After you’ve pitched your series concept (sometimes during the pitch) executives might throw you this curveball question:
But why now?
What they mean is – Why does the world need this show right now?
You want to respond with something like… “Because I think it would be a cool show?” But you know that’s not the right answer.
So, what is the answer to “Why now?”
First, we have to understand the thought process of the people we’re pitching to. The market is glutted with series vying for viewer’s eyeballs. The people we pitch want to know how your series is going to cut through the noise and get those coveted eyes. What is it about your series that screams: “You need to watch me right now!”
The simple answer is you chose a world, a topic, a character, or a situation which speaks to the zeitgeist. You chose a relevant concept which resonates with contemporary viewers.
RELEVANCE & RESONANCE
Chat with friends about true crime podcasts and Only Murders in the Building might pop up.
Share your struggle to find a healthy work/life balance with friends and Severance might enter the conversation.
In simple terms, the more your series concept speaks to the moment, the more buzz it generates.
In marketing theory they talk about copy which “enters the conversation going on in people’s heads”. This is a useful concept for screenwriters to remember.
Try to imagine how your series concept can enter people’s conversations… and, more importantly, have something meaningful to add to the conversation. A take.
We’re talking about two separate but related concepts. We’re talking about our concept’s relevance, but we’re also talking about digging a little deeper, to find how it resonates.
Relevance: how your concept enters the conversations people are already having.
Resonance: the deeper questions which swirl around the topic or issue your concept raises.
CASE STUDY: ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
Timely questions about our true crime obsession.
True crime podcasts were still a relatively new phenomenon in 2021. Everyone was buzzing about them. And then in walks Only Murders in the Building, effortlessly entering the conversation.
When Only Murders dropped, you could hear the sound of a million screenwriters slapping their foreheads. A murder mystery comedy set in the world of true crime podcasting? Concepts don’t get much more relevant.
But it wouldn’t be enough for the creators to say – here’s a series with the perfect cast set in the world of true crime podcasting. They needed to have something to add to the conversation. What do true crime podcasts say about our world right now? How does the topic resonate?
When star and co-creator Steve Martin talked with co-creator John Hoffman (Looking, Grace and Frankie) about the series, they were both interested in explore the meaning of our true crime moment.
They wanted to explore that push and pull of fascination and fear with everyday folks, the neighbors we pass on the street everyday.
These are the types of questions Hoffman and Martin were exploring, as he told the Hollywood Reporter: “What pulls us out of our apartments to meet people? How well do you know your neighbors? Do you only connect when it’s necessary? The ways in which we get pulled together when we live in these spaces is what’s really interesting.”
Aside from being a fun and aspirational romp through Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Only Murders raises bigger questions about the democratization of storytelling. There was a time – five minutes ago! – when stories were told only by professionals through proper channels.
Now, virtually anyone can write a blog, record a podcast, or make a video for YouTube and amass a following overnight. Only Murders raises resonant questions about this transformative moment… and that’s helped make this a series people buzz about.
CASE STUDY: THE DROPOUT
Finding the humanity in Elizabeth Holmes.
There’s a downside to being relevant, and that’s over-familiarity with the subject matter.
That was the challenge screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether faced in adapting the popular podcast The Dropout about disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. How do you find a new take on a story everyone has already heard?
“There’s really amazing reporting about her. But because it’s reporting, it has to tell the story in a particular way,” Meriwether told Fast Company. “But I felt like what I could do with a limited series was to try to understand the character’s points of view as much as possible, or at least present versions of them.”
Meriwether dug deep into Holmes’ story to find points of connection for anyone living in this moment. Silicon Valley shifted the goalposts of success so wildly, escalating the requirements of achievement to unattainable heights.
Society tells young people that to make their mark they need to generate billions of dollars, disrupt the economy and save the world. And then we wonder why a young woman like Elizabeth Holmes is tempted to lie and cheat her way to success?
When the standards of success are so absurd, it’s a wonder more people don’t follow Holmes’ example.
The Dropout offers a new take on the Icarian story of Elizabeth Holmes by making us take a good, hard look in the mirror. This is how creator Elizabeth Meriwether found the human, emotional resonance in a story which couldn’t be more relevant.