Everyone has a big idea for a TV show, but only a few of the hundreds of pitches network executives hear will ever make it onto the small screen. In such a competitive market, how do you make your concept stand out from the crowd, and how do you get it in front of the people who can give you a green light? Follow the steps below, and you have a shot at standing out from the crowd.
- Come up with an original idea – Networks have heard the same stories again and again, so make sure you are bringing something new to the table. This may mean creating characters that are quirky and unlike anyone else on television, or tackling a story in a completely new way. You’re not just pitching the idea, but pitching the specific people and situation that the series would be focused on.
- Know your network and your audience – Research is key. Educate yourself on current television trends. Scripted programs are very popular, but you have to understand how shows on AMC have a very different feel to those on MTV. Do your homework on what is working for each network and who their target demographic is, and then decide which networks you are going to pitch to. Be specific in your concept and choose subjects that are marketable to that network.
- Write a treatment – The first step is to put your idea into writing, which is called a “treatment”. A treatment is a one to three page synopsis that states the concept of the show, outlines the main characters, the style of the show and potential story arcs. You should be able to summarize your show idea in only a couple of sentences, which is called a “logline”. The logline should tell the network what the premise of the show is, and what’s unique about it. You will also need a catchy title that will capture the network’s attention. Be creative with word play or known catch-phrases. The title should roll off the tongue and tell you what you are going to be watching. The synopsis is a longer, more detailed show description, outlining what will unfold in brief, powerful points. Revise and refine your pitch. Be efficient and concise with your descriptions yet provide enough information to provoke interest.
- Create a sizzle reel – Many networks now want to see video footage to go with your pitch. This is often called a demo tape or “sizzle reel”. This should be around 2-3 minutes long and should draw in the viewer in the first 10 seconds. It’s important that the sizzle reel is professionally shot and edited. It should show off the essence of the characters, the lifestyle, locations and potential story arcs, and reveal the potential for drama, action and/or humor. If you need help there are production companies that you can hire to help create a professional sizzle reel.
- Get it in front of the right people – If you don’t already have contacts at the networks, you might need to partner up with a production company that has established network relationships. They can connect you with the right people, set up meetings and help you with the pitch. The downside is that they will be expecting a cut of whatever commissions you receive. But this may be the most efficient way to get you in front of the right people, and they may also be able to contribute valuable ideas to your pitch. In order to find the right production company research ones which are already producing shows that are a similar genre to your concept. Call the company and ask to set up a meeting with the head of development, and bring your sizzle reel and treatment. There are also many television conferences and summits which are devoted to industry professionals networking, pitching and exchanging ideas examples, such as Real Screen.
- Time to pitch – It is better to arrange an in-person pitch meeting with a network executive than to correspond by email, that way you know what they are looking for, and what they do and do not like about your pitch. Once you have a meeting set up, go in with confidence and passion. Be prepared to be flexible and take feedback. If the network likes the sizzle, they hopefully will put up money to shoot more, or even order a pilot or episodes. If they have specific ideas, suggest revising your pitch taking into account what was discussed, and resubmitting.
- Follow up – Send a follow up email thanking the executives for their time, and outlining any next steps. If you don’t hear back, or it’s a no, try to keep the relationship going regardless. Once you have a contact at a network, you can go back to them with more ideas in the future. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a yes immediately. Try other networks, keep reaching out to new people and following up. Don’t be afraid to develop new concepts, every pitching scenario will play out differently depending on timing, the players and the project. The more experienced you become at pitching, the more likely you are to succeed. The key is to stay committed and not to give up.
This post is by television producer Joanne Azern, who has written, directed and supervised hundreds of hours of programs for networks such as The Discovery Channel, NBC, MTV, Bravo, the Sundance Channel, National Geographic, Style Network, Travel Channel, and History Channel. You can follow her on Twitter @joanneazern.