How do you like your stakes? I personally like them big and rare. But Broadcast Executives like them big and often.
So what are the stakes for the characters in your show? What do they need to accomplish and what happens if they don’t do it?
A well-written show will almost always have a reason that the characters need to get something done. And they generally need to get it done by a certain time.
If the characters don’t have stakes in the game, than it makes it harder for the viewers to care. And if the viewers aren’t going to care, the Execs aren’t going to either.
Let’s look at a few examples of stakes in shows:
Man vs Wild – this is an easy one. If he screws up he dies.
Storage Wars – will they get the locker? And then, will there be anything cool in it they can make money off of to pay the rent?
Survivor – if they don’t play their cards right up they’ll get voted off the show and lose the chance to win the million dollars.
Ace of Cakes – he bakes things that have never been done, and there’s always a deadline, and I’m pretty sure he’ll go out of business if he doesn’t make it.
Dog The Bounty Hunter – if they make the wrong decision they could be in mortal danger.
As you research TV for your show(s) make note of what the stakes are in these shows and how often they refer to it.
You’ll notice that someone in every act is going to refer to something regarding one of the following: the danger they are in or how dangerous it could be, someone they know who died doing this and/or how many people die from this every year, how much money they can make or lose, how little time is left, or what happens if they do not accomplish what they are trying get done.
And take notice of how it’s usually not very subtle.
If you could be on the set of Swamp People while the show is being filmed you might hear the Director ask this if a boat motor won’t start:
“What is going to happen if you don’t get this done?”
The character in front of the camera might answer:
“If we don’t get this boat motor fixed we are in serious trouble. These waters are filled with crocodiles and no one knows where we are.”
And then you’ll hear the guy who records the Voice over say something like this: “Over the past decade gators have taken people at a pace of more than one a year. That’s more than shark attacks.”
Notice that they kind of hit the viewer over the head with a hammer? That’s because it works and it keeps the viewers coming back.
Now, you don’t necessarily need to know exactly where in the script the stakes are mentioned, but you do need to know what the overall stakes of the show are.
Knowing the stakes of your show will help you develop a better show, a stronger pitch, and put you in a better position with the Execs when they are asking questions about your show.
Now, who’s up for having some stakes?