Diana Black on The Pilot Vs. The Series Goal

 by Diana Black

A ‘Strong pilot’ has a ‘Pilot Goal’ as well as a ‘Series Goal’ that is, if you expect to generate interest with your spec ‘calling card’. But what does this really entail? Maybe we need to define what a goal is before exploring the development and importance of such beasties…

For dramatic purposes, a ‘goal’ needs to be a burning desire with the stakes – crazy high – either for an individual Protagonist or an Ensemble. Regardless, it must be achieved…a ‘do-or-die’. It can
take the form of an object, state of being, relationship, or an act of heroism… whatever…

Do we as viewers, want to invest our time in a wimp? Maybe, if they’re seriously compelling to watch. If the goal the Protagonist consciously wants is achieved in the Pilot episode; typically for a
regular U.S. episodic series, does that mean its ‘Game Over’ for the Series?

No. The ‘Tag’ of the Pilot may allude to the Protagonist (or ‘Ensemble’) about to embark on a new
‘adventure’. Alternatively, the Pilot might close with the Antagonist looming or reappearing on the
Protagonist’s horizon… ‘Game on’! Or, the Protagonist might be on the brink of achieving their
desire when the Pilot comes to an end – leaving us with a ‘cliff-hanger’ with ‘will they, won’t they’
buzz going on in the lunchroom the following day – yay!

If it’s a Mini-series, or a Limited Series – both having a relatively short, narrative arc, the ‘Pilot goal’ might be achieved later on. It will depend on how you’ve set up the narrative and over how many Episodes you envisage the Season to run.

Regardless, there’ll be an unconscious goal – the ‘Series Goal’ – alluded to in your ‘Leave Behind’.
It’s buried deep in the Protagonist’s/Ensemble’s subconscious… either driving them in a specific
direction or presenting an obstacle that they must overcome. Their initial failure to recognize and
achieve this subconscious goal relates to their psychological ‘flaw’.

In the ‘Character Profile’ you’ve devised for all of the main characters (You have,yes??!), have you identified for each of them their fundamental flaw? If you’re not sure of the importance of the ‘flaw’ don’t worry. We’ll talk about that in another article soon.

Either way, that flaw has to continue to stymie their efforts to achieve the ‘Series Goal’ until it’s overcome (or they die trying). It’s essentially a thematic ‘issue’ in your story world, which in order for them to ‘grow’ and realize their true potential, they must achieve.

Equally important, is the escalating tension associated with the ‘Series Goal’. Allowing them to
succeed without a struggle and/or considerable risk is boring for us ‘clever apes’ – every story is a
‘survival lesson by proxy’ – so they have to fight for it.

For the Writer, the ‘Series Goal’ must be known and pre-mapped, prior to writing the Pilot in
order to lay down the breadcrumbs associated with it – in the Pilot Episode. In this way the narrative is layered with hidden meanings, which if the Viewer is watching very carefully, will slowly reveal the ‘Series Goal’ but do we want it to be that easy? No… but that’s an upcoming article as well…


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)