closed Universe. When the stories, conflicts and resolutions are all generated within the regular characters, and their interaction with each others. Most Soaps fit here.

2 - The Problem solvers. When the stories are primarily generated by characters external to the regular cast. Where people bring problems to our cast to be solved. Most 'procedurals' fit here;  Police, Legal, Medical, Private Eye...

3 - The Mutual Support system. Where the regular characters go out into a wider world, experience stories generated by external characters, and then bring their response back to the regular cast.  A lot of sit coms based around a group of friends will belong here, as each character goes out, has some kind of victory or defeat ( usually relationship based ) while the rest offer advice and/or criticism.

Most shows combine some elements of two of these. One type of Arena will be predominate, with elements of one of the others, usually explored as a B story-line. An example would be a Medical drama where two Doctors have to cure a sick child ( Problem Solvers ) whilst dealing with the fallout from having had an affair with each other ( Closed Universe )

A clue to the main Arena of each show is often in it's Title. Eastenders ?  Law and Order ?  How I met your Mother ?

I have so far found only find a very few examples of shows that have elements of all three.

And only one show that seems to me to be a rare amalgam of all three at once.

But I'll save that for later.


This may change as I get more into this, but I am thinking to break each post down into four sections.

1 - Facts
( Episode length, writers, directors, company, links etc. )

2 - Episode breakdown

3 - Structure and Style

4 - Things learnt.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


I recently, and somewhat lacklusterly, attended a weekend seminar on WRITING FOR TELEVISON.

I was wrong in my assumptions, it was a revelation, and, amongst other things, sparked in me the decision to find and watch as many pilot episodes of shows that I could find. Which didn't prove difficult to do, thanks to the internet, and boxset DVD'S and the wholesale flogging off of all sorts of brilliant and odd stuff at HMV at the start of the year.

Doing this taught me things I hadn't previously been consciously aware of. I say conscious as I believe we all subconsciously understand the grammar and language of film and tv better than we would think we do. We all watch the stuff. God help us, we watch hours of the stuff. ( Well I do, anyway ) That is why we always know when a show sells the story, and us, short. But understanding this, dragging it into the light of the conscious bit of the brain. That is half the fight.

So the plan is to watch / rewatch 101 pilot episodes from as many diverse tv shows as possible, and post on each one. I am not sure to what exact purpose at the moment. I am hoping great revelations will unfold. I suspect any enlightenment will be small pieces of the puzzle. I hope I don't eventually get bored and wander off.

But at this moment in time I am up for this. And keen to see what unfolds.

BTW - This may take some time.