How To Create & Pitch A Reality TV Show Idea

Reality TV programs are for the most part unique stories and stunts reflecting "our world". Now, with the Internet connecting Producers to the rest of the world, Reality Television has become the most viable genre for new Writers, Creators and everyday people with great ideas to break into the Industry. Producers look for interesting subjects, people, professions, and original formats to purchase and produce as new shows. No longer can Producers be limited by their own development team. They must reach out to outsiders who can create and deliver unique concepts for TV.

At the TV Writers Vault we've witnessed this renaissance of the Hollywood system with many producing deals landed by new concept creators, and several projects produced and broadcast globally on major networks. is the television industry's first website to bring "ideas" from people outside the Hollywood system to production and global broadcast, and we welcome anyone with a unique idea for a television show to register and submit a new project in our marketplace.

Reality TV Studio FilmingWhen you first set out to create a reality TV show idea to pitch, you're going to propose either a formatted concept, or a documentary style concept. A format has a specific structure that takes place in each episode that provokes dramatic or compelling competition, typically resulting in one person winning. "Survivor", "Top Chef", "Wipe Out", and "The Bachelor" are all competition formats, each with a different structure and premise. One is about survival, another is about cooking, another is about stunts, and the other is about romance and relationships. "Survivor" pits all contestants against each other, with one person voted off each week by the group as a whole. "The Bachelor" has contestants competing for a relationship with one or more voted off each week by the star of the show. "Top Chef" has contestants competing each week, with judging and eliminations done by "Experts". Each of those series evolves and progresses over the course of a season, with a limited number of episodes (an Arc). "Wipe Out" is a straight competition series with the fastest finisher winning the show in each episode. Each episode is a "stand alone", with new contestants and challenges each show. This is similar to "Fear Factor", with both shows translating well for syndication because viewers don't have to follow the progression of a story and competition over multiple episodes.

Reality TV Series CastDocu-style reality series are finding unmatched success with Networks right now, and this is perhaps the most viable sub-genre for new Creators to pitch and sell as a reality TV series. Producers look for unique "worlds" and "characters" in real life that are entertaining and interesting to watch. This can be a unique profession or business, an odd or funny family, a certain lifestyle, a social club, real people on an adventure, or any area of our lives that may be interesting to watch. And they can be pitched by anyone. At the TV Writers Vault, we've had reality docu-style series ideas sold by Housewives/Mothers, Car Salesmen, Plumbers, Tire Salesman, Magicians, Doctors, Lawyers, Air Traffic Controllers, Performers, Process Servers, and other "real" people from outside the Hollywood system. They were either the subject for the show, or they had access to a subject for a show. None of them had any formal training or experience as a creative writer. They simply pitched the unique aspects and scenarios of their proposed idea, and Producers were able to see the entertainment value. Given the right subject, people, and approach, the Production Company knew they could sell a Network.

Here's one trick in helping identify potential subjects for docu-style series- They are essentially Sitcoms and Drama Series'. Regardless of the genre, it is always and only about "Story". "Duck Dynasty" could also be a great premise for a sitcom. "Deadliest Catch" could be the premise of a great drama series. So when you look at your world, and the world around you, look for areas of activity and people that generate incredible moments and stories. And remember, its not all about drama. Humor goes a long way in any pitch, and we've all seen the success that an odd or funny family can find on television.

TV WriterPitching a reality TV idea is as simple as communicating a Title, Logline, and Synopsis. This applies to all formats of reality-based ideas. The title should hit on what we're seeing, but may be a play on words. It can be as simple as "The Restaurant", or clever as "Around The World In Eighty Dates". It needs to give a direct clue as to the subject we're watching. Movies can have obscure or ambiguous titles, but television is an advertisers medium that demands quick capture of attention, so the viewer knows generally what the show may be about. Loglines are perhaps the most important aspect of pitching. A logline is the short pitch that communicates the high-concept of the show in one or two sentences. Any Producer reading a pitch for a reality TV series needs the logline to tell the unique premise and agenda of the concept. Too often new writers will create a logline that reads more like a movie tagline, hitting on themes or general ideas. For a TV Logline, the writer needs to be more specific about communicating what we're actually watching. What is the premise, and what is the plight? Keep it simple and clear. Once you establish that your logline tells what what the show is, then you can refine it to read in a more clever style.

Writing a Synopsis for a reality TV show pitch is all about communicating the unique and important moments in the show, in a very efficient and original manner. This is where you establish your originality of the format and content proposed. Communicate what we're potentially watching, detailing the progression of story or format beat for beat. A Reality TV Show Pitch may be 1 to 4 pages long, depending on the concept. In a docu-style series pitch, you're pitching that specific world, and the unique people involved. The first paragraph should be about the main character, their situation, and what they do. Then expand into the details of their daily challenges, and the most interesting events or circumstances they may encounter. Remember, what is filmed in the series hasn't happened yet, so you need to first talk about what makes the subject interesting, but quickly get into proposed scenarios and events that are likely to unfold. You're pitching "proposed content", based on the real activities and lives of those involved.

If you're writing a pitch for a reality TV format (competition, elimination, or other variation), then you're writing a very clear step-by-step overview of how the series progresses. Often new writers will get bogged down with paragraphs and pages of writing that is "justifying" or "educating" the reader on why the idea works, but in fact isn't telling us specifically what we're seeing unfold in the show. Example; Don't spend a page telling us about the chemistry or conflict that contestants will face in the relationship series you're pitching. Instead, describe the specific moments of decision and ultimatums that create that chemistry and conflict. Those are the moments that captivate us, and propel the show. Those are the moments that Producers create and control to deliver that end result of "chemistry" and "conflict".

Another important technical skill to keep in mind when creating your pitch for a reality show is to be efficient in your writing. Good writers may also get caught up in writing too many descriptive passages or expository writing simply because they're good at writing, and they feel they have to hammer a point home by describing it in more detail and length. Here's the golden rule; If it takes a page to describe, cut it down to a long paragraph. If it takes a long paragraph to make the point, cut it down to one or two sentences. When you hit it hard and efficient, you make impact, and then you move to the next beat in the show. This keeps the reader engaged. Especially if a Producer reading your pitch is already sold on the concept, they don't want to be turned off by having to read a lengthy section that isn't moving the story or format forward.

TV Show Producing DealWhen a Production Company wants to buy your idea for a new reality series, know what you can ask for.
We always recommend having an experienced entertainment attorney negotiate any deal on your behalf, but its also very important to know what to expect, and what Production Companies may be willing to give. Assuming you're a new Writer/Creator, and your concept is being "Optioned" by a Production Company who will then sell the show to a Network, here's what to look for. You should expect some form of Producer credit. This may be Consulting Producer, Co-Producer, or similar. A "Created by" credit is also appropriate as you are the original creator of the unique concept. Often a creator will also share such credit with certain parties at the Production Company since they're the entity physically creating the show. So be open to a "Co-Creator" or shared "Created by" credit. As such, you should require a "Per Episode Fee". This may be a percentage of the per episode budget, or it may be a flat fee. How much financial success you'll gain from selling a tv show idea, depends on the success of the show.

Production Companies always hope for additional seasons ordered, and successful ratings will equate to bumps in fees and residual income. Another thing to keep in mind is that a Production Company may be successful in selling the project to multiple countries and varying networks. Make sure your deal applies to any network or third party broadcaster sale, and that a different network equals a different run of fees.

Often we're asked, "When is pitching season for new reality shows?" The great news is that there is no specific or limited period when Producers secure new TV show ideas for development. They scout year-round, every day of the week, and even on vacations when they still have time to review new projects. Of course there are specific events in the industry that take place annually, where Production Companies debut their new projects for sale to broadcasters, but at the point of creating and selling a reality show idea to Producers, it is a process and period that doesn't end. They buy projects all the time. We appreciate the dedication and creative drive that so many of our members have, and we look forward to assisting all new writers in the process of creating and pitching new reality TV shows to top Producers in the television industry.


Anything that makes a splash like the "Reality TV" boom is bound to bring out the skeptics. What's most interesting about this hot genre in programming is that the skeptics are both the buyer and the seller. The viewing audience and the Networks both ask the fearful question, "How long can this last?"
The truth is that both continue to tune in, as well as produce and promote new shows.

The creators and producers of these shows are people that think "outside the box" to begin with, and many have been vocal in explaining that the format of reality programming only broadens the possibilities of various forms of hybrid shows. It's the same thing we've witnessed with scripted shows over the past decade- Rules are broken and new forms are accepted.

There has always been an appetite for event-type programming. And when real people are involved, viewers will watch with the same addictive appetite as those who are hooked on soap operas. What's more powerful in even the highly formatted reality-based programming is that even though the situations are set up and driven to deliver a result for content, we are watching people with real emotions in circumstances that create real drama.

As long as we continue to be fascinated with the human condition, and have an appetite for entertainment, there will always be some evolving format of a reality show. We've also seen the evolution of documentary-style programming with hit cable shows becoming extremely popular. The viewing audiences' appetite for experiencing lives and worlds they'd otherwise never know or see in their own reality is what pulls them to these programs.

Producers are reaching out to discover real people with fascinating lives, businesses, and families to create and produce as new shows, and many of them were discovered right here at the TV Writers Vault. People are now pitching their own lives as reality-based programs, and many are succeeding. We feel that as long as people have passion, and a drive to create, prosper, and pursue adventure, there will always be original reality TV programming.

Read our founder Scott Manville's blog article on "What New Producers & Creators Need To Know About Pitching Reality TV Show Ideas"
Read Success Stories from the TV Writers Vault.
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