A show bible is an essential part of every TV series’ pre-production. But what is a show bible? And why is it an essential part of every TV series’ pre-production? We’re going to answer those questions. Then we’ll show you some show bible examples. By the end, you’ll know why these documents are important and how to make your own!
SHOW BIBLE DEFINITION
What is a Show Bible?
A show bible is a document that outlines the characters, plots, settings, and themes of a television series. Writers pitch show bibles to network executives and production companies in the hopes that it will procure a production agreement. Once the show is "picked up" and turned into a series, this show bible becomes a living document. It is modified as the series goes with new characters, new information and background details, etc.
Other Terms for Show Bible:
- Pitch Bible
- Pitch Sheet
- Developed Pitch
- Series Bible
- TV Series Bible
TV Series Bibles
Why is a show bible important?
A show bible is important because it lays out the essential information regarding the minor and major elements of a television series. Most professional screenwriters work on a series bible at one point or another.
Heck, the fact that a produced show bible grants 24 credits (the exact amount needed to qualify for membership in the Writers Guild of America) is more than enough to get writers excited.
However, a TV series bible is incredibly difficult to make. Most executives want to see fleshed out characters and storylines communicated in an easy to understand way.
Also, little known fact – writers aren’t usually paid to produce them.
Of course, television writer juggernauts like Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes are paid handsomely for their series bibles. But other writers? Fat chance. Unless you sell your series bible, or are working on a blind script deal, you’re essentially working for free.
Note: show bibles are often used as a catch-all term in TV development. Hollywood writers are paid in a variety of ways. In this article, we’re mostly talking about unproven writers who work on “if-come” deals, as in “if” a studio is interested in producing their script, then they will be paid a rate, and invited into potential profit participation.
Still, everybody has to start somewhere. And oftentimes, selling a show bible propels writers from obscurity to writers rooms. If you want to get started on developing your series, check out our story bible template below!
For more on how to create a show bible, check out our video below:
Writing a series bible can seem like an indomitable task, especially for inexperienced writers. But fear not, the structure isn’t as important as it may seem. There are dozens of TV show bible examples on the web, and no two are structured the same.
The most important advice I can give is just to make sure that characters, plot, and themes are specifically addressed; and perhaps most importantly, the character arcs are clearly outlined.
Every story is defined by action (or inaction) over time. It is of the utmost importance that you show how things change (or how they revert to how they always were) in your pitch bible. Because if you don’t, executives will ask you the ever-so-dreaded question, “so what?”
And they won’t be wrong – “so what?” What was your story about? Why did it matter? Who won? Who lost? What changed? What didn’t change? Answer these questions and you’ll be set-up for success.
How to Write a Series Bible
Working on a show bible
A show bible always starts with one thing: an idea. But remember, not all ideas are created equal. A bad idea can get a bible dropped before an explanation can be made. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, like the reality series The Swan, in which women were cosmetically altered to conform to traditional beauty standards.
And Heil Honey, I’m Home in which Hitler and Eva Braun played “couple next-door” to a Jewish family; no that really happened – was it serious? Was it satire? Who’s to say? What I can say is that it was irrefutably a bad idea. Still, it was made.
Check out this video from Peter Russell on Film Courage to hear some tips and tricks on how to develop a TV show, including an example of how to write a TV series bible from David Simon's The Wire.
Russell makes some great points in the video above, particularly about the world of a show and why it connects with audiences. Is your show something completely unique? Or is it something that’s been done before. Is your show something people want to see? Or is it too niche for broad appeal. These are important questions to ask yourself as you’re conceptualizing your show bible.
How to Make a TV Show Bible
We briefly touched on the process of making a TV show bible – but there’s so much more to the process than what we went over here. In our next article, we break down how to make a TV show bible with examples, templates, and more. By the end, you’ll have all the resources you need to write your own.