From ScreenCraft contributor Kevin Casey
As ScreenCraft is in the business of helping screenwriters succeed, we talk a lot about the screenplay as a blueprint for a project. But for those filmmakers hawking the next hit television show, they need more than a good pilot script—they need a series guide, known affectionately around town as a series “bible.”
Traditionally, there have been two forms of series bibles. The first is a “walking” canon reference that is updated as an established show progresses, a writer’s guide designed to maintain narrative continuity for the dozens of writers that will likely contribute to an ordered series. The second is more or less a prospectus that aids in pitching a new series to network executives and investors. This document describes the universe encompassed within the show, such as characters, settings, and various thematic elements. It gets down to the brass tacks of the project, tackling Blake Snyder’s indispensable question of “What is it?”
Recently, an early version of the “Lost” series format surfaced on the Internet. It created a stir amongst some fans because its treatment doesn’t exactly line up with how the series shook out. As writers, we understand that what we set out to write might not resemble the finished product, due either to the creative or economic realities of the business—writing is excavation, as Stephen King puts it. So, just as reading an early draft of a screenplay like The Silence of the Lambs can give us clearer insight into what the writer and producers were trying to accomplish over the evolution of the drafts, Abrams’/Lindelof’s bible has a lot to offer anyone trying to sell a high concept television series for three reasons:
- It’s Fun. Yes, this is showbusiness, not “show-art.” However, if your series guide is a fun read, chances are the series is going to be fun for viewers—and advertisers.
- It’s To the Point. Wasting space on your character’s peanut allergy is wasting an executive’s time, so save it for the writer’s room once you’ve received your first season order.
- It’s Humble. J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof come to the page as newcomers. Sure, Abrams had five seasons producing ABC’s “Alias” under his belt, but the network obviously had some serious criticisms with that show’s format. These problems are explicitly addressed in the “Lost” bible.
Despite whatever deviations the show might have taken upon its season order, the “Lost” series guide offers a valuable roadmap for all newcomers. Read it here and discuss below!