Writing for TV: The West Wing Pilot
No matter what kind of script someone finds themselves to be in the middle of making, it’s a monumental task for any person to achieve. Considering not many people get to complete it to any degree, it’s remarkable to hit the finish button on a script, let alone sell one. Although selling a script is as difficult it is, it’s even more difficult for a script to be made and to become successful afterward.
With this list of achievements tied toward making a script, TV scripts are arguably the most challenging form of script to do. Considering they're not just an hour's worth of material, but needs to have enough of a story and interesting characters for it live on seasons to come. People are only interested in making a TV script if it has the potential for longevity.
Since every script for television is needed to have the element of longevity in mind, this is the primary reason why it's such a complicated matter to achieve. Luckily enough, there are plenty of excellent TV series that screenwriters can analyze and see what makes them great. Since learning from others is the best way to become the best at anything, every screenwriter should do this.
With the subject of writing for TV in mind, The West Wing was an excellent political drama created by Aaron Sorkin that lasted for seven seasons. Considering most shows don’t make it to a seventh season, this is a monumental accomplishment for any show to achieve. Nonetheless, down below, we’re going to discuss what made The West Wing pilot so special and how it can help you as a screenwriter.
Photo credit: IMDb
Today, Aaron Sorkin is regarded as a mastermind of dialogue for a multitude of reasons. Characters drive practically every script Sorkin has written with excellent, witty, and sometimes sarcastic dialogue. Considering The West Wing is Sorkin’s most notable works from early in his career, this is where Sorkin’s dialogue respect stemmed from.
The West Wing's use of dialogue in its pilot helps audiences understand the relationship between characters. It helps us realize a character's tone and how they communicate, rather than just an actor spewing out lines. Virtually every scene in the pilot is filled with incredible dialogue that genuinely separated it from most television series at the time.
Basically, a story can't properly function without a good deal of dialogue. Since dialogue is such a fundamental role for a story to thrive, it makes sense why Sorkin takes such an intense ordeal for perfecting his dialogue. Without it, you wouldn't have much of a story. An example of this in the pilot is when Sam Seaborn is at a bar with a journalist Billy, and the two are having a witty conversation back and forth to one another. It's brilliant, entertaining, and a perfect representation of what's to come for the rest of the series.
Walk and Talk
Besides having great dialogue, the pilot utilizes where characters are talking to help set the mood for the show. For example, there's a ton of conversations held between characters while they're walking through the west wing. Considering we all imagine the west wing of the white house to be incredibly busy, conversations held while walking helps us picture that.
Rather than having characters sit and discuss what they were thinking about, Sorkin understood the importance of the show’s appearance. With that same example as earlier, Sam Seaborn and Billy are talking in a bar. We get a sense of unwinding and a bit relaxing between two from a very crazy time in the west wing.
Make the Audience Interested
With a story like The West Wing, practically every person who watches the show will be immediately interested in it. Since it takes such a mostly unknown world to the public with a relatable character at the forefront, it helps understand how people in those positions of power are just people too.
Relatability is vital for any script to utilize, and since The West Wing did it so well, it’s easy to say why the show was as successful as it is. The pilot was fantastic in every possible sense from the acting, writing, story, and much more. Taking all of these elements and pushing them scene by scene helps keep the audience more heavily interested.