Why Pilots Fail – Special Wonder Woman Edition

Sometimes you hear about a pilot in production and it sounds like a slam dunk — star writer, hot concept, lots of early publicity. And then it goes away, never to be heard of again, and you’re left wondering what went wrong. But you’ll never find out, because for the last few years networks have been burying their failures.

Here’s a rare chance to see exactly why a high-profile pilot ended up going nowhere — it’s David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman, which has begun to leak out onto the web. Take a look.  (If the embed doesn’t work, click the link…)

You notice something special about that clip?

Probably not — because there’s simply nothing special here. It’s four minutes of absolutely routine running and chasing and superheroing. Four minutes. That’s nearly ten percent of a current network drama, and it’s taken up by fights and chases that are no different than anything you’ve seen a million times before. At its very best, the action makes you think of the movies its ripped off from — movies that did it so much better. At its worst, it’s two people running down a busy street, one of them wearing a silly costume.

And this is even worse:

Ever seen that scene before? I mean, except in a million other TV shows?

At least when a pilot is truly horrible, it stands out. This is just mush — bland, obvious, predictable. And that’s the biggest mistake you can make when developing your own pilot ideas. You can’t assume that just because you’ve got a Big Idea — in this case, an iconic superhero interpreted by an even more iconic showrunner — that the idea alone will carry you. You’ve got to make every minute count. That means even the standard hero-visits-wounded-pal-in-hospital scene has to have something fresh and new about it.

You can read much more about writing the spec pilot in my book, which is cleverly titled Writing the Pilot, and is available for the Kindle and the Nook — coming soon in paperback.

2 thoughts on “Why Pilots Fail – Special Wonder Woman Edition

  1. I saw the whole “Wonder Woman” pilot. In addition to boring execution, the “reimagining” of the franchise was awful. WW as the CEO of a company which sells action figures of her? (shudder)

  2. There was a clip about action figures at the same site where these two came from, but I didn’t realize she was the CEO of the company. It was the one moment that felt at all like David E. Kelley, but that was only because WW kept saying “tits.”

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