Pitching TV Series


Recently I attended a seminar to hear Erik Bork speak about pitching TV concepts. The rules are strikingly similar to pitching film concepts. Make your scripts:

  • Compelling – an emotional core to the characters and plot
  • Unique – same but different; a fresh take on a familiar story
  • Real – characters should be believable, relatable
  • Entertaining – you must play to an audience

Traditionally, TV networks bought show ideas from May to August. This year they ran later. Development and writing occurs during the last quarter of the year. Many cablers allow pitching all year round, so the yearly lulls have been somewhat ironed out.

In the good old days, a TV pilot was the first script in the series that set up the world and characters of the show. These days it needs to be economical in its setup, but play as a typical episode.

A typical pitch is about 15 minutes long. Network executives first examine the concept, whether the stories can stretch our over a full season and the execution. Gone are the days when a producer was required to submit a concept document, bible and two to three complete episode scripts.

TV executives are looking for unique voices and stories about PROBLEMS as opposed to just CONFLICT. Problems are underlying issues, whereas conflict is overt fighting. Too much will fatigue the audience.

What were some networks typically seeking last summer?

You’ll notice that formats are fairly rigid because networks know what stories work.

NBC

  • an innovative approach to a medical franchise
  • cop/detective shows
  • legal procedurals
  • comedy (broad appeal, workplace comedy, relationship/ family something with a female lead).

FOX

  • Mysteries with hipper, younger, sexier casts
  • Cop/detective dramas (about murders)
  • Legal dramas (courtroom based)
  • Medical dramas (saving lives)
  • Action/ adventure- fighting bad guys/girls
  • Sexy Soap – heightened relationships, sleeping around, idealistic, wish fulfillment
  • Comedy – what brings people together in a situation – domestic, workplace, friends, situation (eg shipwrecked), high concept (eg Bewitched)

SHOWTIME

  • noisy
  • sensational
  • risque

HBO

  • prestige
  • brandable

USA

  • quirky procedural

FX

  • left field
  • extreme
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