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Is there a guideline for when it's a good idea to write a pilot as a two-part episode, as opposed to a single-part?

Obviously certain stories call for two-part pilots more naturally (e.g. Lost yes, How I Met Your Mother no, etc) and you should always do what's best for your story, but I'm looking for any kind of structural rule-of-thumb. Something akin to "first-time writers are much less likely to sell two-part pilots than one-part versions" or "networks are generally only interested in two-part pilots for sci-fi shows" or "cable networks are much more likely to buy them than the traditional networks are," etc.

Are there any guidelines like that to keep in mind, or is it pretty much just "go for what works for your story, and the structure doesn't have as big an impact as you think"?

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1 Answer 1

Here are some thoughts to help guide you on your way (and by no means authoritative.)

Is the pilot intended to be aired? How long will the episodes be? How long will the pilot be? How many acts per episode? How many acts in the pilot? Is the pilot the start of the story, a first draft of the story, or just another episode?

If the pilot is a draft your only constraint on the number of parts is the dictates of the story.

If the pilot is just another episode, I would recommend structuring it for broadcast (special two part ...)

If the pilot is a merging of episodes, look to see if they can be split (might work, might not)

If the pilot is the start of the story reruns become much easier if it will split (to be continued)

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