Cringe With Me: My First TV Pilot Cold Open

This is Going to Hurt

I was recently backing up my files and made the mistake of opening a copy of the first TV pilot I ever wrote. I read through the whole thing. Let me rephrase that. I shook my head through the whole thing as my mouse cursor hovered over the delete button. My best course of action would be setting that script on fire, burying the ashes, and then exploding the Earth, so no one can see it.

But I’m someone who functions well, outside of my comfort zone. So without further ado, for your cringing displeasure, I present a multi-part deep dive into the ground breaking (literally you’ll want to dig a six-foot grave and bury your computer) pilot that started my comedy misadventures.

Here we go.

The TV Pilot

The year was 2016. I was living in the mountains of North Carolina and had just taken my first paid position in college athletics. Besides work and a few random trails, there really wasn’t much to do on the west side of the state. I was so bored, I remember on one of my daily runs hoping that I would run into a bear or mountain lion (a normal occurrence on the campus) just for some excitement. This boredom eventually led to my first TV pilot.

I was a year removed from my college football days, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave them behind. I wanted to write a character that felt the same way, but he would find a way to keep the “glory days” rolling along. I also wanted to explore why athletes do some of the bad things that they do. I believe this was around the time Peyton Manning’s sexual misconduct was in the news.

This is the logline I ran with for the longest time.

Marc, a college athlete on the last leg of his basketball career, strikes up a deal with the son of Satan. Marc becomes the most talented person on any ball court. In exchange he’ll commit crimes and sins for Hell’s new marketing campaign.

Marc & Bob, Marc and Beelzebob, Out of Bounds. This script was called many things, good was not one of them. I cringe at how many reads of this my wife had to suffer through.

The Cold Open

Are you ready? Are you really ready? If you’re not prepared to cringe, now is the time to get off the ride. You’ve been warned.

This is the latest version of the cold open. In earlier drafts I started with my protagonist sustaining his career ending injury. Some notes at the time proposed starting the story earlier. Me and all my new writer wisdom decided to focus on the otherworldly elements first and move the injury back a whole five pages. Great job with the notes 2016 Nick.

I hope this dialogue hurts you as much as it hurts me. So many needless lines of dialogue on the first page. Looking at the jokes and the sight gags. I’m not crazy about the fact that I punched down on Jamarcus Russell. Dude was down and out and I thought it’d be funny to pile on (in what can hardly be called a joke). I had to go back and see why I was writing about him in 2016. He’d been out of the league for six years at that point. Looks like he made one last effort to come back in 2016. I hope he’s doing better without football.

I wrote Bob at a time when I was obsessed with Jim Rash’s Dean character in Community. That’s it. I don’t hate the idea, but if I wrote the script today it would not be in there.

My eyes rolled at Bob having the last name of Gotles. Oh so clever.

The only thing I really like on this first page is the intro of Satan. He feels sophisticated with a small hint of power. I’m sure this little ray of light won’t last long though.

So much exposition. Satan you were so cool and I turned you into an exposition machine. Big Ben joke doesn’t land with me here. In retrospect, I’d paint a target on Manning, since he was in the headlines. I would probably cut Jordan from the joke and maybe use a more obscure reference (Winston stealing crab legs, maybe.)

More exposition, yay. I don’t totally hate the back and forth about Tebow here, or the introduction of Death. I have a theory that every writer eventually writes a script involving Death.

The main conflict between Bob and Satan is okay here, but with Marc serving as the protagonist there’s way too much of Bob up front. Bob also comes off as passive in my rereading of this. I would for sure have him in a more active role if this were written today.

Honestly, I prefer the last two pages over the first two. I’m glad I took a break from jabbing at athletes the last few pages. The “putting the company under” line was originally “putting the company over” cause they’re in Hell (haha I know the best joke ever). I for some reason didn’t give Death lines or a voice. I thought it would add to the comedy of the situation, but really it just seems kind of confusing and just makes Satan more of an exposition machine.

Even with all the exposition, I cared more about Bob and Satan in these last two pages, than I did at the start of the cold open.

End of Cringe

I want to take a look at the rest of this pilot, but we’ll stick with the cold open for now. I find that cringe fits are best served in small doses.

Next week I’ll take a look at the first act and see just how awesome of a job I did in setting up my main character (spoiler: I didn’t).

What’s something you hate about your first script?

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