Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Beyond the Pilot: Writing a Series

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 13:27 min

Shonda has never had a TV show last for less than six seasons. In this chapter, Shonda discusses what keeps people watching a show beyond the pilot.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Episode 2 and Beyond • Evolving Your Show • Planting and Paying Off


The thing about your pilot and when you're planning a series, the thing that you really need to understand and know is that in the first season of your show you made this pilot, and then you get to episode two, and a lot of people don't understand what episode two is. Episode two is just episode one all over again. You don't make some completely different show. You basically need to reiterate what episode one was in a new way, but it's still episode one all over again. Don't veer off course. Don't go in a whole new direction. Don't tell us-- wait a minute it's not a show about scandals, it's a show about race tracks. It's the same show all over again. Olivia Pope-- she's got scandals, she's having an affair with the president, it's a secret, Quinn's knew. There's a case of the week. Literally same show. You need to do that so that people understand what they're watching and so they feel like they can trust what they've seen and that they want to come back. [MUSIC PLAYING] When you make a show, you promise the audience something. You promise the audience that they're going to see a show about a DC fixer who is involved in a scandalous relationship with the President of the United States. You need to fulfill the promise of that show every week. You can't take that away from them. You can't deny them that. You can't suddenly not show them that show. If you're going to change what the premise of that show is and the promise of that show is, you have to do it in a very smart way and you have to do it over time. You have to give them what they've asked for and then changed the story, maybe in the next season. You can't just do it suddenly. Grey's same thing-- you have to give them what you've promised. People get very disappointed in you if you say, I'm going to give you a show about the Queen of England-- the crown-- and then you give them a show about the guy that works in the basement of the castle. That's not what they signed up for. People want their promise fulfilled. So if you know that the promise of your show is she's a DC fixer who's engaged in an illicit affair with the President of the United States, that's the promise of our show. You just have to check in with yourself every episode as you break story-- are we talking about a DC fixer who's engaged in an illicit relationship, yes or no. If you're veering off course-- which is easy to do-- you either have to be doing so consciously or you need to fix it. We didn't do it at all, I think, in the first season of Scandal until we got to the end, when we veered off the course of fixing somebody else's scandal in order to flashback to show you what had happened between Fitz and Liv. And that was purposeful, because we knew that it was time to tell that story to catch everybody up to where we were emotionally. But that was a conscious choice and we had earned that right by then....

About the Instructor

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

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Shonda Rhimes

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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