Watching TV with Aristotle
As a political science major at a liberal arts college, most of my classes look at some of the greatest writers and thinkers of all time. We wrestle with Plato, Shakespeare, Joyce Carol Oates and John Locke on a daily basis — so it’s somewhat of a strange thrill to come to a class ready to talk about an episode of Broad City or Transparent.
Though the content may be unique to this class, the discussions in my film class “Writing the Television Pilot” fit right in with the rest of my coursework.
“What’s the inciting moment here?” Professor Wendy MacLeod ’81 will ask, harkening to Aristotle's Poetics.
Though we still read a few texts and articles on the craft of television, our homework mostly consists of reading scripts and watching episodes. Our projects in class seek to mimic the real experience of conceiving, pitching and writing a television show. Yet, in true Kenyon form, we dig deeper into our subject matter, prying at philosophic truths.
During the pitch phase, we were tasked with coming up with two ideas for a show (preferably a 30-minute comedy and an hour-long drama). For these two shows, we would need a catchy title and a descriptive, engaging logline. To borrow from my syllabus:
“A good logline creates a mental picture, tells us who it’s about and where it takes place, and implies who the audience is.
Flight of the Conchords
An offbeat comedy about Bret and Jermaine, the New Zealand-based “digi folk” duo that moves to NYC’s East Village to promote their band and (they hope) score with some hot chicks.”
After we pitched our loglines, we would eventually have to settle on one of our ideas to follow through for the rest of the semester. For this, we would conjure up the world of the show and its inhabitants and include why we should be the ones to write this show. Pitching is selling not only the show, but you as the creator.
From the pitch we would move on to the treatment, essentially a prose outline of the episode, tracing the plotlines through the various act breaks and keeping things exciting for the duration of the story. “Try and end each act on a suspense question or discovery,” says the syllabus, alluding again to Aristotle.
Then we turn to the main event of the semester: the pilot script. Thirty to 60 pages of vibrant characters, conveniently tangling and untangling themselves within the time constraints of the show. We bring our polished scripts to class and cast our classmates for a read through, with a subsequent discussion.
At many schools, classes like this are fairly common within the film departments. However, I would imagine you would be hard pressed to find a class that digs as deep as this one. It’s a great combination of utility and wisdom. Liberal, visual and commercial arts coming together in one great class.