Writing for TV: The Sopranos Pilot
Updated: Jun 16
No matter the genre or subject you're writing about, writing for TV is one of the most challenging tasks to accomplish. On top of creating a truly original show, the script has to be eye-catching enough to draw viewers right from the start.
Even with the abundance of shows that ended up getting canceled, they still carried something in their pilot script that was enough reason to get produced. Of course, there are times when bad scripts sneak their way into production, but for the most part, you need a genuinely fantastic script for it to be produced.
With this in mind, what do shows like The Sopranos have that most shows don’t? Even with the abundance of mafia-motif films and television shows, how did The Sopranos emerge as one of the greatest television shows of all time?
To perfect your television script to the best of its ability, you need to analyze other scripts of shows that ended up being iconic and memorable. You can only learn from the best, and with The Sopranos in mind, let’s take a quick look into the script of the show.
Photo credit: The New York Times
Less is More
Some argue about this method, and it all depends on your writing itself. For the most part, your script shouldn't read like a Stephen King book; it needs to read like a script. Obviously, packing it with enough detail is essential, but don't overdo it where it becomes tiresome for the production company reading it.
The script of The Sopranos is an example of less is more. Although the show has an abundance of detailed characters and scenarios, the scene direction in the script never takes up more than a few lines. Although the lines are detailed and it paints a clear picture in the viewer’s mind, it doesn’t get tiresome.
We understand who Tony Soprano is without an entire essay to back it up. We see his actions and situations around him, without an intense amount of useless detail. David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, clearly wrote the show with the knowledge of less is more.
However, don’t take this in mind as a way to create a simple one-sided story. A good script is a combination of an easy read with a complex story involved. No one should be able to predict where your script is going, and that’s what The Sopranos achieved.
Characters Lead the Story
With the notion of less is more, every great script utilizes its characters to lead the story. No one will be interested in a show or film if the characters are dull, one-dimensional, or useless.
There aren’t a lot of other shows that are equivalent to the character development and fantastic characters of The Sopranos. The show is filled with eccentric characters, and our anti-hero in Tony Soprano is arguably one of the most significant characters ever.
Every Character Has a Voice
Any mafia driven story makes it extremely easy for characters to sound alike. It’s easy to write each character as a stereotypical mobster, which makes it impossible to differentiate them. The Sopranos did an excellent job of making every character vastly different from one another.
Although the mob family has a cast of similar characters in and of itself, they still have different goals, ideas, and a voice from another. You’ll be able to tell who a character is just by seeing one line.
Accomplishing this is exceedingly difficult, but that’s the essence of the show. Each and every character is different from one another, even if they share a similar goal. It’s a remarkable feature of a great script.
Two Sets of Family
What truly makes The Sopranos so great is the contrast and comparison between Tony Soprano’s mafia family and his real family. It’s an interesting comparison that typically isn’t told in this particular genre. It’s a representation of thinking outside the box and presenting a story that isn’t usually told.
Usually, we only see the mafia side of things when it comes to a mafia-driven story. Still, the storylines between the two are why the show is an example of utter perfection. Even with the polarizing ending, the show will remain as one of the greatest shows of all time.