Friday, July 6, 2012

Pitching for Television

This is how I used to think television was made --
  • Writers write scripts
  • Agents submit scripts to networks
  • Networks decide which scripts become TV shows
Boy, was I wrong.

The television creation process starts with pitching! Everybody pitches - writers pitch to their agents, agents pitch to production companies, studios pitch to networks - and these pitches are almost never scripts at this point. Just ideas.

Because everyone wants to develop an idea with the writer from the ground up - have their hands in the script and characters as they're being formed - to ensure a successful final product.

The odds are tough - here's the estimate I've heard about network television --
  • Networks will hear around 500 pitches
  • They'll buy 50-60 pitches to develop into scripts
  • 8-10 of those scripts will be chosen to shoot as pilots
  • 2-3 of those pilots will be greenlit to series
Still, plenty of writers will take those odds, because it takes less time to develop a pitch than it does an entire script. I have firsthand knowledge of the pilot development process and I wouldn't mind doing it again myself.

That's why I went to this event at the WGA last week - Successful TV Pitching in Today's Marketplace --

The room was packed with writers eager to learn more about selling a pitch. There was even an overflow area set up in the next room with a live video feed to accommodate more eager writers.

The panel was comprised of television writer superstars - Hilary Winston (Happy Endings, Community), Elizabeth Craft (Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries), Michael Oates Palmer (The West Wing, Rubicon), television executive Gina Girolamo (SVP of Alloy Entertainment), and producer/pitching consultant Bob Schultz (Great American Pitchfest, Below Zero), moderated by Melinda Hsu Taylor (Touch, Falling Skies).

The panel gave the room amazing information about shaping your ideas, delivering your pitch, and working with production companies and studios.

I already knew most of the information presented thanks to personal experience and my years of pitch training in the CAPE Pitch Lab, but I heard great stories and learned a few new things --

I finally learned to distinguish production companies from "pods," i.e. - production companies headed by non-writing executive producers that function autonomously within TV studios, working with writers to develop and produce projects. For example, Timberman/Beverly is a pod at CBS Studios.

A few more great takeaway tidbits --
  • You're not just pitching the project in the room - you're pitching yourself as a partner they want to work with - they're not just buying the idea, they're buying you

  • It's not enough for a comedy pitch to be funny - they want to know why they're going to fall in love with the characters and follow them for 8 years

  • Never go in with a bad title! (Liz Craft said she and her writing partner Sarah Fain would rather pitch something as The Untitled Craft & Fain Project than go in with a bad title again.)
The first audience question of the night summed up what we were all thinking - how do you get a pitch meeting without an agent or manager? The answer was simple - you don't. You need an agent or manager with relationships to set up meetings on your behalf.

So if you're an aspiring television writer, keep working on those scripts to get a fantastic agent - and get ready to pitch!

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