With NBC recently taking pitches from the public for sitcoms, will we ever see a network take pitches for dramas? With dramas being so dominant on TV, and especially cable, there’s likely plenty more character-driven drama from undiscovered talent. And many of those dramas may be doing what the current ones are doing: Reaching back to an earlier era formula when deliberate pacing was everything.
Yes, dramas haven’t been this slow moving and more deliberately paced on TV since the 1960s. In fact, their pace could be even slower now than at any time in the history of TV. Only the movies can compare, and “Mad Men” seemed to set this renaissance in motion over seven years ago.
But with “Mad Men’s” ratings down, the deliberate pace of cable shows may be having some problems in keeping audiences interested. With the dichotomy of it being allowed on TV and audiences being torn to watch shows with more action (see “Game of Thrones”), what should you do if you pitch a TV drama to a network?
Selling the Benefits of Character Development
The good news is that enough people appreciate a deliberately paced show to keep it in the running for more. Nobody can escape the vortex that “Mad Men” created, even if some shows may go in an entirely different direction just to escape any relation to it. And America isn’t alone when you consider the U.K. has some slow-paced shows that stop and savor situations as well as allow people to examine characters with a microscope. British media has picked up on this and asked the question whether all shows should be made in the same mold.
While some people may think that “Mad Men” overstayed its dominance one season too long, it’s still a master class in how to make so much happen when nothing of consequence is physically happening. In a pitch meeting, you can state “Mad Men” as proof of how you can create characters with complex psychological layers and not have them rush through fast-paced action.
Provide Shocks at Unexpected Moments
As counterbalance to the deliberate pacing, you should also take from the “Mad Men” (and “True Detective”) template and present shocking moments at strategic moments. Using this idea is why the deliberate pace has been allowed so much on TV because of the stronger impact it’s going to make on the viewer. The continuing moral collapse of Don Draper from last season’s “Mad Men” and the death of Lane Pryce from a couple of seasons ago show you how the show is a slow death march.
The Limited Episode/Series Format
In the older days of TV when you had to do over 30 episodes in a full season, a deliberate pace like today’s cable dramas wouldn’t have even gone over well. “Mad Men” manages to be deliberate in only 14 episodes per season as a sign that more limited-run shows like it will probably fill the dial. Something that looks interminably long in the sense of episode run may start getting nixed by even the mainstream networks based on how normal run shows frequently run out of gas before the first of the year.
Your best bet today in a TV pitch is a limited-run show or a miniseries with deliberate character development to give a cinematic quality to TV people want now. Once and for all, we can finally join the British in being simpatico on a TV formula that seems to work for most adult audiences. This time, we won’t have to say we stole from the British to give to the unsuspecting TV viewer.