Writing for TV: Mad Men Pilot
Out of all the various scripts crafted in the world, writing for tv is arguably one of the most challenging realms to accomplish. Considering it needs to be intriguing enough to captivate attention right away and set-up for future episodes, it's a problematic manner. Luckily enough, there are a ton of tv scripts that made it for a particular reason.
No matter the specific style of script, looking at famous scripts and how they made it is something every screenwriter should do. No matter the expertise a person feels themselves to be, there’s a lot to learn from scripts that made it. Outside of just scripts that were sold, but more specifically, scripts from shows that are iconic.
With this in mind, Mad Men was an incredible drama television series created by Matthew Weiner that lasted for seven seasons. Considering most shows don't last that long, that's a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself. Nonetheless, Mad Men’s pilot script set it apart from other scripts trying to be sold. The episode set it up for countless more episodes to come and is responsible for crafting an arguably perfect show.
Down below, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the Mad Men pilot, highlighting what makes it such a unique script to analyze. We'll discuss how the pilot attracted an audience, had nuanced characters, and much more. By the end of it, you'll know an absorbent amount of information for crafting your script. Let's get started!
Photo credit: Vox
Attract Audience Immediately
First and foremost, Mad Men set itself apart from others by attracting an audience immediately. It didn't mess around with its story arc and practically knew who was going to watch it. Rather than go through a slow build of a show, it took the opposite approach with an exciting story that everyone can understand.
For instance, since the show is a period piece, it's easy as an audience to understand particular story plots that the characters might not know. We see this in the pilot of Mad Men with Don Draper's dilemma with advertising cigarettes. As an audience, we understand the awful nature of cigarettes, which makes it interesting to look at a time when this was coming out to the public.
Any period piece that takes something that's common knowledge today and demonstrates the early building blocks of how it got here will interest anyone. Any script that is involved in a particular setting should utilize history to help their story. As humans, we all have an affinity toward different times throughout history; thus, a time-period script that utilizes it correctly is more robust.
Outside of the plot of a story and the interest a period piece has, characters still drive a story forward. For Mad Men, practically every character in the show is exceptionally nuanced, meaning they're more relatable. As great outlandish and ridiculous characters can be for a show or film, audiences enjoy shows where they can relate to the characters.
Since Mad Men has an abundance of characters we can all relate to in a sense, it’s part of the reason why the pilot is as great as it is. Whether it’s Don Draper trying to figure out what to do with the cigarette ads or Peggy Olson dealing with sexual harassment, we all have a strong sense of empathy for the characters.
Accomplish Multiple Introductions and Goals at Once
The most challenging aspect of a television script isn't necessarily telling a story or developing characters; it's how the introductions are done. No one wants to wither away through an hour of a show that barely has done anything. People want to get to the story as fast as they can, which is what Mad Men kept in mind.
With this knowledge, the pilot of Mad Men made certain scenes were filled with multiple introductions and goals at once. Since the show is filled with an endless number of characters, it can't waste its time. Even with Don Draper's family, we hear nothing of them until the end of the pilot. This factor alone highlights how not every character and plotline needs ten minutes of dialogue to explain everything.