Nobody can say for sure - not even the commissioning editors who will be responsible, because right now they're still script editors, working their way up the media ladder. But one thing we do know is that, whatever treats are in store for our screens in 3-4 years time, each future hit TV drama series probably already exists somewhere - as a twinkle in a writer's eye.
(It took Matthew Weiner over six years to get Mad Men to the screen. It was worth the wait. He currently says of his next project: "I think I'm about five or six months pregnant.")
The Next Big Idea
The germ of an idea - the inspiration - can come from anywhere: a snatched snippet of conversation, an item on the news or in the local paper - perhaps even the sudden realization that a specific personal experience would make for a great TV drama.
Ideas can strike at any time, often taking the form of themes, or "visualisations". A writer will sometimes wake in the middle of the night to note down what seems at the time to be a brilliant idea, only to look at that same scribble in the morning and wonder what on earth he was thinking. But sometimes, something just clicks, and it's immediately clear that an idea is worth exploring.
So then what?
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If it's ever going to see the light of day, emerging from the chrysalis as a fully-fledged, commissionable series proposal, an idea for a TV drama series needs to be properly developed. The first thing to do is take it out for a bit of a spin: how would it work? Who would it appeal to? Which channel might commission it, and for which slot? Would it have international appeal?
Sometimes, it becomes clear early on that the idea isn't quite as strong as the writer thought it was. Maybe it's too reminiscent of something that's gone before, or would cost too much to make, or there just isn't enough substance in the story to warrant a series. It may be time to think again. Good writers learn to troubleshoot their own ideas and throw out the turkeys quickly, so as not to waste too much time.
But when an idea is right, they will absolutely know it.
In that case, all the usual troubleshooting questions fall by the wayside during the project's gestation period, as the characters, themes and stories unfold, and the idea grows from strength to strength. New ideas pop up when the writer least expects them; when she didn't even know her subconscious was working so hard on her behalf. The writer may begin to dream about the characters; to wake up in the morning with new stories and ideas literally tumbling out of his head - even when he's not normally a morning person.
At moments like these, the writer knows she is really onto something.
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But it's still hard to work in isolation. Most writers find it helpful to run their ideas past others during the development process. It's important to know they are on the right track; not deluded or going crazy - or simply unaware of a similar project that has already been produced or is in the pipeline. Constructive feedback and objective opinions are crucial - it's always better to troubleshoot early than to end up with a flawed proposal.
Writers who go through this disciplined process stay motivated and focused. They learn how to sort the wheat from the chaff and find unique nuggets of gold. They hone their projects until they're ready to market, and then they're off.
They are easily recognisable, these writers: they are the ones with a twinkle in their eye; the writers who will be responsible for the television drama hits of the future.
It will be interesting to discover what Matthew Weiner is currently expecting....and whether or not he goes to full term with his second birth.
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CREATE YOUR OWN TV DRAMA SERIES
A practical, inspirational course running over six Sundays between 4 October and 15 November 2015. For details: click here
Tutor: Anji Loman Field