Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pillar: The Legend Continues

Scott the Reader has a post today about resources for writing television, and it made me think of something I'm not sure too many people know.

At the last Battlestar Galactica party I talked to two different writers who worked on The Dead Zone. They were both pretty excited to meet somebody who watched it because it's on USA and every year barely keeps enough ratings to keep going. It's based on the Stephen King novel and has already gone way off the reservation on that one, but still keeps the core idea of Johnny the psychic (Anthony Michael Hall) who went into a coma and came out able to see the future when he touches people. Now he must save the world from Sean Patrick Flannery.

Overall it's a pretty good show. It has its weaknesses, but most episodes run a nice balance between self-contained stories and clues that advance the plot at large - kind of like Veronica Mars but lacking just a little of that Veronica / Dad spark.

The show was created by the late Michael Pillar and his son Shawn. As soon as I mentioned Michael Pillar to those two writers their faces lit up. He is universally respected in the TV writing community, especially at a Battlestar party where half the writers there worked with him at some point or another because he was also responsible for most of Star Trek and that's where Ron Moore got his start.

The best thing about Michael Pillar is that he was more open to new writers than any other showrunner out there. In this day when you can't even get something read unless you have an agent, he was willing to help inexperienced writers find a way in. That's how he always found such amazing talent. He didn't treat TV writing like some secret club where only the sexy people get to join.

His legacy continues, thanks to the lessons he taught his son. It's not quite like it was - you can't just email The Dead Zone and send them your script like you once could. But if you go to the website you can still find writer's guidelines for the show, along with full produced scripts and episode treatments available for free download.

Not enough people in the industry watch The Dead Zone, so your spec for this show would probably do you no good as a work sample. But for me, it was my first television spec because the information was so readily available. I read the book, watched every episode of the show up to that point, read several of the scripts and treatments and then wrote my very first television spec on The Dead Zone. Then I showed it to nobody and wrote one for a different show. But thanks to Michael Pillar, I got trained. The industry needs more people like him.


  1. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Piller. With an E!

  2. Unless I meant to make his name a pun as in "pillar of the community" or to imply that he's a "pillar" of support for new writers. Did you ever think of that, smart ass?

    Know what? I'm going to leave it just to piss you off.

    Because if there's one thing that annoys me more than clowns it's people who ignore the content of a post just to point out a spelling error anonymously and in an obnoxious fashion.

    No, scratch that. Clowns are still more annoying.

  3. Anonymous9:56 AM

    Put him in the Pillory! :D

    That said, DEAD ZONE was the first Stephen King novel I read. The movie made off of it was pretty close. I haven't seen the series.

    Since we're on a Stephen King tangent, what is your views on The Dark Half? Which reminds me that I need to rent the movie made from it as a comparative.

  4. I haven't seen it. I'm actually not that much of a Stephen King fan. Horror's not my thing.

  5. Anonymous6:29 PM

    Ahh... But The Dark Half is about a writer...

    I tend to classify some of Stephen King's writing as horror, but I prefer those of his stories that I classify as Dark Drama.


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