How To Pitch A TV Show Idea That Sells

Understanding the power of "Idea" in Television

By Scott Manville
Founder, | Contributing Writer, National Association Television Program Executives (NATPE)

How to pitch a TV show ideaIf you're asking "How do I pitch a new TV show?", or "How can I sell my TV show idea?", we'd like to help you understand the most important factors in getting Producers to engage with your pitch, and those are, the idea itself, and the written treatment. We provide this free professional insight and advice for all new creatives in the process of writing and pitching TV scripts and ideas.

The Logline:

Whether you're pitching reality shows, docuseries', game show formats, or drama series', the most critical aspect of the pitch is the "Logline". It's the short pitch that sells your series. It's the one-liner and shorthand that a TV development executive uses to sell it to her boss at the production company, and that her boss uses to sell it to the network executive. Ultimately it is that core "idea" that is used to market the show to viewers. We'll break down this clever and critical tool for you further in this article.

The Pitch Treatment:

Supporting that core idea should be a written pitch treatment that details all of the unique and original aspects of your concept as they would play out in the proposed show. This bolsters the originality of your pitch, and helps protect it as an intellectual property. "Ideas" are protected under copyright law only when there is a unique and original expression of them. "stock ideas" that are vague and generalized with no original creation of proposed content in a pitch cannot be protected. So it pays to roll up your sleeves and get creative and clever in your premise, your plot, your characters, and proposed scenarios and format. In this guide, we'll dive into the framework and strategy for writing a compelling pitch that will communicate the potential of your TV script or concept to producers.

TV Industry Leaders confirm that "ideas" are the fuel that drives the entertainment industry:

"There are sectors that make up the business. It is not just producers selling finished content. It is all about the beginning of the process, the idea stage."  
Rod Perth - President CEO, National Association Television Program Executives |
January 21, 2016 Broadcasting & Cable

"The idea is king. Plain and simple. But it has to be made well, and it needs many elements to succeed. I always say a good game needs to have both sizzle AND the steak. The steak is the solid format. The sizzle is what makes it a television show and not a board game."
- Phil Gurin - Executive Producer "Shark Tank", "Weakest Link"
TV Writers Vault Interview


Understand the importance of "idea" and how it fuels the potential of your show being sold:

First, lets talk TITLE. Unlike film titles that may be more ambiguous to serve some underlying theme or the character's plight, television is a title driven medium unlike any other. It's the first message delivered to viewers to provoke interest. It's often a play on words, and rolls easily off the tongue. A title can be a great sales tool if it confirms something we haven't seen before and inspires the imagination, allowing the executive to see the potential for the series.

How To Write Winning Loglines:

A LOGLINE is a one or two sentence description in a pitch that tells the basic premise and purpose of a TV show idea. Loglines for the sake of pitching a project are similar to a TV Guide description of a show, but more specific in describing the concept of the program. This is the catalyst for increasing the odds of selling a script or idea for a series.

"You can have the most polished pitch reel, but if that core idea isn't highly original and captivating it will never find the traction it needs to become a show"

In my twenty years of working in development for major television companies I've seen countless occasions where an executive fell in love with an "idea" pitched, and then worked from the inside out with the Creators to develop the best approach for that concept. That's called the "development process". In the same number of years I have never seen a bad idea purchased because the pitch was polished and professional looking. You can have the most polished pitch reel or "show package", but if that core idea isn't highly original and captivating it will never find the traction it needs to become a show. That's why it's critical to develop multiple ideas and engage producers with written pitches so that you, and the production company, will know what's worth investing in. And since its the production company who will be investing, whether they pay for the proof of concept reel or get a network to underwrite it on a "pre-sale", it all comes down to finding an idea that resonates with them. This often has to do with their own keen sense of what is entertaining to watch, and if that type of project can connect with their connections at the Networks. The more you create, the more you pitch, the more you engage with producers, the more refined your sensibility will be for what companies want.

Ask yourself these critical questions when conceptualizing an idea for a TV show: What are we actually watching happen in the show? Is the premise too familiar, or is it something that hasn't yet been explored in television? Are the characters compelling? The Creator must take a hard look at what they're actually proposing. Often what is great in theory falls flat in reality. That said, and assuming your idea is highly original, you absolutely need to invest your time in developing the pitch so that the premise and path of the show is communicated for the executive to see its potential. Look for irony in the world or subject you're proposing. Viewers want to experience things in a way that they don't expect. Keep in mind that this is television, so no matter the subject, you want to propose personalities that are polarizing. We want to experience a heightened level of the human condition, and it takes strong characters with interesting perspectives to portray that. Your pitch is a roadmap with ingredients that sets things in motion. The setting, the circumstances, the agenda and plight of the people involved are all major components that need to be fresh and crystal clear. Continue revisiting your logline as the touchstone that all things are derived from. In fleshing out your pitch you may see that the logline needs to be modified, and hopefully becomes more clear and clever.

Developing your logline is also an opportunity to express an original hook that your show has that separates it from others within the same genre or theme. A great logline should provoke interest and inspire the TV producer to see the potential of the show. Odds are, if you can't boil your pitch for a TV show down to a solid 1 or 2 sentences that tells what the show is about, producers will never be attracted to it for development.

To an executive scouting projects, the TV show logline is perhaps the most important element of the development process. It is the core concept of the show, and is very close to the short pitch a Network markets to the public when promoting a new show. This holds the "idea power" of your project.

The following are simple examples of could-be loglines for popular television shows:

"Ordinary people face their fears by competing against each other in outrageously devised stunts" - Fear Factor

"A likeable husband's tolerance and marriage is tested by the constant intrusion of his overbearing parents and dim-witted brother" - Everybody Loves Raymond

"Twenty women will court and compete to win the affections of one man who will narrow the selection until he must decide on his one true love." - The Bachelor

"Contestants' general knowledge will be tested when given the answers to questions they must then form." - Jeopardy

"Aspiring singers will compete in a nationwide talent search on live television where they will face the often unfair scrutiny of a panel of judges before voting viewers finally brand one the "American Idol", receiving a recording contract." - American Idol

Here's a few write-ups at Scott Manville's blog in pitching TV show ideas where you can jump into the conversation:

    How To Pitch A TV Show Idea

    Why Your TV or Movie Pitch Will Sell To Producers

Check Out This Great Discussion With TV's Top Showrunners On Creating & Pitching TV Show Ideas

How To Pitch & Sell Scripted TV Series Ideas & Pilot Scripts

If you've written, or are in the process of creating and writing a pilot script or treatment pitch for a scripted TV series, we've put together a great page of information from top TV showrunners and executives. It details the value of ideas for TV, and how to find subjects and stories, advice from creators of hit TV shows, information on TV pilot script and treatment pitch structure and content, links to actual pilot scripts of hit TV series, and other resources.

The TV Writers Vault Guide to Writing, Pitching & Selling Scripted TV Series

Learn how TV show ideas and scripts are sold here at the TV Writers Vault:

When you've got your great idea for a new TV series worked out with a clever title, a captivating logline, and a clear synopsis, then you're ready to put it to market and get a production company behind it. But before you do so, be sure to establish proof-of-creation with third party archival prior to any exposure in the marketplace. You can do this at second measure of protection is provided here at the TV Writers Vault. When you list your pitch in our secure and private marketplace, we provide electronic proof of review when any executive accesses your pitch. When an executive likes your pitch and wants to discuss the project, they simply click a button to request contact and we provide your direct contact information. You'll receive instant notification of all activity and requests. 

Producers at the TV Writers Vault are always scouting new projects for reality television and other genres. Read Success Stories from the TV Writers Vault, and click below to pitch your new idea for a TV show.

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