So, you’re an aspiring TV writer who’s just come up with a great idea for a TV series. What do you do now?
Do you wait until you’ve made a name for yourself before you pitch it? Do you park your concept and focus on breaking in?
I know that seems counter-intuitive. You’d think producers and execs only want to hear concepts from bigtime showrunners.
But there has never been a greater desire to hear new concepts from new, authentic voices.
Why is that? There are many reasons, but they boil down to three:
- The industry is STARVING for content
- The industry LOVES the shiny, new thing
- The industry THIRSTS for authenticity
Believe it or not, you are extremely attractive to talent reps, execs and producers. Careers are made by breaking talent, by being the one to spot the next Issa Rae.
Why can’t that be you?
It goes without saying that you can’t just waltz into Netflix tomorrow and start pitching.
But there is a path from where you are now – a new writer with a great idea for a show – to where you want to be – a writer who’s just sold their pitch package to a streamer or network.
This post is going to give you a primer on how to pitch your TV show.
We’ll cover what a TV show pitch is and isn’t, what you should and shouldn’t include in your pitch, who you’ll pitch to and what makes buyers say yes.
But first let me tell you a little story about the first time I created a series.
In 2004, while I was a young writer/producer on Degrassi: The Next Generation, I was offered an opportunity to develop a companion series based on a one-line concept – a high school girl wins a singing contest.
I’d never created a series before and I was shit scared. But the producers and the network were eager to get a teen show on after Degrassi and they wanted it fast. There was a ton of pressure.
But sometimes pressure can be a good thing.
It forced me to get past my fear of creating an actual TV show and do the work. And what emerged was something far more personal that I had written up that point.
From that one-line concept I developed the concept, built the world and wrote the pilot for the teen music/drama series Instant Star. Most importantly, it was my first opportunity working with screenwriter Emily Andras who would go on to be my boss at Wynonna Earp.
Since then, I’ve honed my approach to creating TV show pitches and come up with a system which saves me a lot of time and effort, called the Premise Pyramid.
I’ve used the Premise Pyramid to develop concepts for a number of series pitches, including one I sold to NBC/Universal and another currently being shopped to streaming platforms.
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to walk you through developing your concept into a TV show pitch using the Premise Pyramid.
But first let’s cover the fundamentals.
WHAT IS A TV SHOW PITCH
A TV show pitch is a written document or verbal presentation that outlines your series concept from logline to full season. The verbal pitch could last anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour (any longer and you’ll bore the shit out of people).
The verbal pitch is based on a written PITCH DOC (also called a treatment or mini-bible but we’ll call it Pitch Doc for clarity.)
The written PITCH DOC is anywhere from 7 to 20 pages (around 15 is the sweet-spot) and should detail the events that happen in your pilot, explain the characters and how they arc, and let the executives know why the show could last for multiple seasons.
The purpose of a pitch is to sell the core idea of your TV show, naturally. It’s a proof of concept that includes the unique selling points and draws the big picture of who and what and where and why.
ELEMENTS OF A TV SHOW PITCH
There’s no one-size-fits-all method to putting together a “pitch package”.
Some go for a maximalist approach and load up their packages with everything they can think of. I subscribe to a “less is more” approach.
I think loading up your packet with sizzle reels, LOI’s, look books, casting ideas, etc., dilutes the creative impact of your ideas.
Be confident and let your words sell the concept. When you overload the package with ancillary materials it can look desperate. Like you’re insecure about the content.
Here’s what is typically included in a TV show pitch:
A logline. This the shortest form of the pitch and serves as an attention grabber to hook your listener/reader.
A one-sheet summary. This gives an overview of the project’s details. Think of it as a flyer or calling card for your show.
The pitch doc. (Also called mini-bible or treatment.). The pitch doc is a detailed outline of the show, a breakdown of the characters and the events of the pilot, and a statement on tone, themes and more.
The pilot script. The pilot is the completed first TV show episode, displaying your screenwriting skills and writing style.
WHO DO YOU PITCH TO?
The target audience for most writers will be a production company, an executive producer or studio execs, a broadcast network or a streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon.
The trick is that you generally can’t get in to see those folks without talent reps.
And how do you get signed by talent reps? It ain’t easy, I’m afraid. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a damn liar.
But here’s the good news.
All the hard work you do turning your premise into a pitch will be hugely beneficial when it comes time to approach talent reps.
Talent reps will want to see a pitch package before they sign you. And nothing less than an industry-level, market ready pitch will do.
Which is all the more reason to do the work on your premise and turn it into a pitch you can sell!
With a killer pitch ready to go, talent reps will be elbowing each other in the eye to sign you.
But this is no quick fix proposition. You must roll up your sleeves and do the work turning your premise into a sellable pitch.