In today’s television landscape, with hundreds of channels and so many shows on the air, it has become increasingly important for new shows to have a really great hook. In television, a show is said to have a great hook when its basic premise—or a unique aspect of its story—immediately grabs people’s attention and makes them want to watch the pilot episode. A good hook is also important when pitching an idea for a new series – it can even be the show’s main selling point.
A hook is usually communicated in a brief description that states the series’ main premise, introduces its main characters, and suggests the source of the main conflicts that these characters will face. The following examples are hooks from NBC dramas:
A very concise hook for the new series Revolution:
A group of revolutionaries must battle a governing dictatorial militia 15 years after an instantaneous global shutdown of all electronic devices known as “the Blackout.”
And a more detailed hook for the upcoming series Dracula:
It’s the late 19th century, and the mysterious Dracula has arrived in London, posing as an American entrepreneur who wants to bring modern science to Victorian society. But, he has another reason for his travels: he hopes to take revenge on those who crossed him centuries earlier. Everything seems to be going according to plan… until he becomes infatuated with a woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife.
As you can see in these examples, a hook presents the key elements of the show’s story: the setting, the main characters, their goals, the problems that prevent them from reaching their goals, and the implied consequences for their success or failure. A great hook not only suggests main conflicts, but actually helps us imagine some of the complications that may arise from those conflicts. If a hook excites enough people’s imagination and curiosity, there is a good chance that the show will be successful.
While a great hook is important for the success of most new shows, some new shows don’t necessarily need a conceptual hook to attract an audience. For example, if Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) creates a new show about any subject at all, he simply has to inform the world of its existence, and millions of his fans will watch. If, however, a new show doesn’t have the advantage of having a built-in fan base, the show has a much better chance of attracting a large audience if it has a compelling hook.
As mentioned earlier, a show has a hook when its basic premise—or a unique aspect of its story—immediately grabs people’s attention and makes them want to watch the show. That attention-getting premise or unique aspect may come from several sources, such as new type of character or a new situation that we haven’t seen on television. For example, there have been a lot of vampires on television lately; but we haven’t seen a love sick Dracula living in Victorian England. Creating new and interesting characters is challenging, but not as challenging as creating new situations. So many television shows are set in the same environments—including hospitals, police stations, offices, homes, schools, courtrooms, restaurants, shops, and hotels—that it is challenging to find a setting or situation that hasn’t been done many times before. Fantasy and science fiction may be the only genres that give writers the opportunity to create new, unique worlds for their stories.
Whether they start with an existing situation and introduce a compelling character, put a familiar character into an unusual new situation, combine two traditional genres or create a completely new format, we hope they continue to come up with creative new shows that get us hooked!
Crafty TV Writing: Think Inside the Box, by Alex Epstein
Screenwriting for Dummies, by Laura Schellhardt