By Scott Manville
Producer - Founder, TVWritersVault.com
If 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- the idea itself, and the written treatment. We provide this free pro insight and advice for all new screenwriters and producers in the process of writing and pitching TV scripts and ideas.
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.
"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."
"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."
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 hints at a subject we haven't seen before and inspires the imagination, allowing the executive to see the potential for the 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"|
This is a detailed outline, typically 3 to 10 pages, depending on the genre, that tells the story of your series and concept as it plays out in both the pilot episode, and over the arc of the series. It will include a description of the "world" and premise of the series, the plight of your main character(s), and sample episode storylines. The content varies by genre, but we'll break it into two main categories:
Scripted Series - The logline has explained the main premise and plight of your protagonist, and now this is where you drill in and bring the world their world to life. The key is to not be so detailed that it bogs down the reader, but to hit on all of the most critical beats in the episode or season you are detailing. This may include an outline of the Pilot episode (whether or not you have a script), an outline of a first season arc so we can see how the series evolves, and what the specific episode summaries are. Our article How-To-Pitch-A-TV-Show-Pilot-Script.asp provides a full view of writing pitch treatments for scripted series.
Unscripted - While the logline should detail the set-up or subject that is the focus of the series, when you dig in to write the synopsis you'll most likely be writing what we'll "potentially" or "ideally" witness in the series. Since much of these series' are character focused, a majority of your synopsis should cover the main characters lives, habits, passions, pursuits, and conflicts. You can get a more expanded view by checking out our article on Create-Pitch-Reality-TV-Shows.asp
While you have no control over whether or not the Executive will connect with your pitch, what you do have control over is the single basic goal of the meeting. That is, to connect with them in like-minded creativity. One of the best things an executive can discover is a new writer or producer who knows how to think and make fresh and compelling choices. So even if you don't sell the pitch for that particular project in the room, they'll feel a "connection of the minds" and be open to new projects you deliver in the future. Or, in a best case scenario, they like the way you think so much that they'll want to work with you in figuring out how the idea or story may work. It's a combination of factors, but you MUST win them over by how you think and view things.
When you have a tightly written pitch that outlines the specifics of your film or treatment, it's then time to practice pitching it off page. Know the logline cold. It's short, and holds the most impact. It's what sets their view on the project, and the words you've carefully crafted but be told exactly as is. But for the synopsis you're going to have to train your thought process to follow the story beats, but not verbatim. You don't want to memorize five or ten pages of text, so what you're going to do is give an abbreviated walk-through of the story. Some of the specific wording or turn of a phrase you'll remember, while most others you won't. Take a drive, go for a bike ride, a run, a swim, or anything that allows you some focused solitude. When your mind is finally comfortable hopping through the obstacle course of your story, then do without the distraction of activity. Stand up, and give the pitch. Pitch your dog, pitch your kids, pitch your spouse. Let them interrupt you, and keep your momentum. You need to build a flexible muscle so you're not walking into the room with a perfectly rehearsed robo-pitch that will be DOA. When your story is a part of you, then you can easily pitch it with the flexibility needed. You'll be comfortable.
Hopefully you're pitching a project that will fill a void. Something we haven't seen before. A subject they haven't thought of before. But with an approach that gives it a highly unique perspective...your angle in. Know in your heart what makes the project special. Getting past the pleasantries, start your pitch with a cause. Right from the start hit them with a core question that will be the flashpoint for the pitch. Then you're ready to share the logline with them. If you have the right project, they'll want it to work. Their mind is then open to absorbing much of the details you'll follow with as you walk them through the arc of the story, or the structure and content of the concept. Be prepared to be interrupted, and take it as your opportunity to engage with them. If it's the right question, you'll then become conspirators in figuring out how the story best works. Do not let the momentum die. Keep moving forward in the pitch. Also keep in mind, you'll be on edge, excited, nervous to a certain degree...it's common to race over details. This is often a great way to cut the fat out of the narrative and deliver just the essential facets of the story or concept. While nerves can sharpen your energy, they can also cloud your ability to "hear" what the executive may be saying (or not saying) to you during and after the pitch. You must listen. You're not there to sell them. You're there to serve them. If you listen and hear what they communicate, it may tell you more about what they want, rather than you only hearing that they don't want yours. It's a process. You're building a collaborative relationship.
As the pitch wraps up and they've shared their view, always have one or two other projects in your hip pocket just to mention to them. They'll tell you on the spot "sure, what are they", or "follow up with that one". It's a way to keep the tone positive and moving forward.
Only follow up when they specifically expressed an interest in the project. If they weren't sure, or only spoke of issues, you'll only be bugging them about a project they're not interested in.
Another way to follow up isn't to follow up asking if they want to engage on the project, but to follow up with a new project. It gives them the opportunity to address or share any determination of your original pitch, while no whipping a dead horse. At the very least their mind will open up to see if your new pitch is more viable.