Typing Faster

July 20, 2009

Burying the premise: Thoughts on NBC’s “Persons Unknown” pilot script

Filed under: Craft, Pilot School, Scripts — petertypingfaster @ 10:47 am

Late last week NBC made a couple of moves. They decided to cancel The Listener, which sucks for Canadian TV, but I’m not going to talk about that.

Nope. Instead I’m going to talk about a new show they picked up. Persons Unknown, created by Oscar winning writer Christopher McQuarrie, was given a 13 episode order.

And I’ve got a (older) copy of the pilot script (posted to the right).

This show has a very interesting premise. Seven strangers, from various circumstances, walks of life and even physical location (one guy is a soldier stationed overseas), wake up locked in a hotel in a deserted town infested with security cameras. When they try to leave the town they collapse unconscious.

And then it gets even weirder.

It’s a cool premise, highly serialized, lots of mystery and room for growth.

BUT…and it’s a big but, if this had come to me when I was working development I probably wouldn’t of read it. In fact, even these days when I try to read a script a day (try…doesn’t always work out), I almost didn’t read this script. It’s been hanging around my hard drive for a couple of weeks. I started it a couple of times, and then abandoned it after the first few pages.

Why you ask?

Because I thought I knew exactly what it was, and I wasn’t all that impressed. The way the pilot starts out seems just like any one of a dozen procedurals, and not even a good one, but one with overwrought dialogue and jarring description. I read the teaser two or three times, and always put the script aside without going any further. It was that bad (on my part as a reader, but also on the writers part). It wasn’t until I saw the announcement that NBC had picked up a series called Persons Unknown, and I read the byline for it, that I went back and finished reading the script.

And you know what? Once I got past that damn teaser it was actually a pretty darn good ride.

So, what’s the lesson? Don’t bury your premise. You’ve got this cool take on the old “people-wake-up-not-knowing-where-they-are” yarn, why bury that under a crappy teaser that could of been lifted from Without a Trace? Why wouldn’t you start out, all guns blazing, with a bunch of panicked people waking up, locked in weird hotel rooms? That’s a way more dynamic opening, and one that gets you right into the action of the show you’re trying to do.

Don’t bury the premise, because if you do people are going to leave your pilot sitting around for weeks because they think it sucks.



  1. Good review. The ending to this show sucked.

    Comment by z — August 28, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  2. I agree, pretty good review and the end did suck bad. We got a small glimpse at the people running “The Program”. Whooptie-doo. They get placed back in The Program and they can’t stay out of it. Zzzz….. Also, on a side note, the scene where Blakham and Morse were in sitting by a campfire (in the desert I think) they show us that there is a camera on them. Seriously? That pissed me off. Are we supposed to think they have cameras in every square inch of the planet. Puh-lease.

    Hey, my friend writes articles for this site, check em out! Thanks, http://TechReview.LIEconomy.com

    Comment by Jared H — September 7, 2010 @ 8:22 am

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