Damn, this sucker hits like a Mack truck. It's dense as all hell -- hurtles at you full on, no brakes.
What we have here is a 63-page Teleplay, written by David Simon, with Story by David Simon and Edward Burns, dated July 26, 2001 (download here). This script comes with a 4-page Teaser... and that's it; straight through, all the way through.
I remember when I first saw the pilot for this show, how much it really made me sit up and go 'WOW' -- how it changed my perceptions of what 'good' TV was. Sitting here, reading this script, I'm still in awe at how much story managed to get crammed in here.
Just don't ask me who everyone is.
Seriously, I felt like I needed to start a flow chart or something just to keep tabs on who was doing what and who was on what side.
If there's one thing I've always been told as a writer, especially as an emerging writer, it's to keep my casts slim -- to keep my roster down. My gawd, I don't think I've ever seen so many characters in one script before, let alone so many bosses reporting to their bosses.
What this Pilot does really well is illustrate the 'chain-of-command' for both sides of the coin. The cops got people to answer to and so do the dope-slingers. No matter which side of the coin you fall on, everything's regimented, everything's structured.
The story starts low, on the ground level, with a simple homicide but doesn't really get rolling until one cop (McArdle) realizes, far too late, that he's too dumb to keep his mouth shut.
And then it proceeds to show us how one piece of information can fuck with a whole lot of people as, for the next 40 pages or so, we bear witness to how exactly 'shit rolls downhill'.
Now, I'm sure that as one guy who's read a pilot for a show that I haven't seen in half a decade, I probably don't have all that much 'new' to add. Especially since they're teaching this as a course in University now. But this script is pretty much a perfect storm of all the things I've ever been told NOT to do as a writer (if, you know, I ever want to have a career in TV).
Let's see how many I can fit into one sentence:
A multitude of long, complicated, stories that don't always end in a satisfying resolution and involve a small army of potentially recurring actors that may or may not be integral to the ultimate plot.
Now, granted, I'm no David Simon (yet). And I guess that once you've cut your teeth writing on a show like Homicide: Life On The Street... well, you get upgraded to the second set of books.
You've earned the leeway.
And yet, for all that said, all of that leeway don't mean shit if what you turn in is utter crap.
The Wire works because Mr. Simon spent years working in Baltimore as a crime reporter. He picked the city he knew well and a world that he had intimate knowledge of to craft the story he wanted to tell.
Then add into that the fact that the man can write like a man possessed.
This Pilot works because it not only sets up the world, the rules and the characters but it also makes us realize that we've only hit the tip of the iceberg here. You don't need resolution to stories when the story itself all but warns you from the beginning that you have to be in this for the long haul. No one is getting out of this easily, least of all: the viewer.
All-in-all, if you're planning on writing dramatic series for TV, this script is a must read. If you're planning on writing for TV, period, this script is a must read.
Just realize that you probably won't be making the next Wire any time soon.
Tomorrow I'll be tackling Frasier 1x01 - The Good Son.
Sounds like fun.