If you want to know how to pitch a TV show, the first thing you need to know is how to develop TV show ideas.
The common assumption is that the pitch process is all about “selling it in the room.”
In the words of Sun Tzu, “every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.”
You have to sell it long before you walk into that room. Sell it first in your mind and in your preparation process.
This post will ensure that you know how to to pitch a TV show.
Don’t listen to these guys if you want to know how to pitch a tv show
We will cover the tips and techniques that will help you craft a strong TV series pitch. The proper approach to the room itself. The best way to formulate your material and your idea into our TV show pitch template.
But all of that is secondary.
Because the first step in the long road of learning how to make a tv show is learning...
Freebie: TV Show Pitch Template
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How to pitch a TV show by developing tv ideas
A well known and successful Executive Producer once gave me this sage advice:
"Ideas are the only real currency," he said. "Execution can be learned. Ideas...(dramatic pause)... Ideas are gold."
Before we go over the steps for the TV show pitch template or talk about any TV show pitch examples, we'll cover developing ideas.
Good ideas don't come along that often. There are a lot of decent (and not so decent) ideas out there.
Sometimes they even make for decent programming.
But good ideas?
They win the day every time.
How you pitch, or how you plan to execute your show are less important than the material itself.
Which brings us to the big question.
Where do I find great TV show ideas
TV show ideas tend to grow on trees, often the trees outside of your nearest Starbucks.
You could also hang a sign outside of starbucks that says “TV show ideas wanted.” You’ll get all kinds of weird submissions.
Before you resort to that, here are a few other methods...
The news/current events
Not limited to today's headlines. Any procedural would fall under this category of TV show idea.
Anything culled from today's 'current events.' The types of problems facing us. The kind of people confronting them. Doctors office. Law firm. Department of sanitation... (why not?)
One of the best shows of all time, The Wire drew its inspiration from the real world
Have you read any interesting news stories lately? Have you noticed any trends? Is there a story behind those trends? A connective tissue? Anything that spurs any tv show ideas?
Here are more questions to help you find that excellent tv show idea.
Are you a history buff? Is there anything you can recall learning about that fascinates you? Recent or ancient? Or somewhere in-between?
The past has a lot to offer; there are many unexplored corners of human history full of solid story.
Rome told the story of how Julius Caesar became the most powerful man in the world
Get into a time machine and find an era that grabs you. Don't worry about the budget for a period piece yet. We're at the idea stage.
You know what has the largest budget in the world? Your imagination. Same deal with their imagination.
Stick the landing on the idea; then the execution becomes basic arithmetic.
Your story/Personal drama
Write what you know, right?
But it doesn't need to be you, per se. It could be another writer. A biography you want to develop. Bringing a biography you own the rights to when you pitch a tv show idea can’t hurt.
Try an exploration of an interpersonal situation or scenario.
Isn’t Breaking Bad really a story about a midlife crisis?
What happens to people, on a personal level, is always a part of a story.
Think things like growing up. Falling in love. Etc.
On the job/Professional environments
A work environment. Have you had a unique experience as a line chef? Do you know a line chef who's unique experiences could serve as a jumping off point?
Or how about a crew of a starship?
An intergalactic office.
Far-flung as a Star Trek may seem, in many ways, it's in part a story about people who work together.
Mix and match
Of course, none of these places exist in a vacuum. You could find a true story about a work environment sometime in the past.
Mix and match and combine elements. Bring one to the other. Graft a personal experience onto a true story about a police investigation.
Find the kernel of inspiration wherever it may be, and then expand outward from there.
But find that kernel.
Then you will start...
Developing TV show ideas
You may not think you're learning how to pitch a tv show yet. But you are.
Wax on, Wax off, Daniel-San.
Before you learn more about how to pitch your killer TV show idea, you need to flesh it out a bit.
You may have found the kernel of inspiration, but seeds alone don't bear fruit.
You need to develop this TV show idea into TV series pitch.
The first step in this is enlisting a writer to work on it. As a creative producer, I'd often work with a writer or writer/director to develop the idea more.
We’d start by looking at a few TV show pitch examples. Sometimes we’d get a hold of some TV show treatment examples. Whatever we could use to create some structure.
Next, start to bring in talent. You could have an actor in mind for whom this could be the perfect "vehicle."
One of the biggest questions and challenges when the network starts to figure out how to make a tv show is talent. If you can cross some of that off list in the tv series pitch process you’re ahead of the game!
Plus it can’t hurt to get the talent involved early on. They'll get a chance to help make it their own.
If you want to know how to pitch a TV show to Netflix, or anywhere like that, bring a star into the room. That’ll certainly help.
If you are more of a writer, then you'll want to bring in a creative producer.
Why are you bringing in more people with your golden nugget of an idea?
Because you need to...
Build a team for your TV series pitch
Dispel yourself of the notion that you're going to be on a creative island. Even though the industry often 'sells' that image, it's never the case in practice.
A team of writers writes a TV show. Sure, there is a showrunner, and sometimes that showrunner also is the sole creator.
Even then, they're not walking that creative path of figuring out how to make a tv show alone. Showrunners MINE their writer's rooms for stories.
A writers room figuring out how to make a tv show, essentially.
They depend on their cast for audiences and ratings.
The sooner you can put together the key players on your killer team, the better.
The more varied the talents of your team, the more 'real' this project looks and starts to become.
Be sure to also bring in artists, or anyone with strong pre-visualization talents.
You should think about it very much like you are building your idea's all-star team.
Together this team will build this idea into a TV show treatment example.
This team will protect its fragility at the same time. Fortifying the tv series pitch it with their talents.
The more talents you can bring in early, the sooner this will go from a TV show treatment example to a strong pitch.
How to pitch a TV show to a network
The short answer? Come armed.
This is part of why you built your team.
It's also why you had them put together all that excellent material for the TV show treatment example and/or Show bible.
The team you put together doesn't have to come into the room with you to pitch. A TV series pitch doesn’t need a chorus of voices behind it.
What does need to come?
Visuals. Spoken words and words on the page don't have the same kind of impact as images do.
Want to really know how to pitch a tv show idea well? Bring some strong art with you.
Now would be the perfect time for you to…
It’s a great TV show pitch example, as well as a perfect tool for learning how to pitch a TV show to a network.
Putting together a show bible with this template will give you a considerable advantage in your pitch process.
You'll have nailed your logline, your one-page synopsis, even put together a cast wish list and future episode ideas.
ALL those elements will start in your TV show pitch template. So start working on them.
Bring the show bible with you to the pitch. It's the most important weapon you'll have.
Why stop there? You should come in armed to the teeth. Put together a list of actors you know that expressed interest in various parts.
Bring a proof of concept you shot that blows their minds.
Quick story: I had a project we shot a proof of concept for once. It got us in meetings with every major production company in town.
Because film and TV are visual mediums. If you can even approximate the visuals of your show, mainly if it's high concept, then do so.
I have a feeling some of you have a pretty good question/concern at this point:
How do I pitch a TV show to a network if I can't afford all that stuff
If you can't put together anything on spec, which is where most people are, not to worry.
You can always source imagery and creative material from the internet to flesh out the pitch.
Remember: use the show bible template.
The mood board and world building sections don't need original art!
Find clips and imagery from other shows, or movies, that help nail what you have in mind.
Can't afford to hire a writer on spec? Collaborate with someone who wants another project on their plate.
There are a lot of very talented writers in this town without good ideas. Get to know some.
Then buy them a coffee and practice pitching your idea.
If they like it... then great!
See if they want to develop it and figure out how to pitch it to a network with you.
If they don't like it?
How to pitch a TV show in the room
We've covered some broad strokes, some essential tools.
But what about how to handle the room itself? Learning the actual art of the pitch?
If you want to know how to pitch a TV show to Netflix, you need to learn how to handle being “in the room.”
Another successful, TV executive I worked for gave me this advice about pitching:
"I come in and show them a new game. I show them all the pieces. I teach them the rules. Then I say 'Now you try..."
I thought that breakdown was excellent. And not only because it was coming from a guy who'd sold a handful of shows.
The critical vibe that advice imparts is that the process of the pitch should be both fun and interactive.
It's not a stage performance.
If you used your show bible template, you know all the elements of your show already.
So what is this meeting about anyway? Why can't you just send them the show bible?
It's about interacting with them as people, getting them excited about the project.
Most of all, it's about beginning what will hopefully be a fruitful collaboration.
Treat the room less like a sales pitch, and more like what it is... a creative meeting.
How to pitch a TV show to your audience in the room... and beyond
Knowing who your show is for is very important. It's easy to get caught up in what's popular in the insulated world of Hollywood.
That is NOT who your show should be for.
The audience today is larger than it ever has been before. At the same time, it’s more segmented.
The decision makers at said network or studio are thinking about that vast segmented audience out there. Not the bubble the live and work in.
So what can you do?
You need to know if your show is cable or network. How long it is. What time slot it belongs in.
If you're trying to figure out how to pitch a show to Netflix, for example, a time slot isn't a factor.
But you could still use some of these other terms and categories as shorthand. Better yet, reference some of their other programming.
Spend less time memorizing your lines, and more time doing an 'advanced scout' on who will be at this meeting.
What else has he/she produced? Where else have they worked? What does this company have on their slate?
Tailor your pitch a bit towards the company as best you can. Shouldn't be too hard if they are a good fit.
If they aren't a good fit, then why are you pitching to them in the first place?
Something to bring up to your manager later.
TV Show Pitch Template
Alright, so we've talked about developing ideas. We've talked about building a team and generating material. We've covered how you approach the room.
It's time to get to the meat and potatoes of the process.
Before you go any further, make sure to...
Download your Free TV Show Pitch Template
Use this template to lay out your pitch plan. Some of these steps we've mentioned already, but the template is where you'll put them on the page in black and white.
Did you do your show bible yet? Consider both your show bible and your pitch template mandatory assignments before you walk into that room!
Here we go, the TV show pitch template:
The logline is the one sentence summary of the show. Who is it about, and what happens in their life that sparks the drama that will create a compelling series? Learn how to write a logline and right here.
Describe the basic outline of the show's concept. Think of this as the logline with a little more meat on its bones. What's the set up for the television pilot? Where does the show go from there? Why is it sustainable over the course of many seasons?
It's hard to do this efficiently. But necessary.
Go a little deeper in this section. Talk about the show's primary themes. Bring up future seasons. Mention tone, mention some of the fun stuff like style and design.
What kind of talent would you enlist? What kind of writers would you staff? How would the show be marketed?
Use the images you prepared.
You'll want 2-3 sentence breakdowns of 5-10 episodes, including the pilot.
You do not need to mention all these in the pitch. It's good to have these episodes on hand and in your mind so you can rattle off a few.
Make sure the episodes are all a little different so you can convey that your show won't feel stale or formulaic. Stale and formulaic are not words you want associated with your how to pitch a tv show process.
The test drive
You've finished your pitch.
The most important step has yet to come.
Now you need to engage about the pitch.
You must end your pitch with an invitation to engage.
How you do that is up to you, but the result should be a discussion about what the show could be.
This discussion is where your research on the place you're pitching comes into effect. Have you tailored the pitch the executives in the room with you?
What types of ideas do they seem to like?
Can you end with a question they might be able to help answer?
You want to tee up a collaboration.
If they take enough of an interest to do that, and then suggest some ideas or changes... then you've got a live one!
Now... how can you reel them in?
Step one: shut up and listen.
Hear out whatever is coming your way.
Harsh feedback? Take it in.
Compliments and kindness? Be gracious.
What you want more than either of these things is a hook to go farther. So step two:
Ask questions. What works well? What doesn't? How could it be improved?
Then whatever they suggest? Say yes.
Even if you don't love the idea you are hearing, you want to present yourself as a willing collaborator.
Don't get too precious with this TV show idea you've pitched. It's just an idea.
The person you are meeting with is the person who turns an idea into a show.
If it's even going to make it to any screen, it's going to need to go through a lot of cooks. It's going to need to evolve and survive.
And before you decide that this executive you're sitting with is a fool who doesn't appreciate the craft consider this alternative:
They know what they are talking about.
What if they're able to help you make this idea work even better?
What if you don't know everything?
Reframe this meeting. It isn't about selling someone an idea. It's about working with someone to bring this idea to life.
If you can do all that...
You still might not sell this show.
Every pitch is a chance to learn how to pitch a TV show even better
You're going to hear your fair share of "No's" even if your ideas are fantastic.
There are factors beyond your control dictating what can or can't be bought or developed by any given network.
In many cases, executives and development people are looking for reasons to say no.
Learning how to pitch a TV show is a process. It won't happen overnight.
It won't happen even once you've sold something. Practice, reps, and a commitment to learning is all key.
For as long as you are a creative producer and a writer you will need to pitch. It's something you can always hone and perfect.
Also, learn to laugh at the experiences you have. Your battle scars will define you. They'll make you stronger, and they'll be fun to recount. Trust me.
What if they said yes?
But don't start cashing checks that haven't been written yet. The road from a successful pitch to a show on the air, or even a cent in your pocket, is long and winding.
We don't need to cover it now, but there are a trillion ways things can evaporate even after a yes in the room. It happens all the time.
The lesson? Whether it's a yes or a no, nothing is over or definite. There will be more projects, more rooms, more meetings. It's always another chance to learn and to hone your process.
That's why there is still one more super important step left for you...
Make friends with the people you meet.
That's a more genuine way of saying "network." Find a way to connect, and try to stay in touch.
I pitched to a jr. level development guy who had great taste but not much power. Later on, I was not surprised to see his name as an EP on one of the biggest hits in years.
If you want to carve out a career in entertainment, stay connected to the people you meet who have the same tastes and the same ideas. You'll find a way to work together one day.
If you have to go old school and exchange business cards, then do it.
Today's jr. executive is tomorrow's tastemaker.
So are you.
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