Pitching a TV show

I don’t think this is a Cafe Society question.

Let’s say I have a TV show I want to sell. I’ve shot a snippit of what the show would look like so it’s more than just a blind pitch. Clearly I have no clue how to see the right people and absolutely no clue what a show would be worth. I would have a few demands, but nothing ridiculous (I’d want to retain creative control, get a percentage of the marketing [in case it hits big], etc.). In fact, I’m so clueless, I don’t even know if what I want is in standard contracts.

So what do I do and what information do I need to know.

Actually I’m sure it is a Cafe Society question. Launching a new TV show is directly related to the content and viewership of existing TV shows. Existing shows are discussed and analyzed frequently and in minute detail in Cafe Society.

To answer your question:

Normally, the only people allowed to pitch TV shows to networks and films studios are experienced TV writers - people who’ve been working on the writing staffs of existing TV shows for several years.

The exceptions are screenwriters and directors of hit feature films, star actors from both TV and film, as well as writers who’ve had huge success in some other pop culture area. Anthony Zuiker -CSI- was a feature film screenwriter w/ no TV experience. Aaron Sorkin was a feature film writer and playwright with no TV experience. Stephen King, novelist, obviously, Aaron McGruder (Boondocks comic strip), Dave Barry (widely syndicated columnist and best selling author).

Generally speaking, nobody buys a TV show idea. The networks, film studios, and production companies buy pilot scripts. A pilot script is the script for the first episode of the show. The pilot script both introduces the world of the show, and all the elements that make a typical episode of the show.

Every year, thousands of experienced TV writers go into the various offices to pitch their ideas. (google “pilot season)”

Out of those thousands, a few hundred are assigned and paid to write pilot scripts. Out of those scripts, less than a hundred get made into actual first show episodes. Out of that number, less than thirty new shows actually show up on the new fall schedule, and most of those won’t last a year.

If you’re really sure you’ve got a brilliant idea, you can shoot the pilot yourself. Write the script, cast the actors, find the sets, put up all the cash, organize the whole venture just as you would with a low budget indy film. That’s how It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia got started. Not impossible, but not very likely.
This is a rough overview. There are details and variations if you need more info.




If you’re really so clueless you don’t know the first thing about pitching the show, then the chances of you meeting the right people are slim. Why not go the route of the near future-- film the thing, put it on YouTube, see if it gets a following.

I did a quick google seach and came up with an entry on soyouwanna.com trhat may help.

Also if you can attend NATPE next year (as you missed this years convention) you may meet the right people.

If this informatiion gets it sold and you shoot in the NY/NJ/PA/MD area can I be an extra.

You may also want to post on craigslist for your area some people there have contacts.

Get an agent. If your idea is good enough, they’ll take you on and they’ll be the one with the contacts.

Getting an agent can be incredibly difficult in and of itself. There are plenty of sold and produced screenwriters in LA who still can’t get an agent. That said, without a good agent - from one of the major agencies or boutiques (all in LA, btw. Nothing significant happens elsewhere), you won’t get the meetings you need just to get started.

Now if you take your idea, and develop it into a bestselling novel or comic strip or computer game or super popular youtube video, the agents will be calling you.

I’m not in the TV buisness but I do have an agent. What he tells me all the time is that ideas are a dime a dozen… its the abilty to execute that sells a project. That’s why TV networks or book publishers or film studios aren’t that interested in hearing pitches from unknowns. Hook yourself up with somebody who has a track record for producing TV shows.

Not entirely true. New York City has a huge number of screenwriting agencies that do business with the TV networks (all NY-based) and the Hollywood studios as well.

Good luck getting anything done outside of LA and NY, though. :slight_smile:

There isn’t any sitcom or hour drama work for screenwriters in NYC. It’s all in LA. Period. There is some sketch comedy work, for SNL, and jokewriting for Letterman.

All of the agencies that get TV writers work are in LA. Period. So you’ve got to be here if you want to work in TV.

There is also screenwriting work for independent feature films in New York, and once a feature film screenwriter has broken in, he can base himself anywhere and fly to LA for meetings.

But the OP was about TV. All the prime time TV action is here.

That is simply untrue. Law and Order, 7th Heaven, The Sopranos, 100 Centre Street, Cosby, 30 Rock, Sex and the City and dozens more are/were produced in New York, including much of the writing.

Certainly, the vast majority of drama and comedy production is done by the Hollywood studios, companies, but by no means all of it.

I worked on 7th Heaven. I’ve spoken to the showrunner and supervising producers on numerous occasions. The show is still shot and written in LA.

The original Law and Order may be the rare exception. Their home soundstage is certainly in NYC. I don’t know where their writers’ room is.
I’ll have to check on 30 Rock. One thing I can say for sure is that Tina Fey’s agent is based in Los Angeles. It would be very unusual if most of the staff writers on that show weren’t based in LA as well. Still, with the SNL connection, there’s bound to be a stronger NYC presence than normal.

Cosby and some of the other shows you mentioned were produced a while ago. There was more TV work in NYC in the past. Right now, there is very little. If I recall correctly, the writers room for the first Cosby show was in LA. They may have shot the exteriors in NYC with the home sound stage being in LA.

That’s the usual pattern for shows that are supposed to be set outside of LA. The interiors for CSI and CSI Miami are shot in LA. They go to Vegas and Miami to get the necessary exteriors, but most of the shooting and all of the writing takes place in LA.

The Sopranos is a special case. They don’t shoot or write like a network TV show, where the norm is 22 episodes a season. Each hour long episode is more like a miniature independent film. Each script is written by a single writer under the showrunner’s supervision. Some of these writers are based in LA. All, and I do mean all, of these writers’ agents are in LA.

If you can find a top thirty Nielsen show that’s written in NYC, I’ll be shocked. I’m not talking about game shows, news programs or reality shows. Just sitcoms and dramas.

That’s strange about 7th Heaven – I had always heard it was produced in Queens (maybe I got it confused with something else.) Many, many moons ago I was a temp/PA at Kauffman Astoria, where I met such luminaries as Bill Cosby (nice guy) and Oscar the Grouch (not that grouchy after all). I also spent much time fetching coffee and lunch for some of the writers who were in and out of the building, but I don’t know what shows each one worked on.

30 Rock is produced at Silvercup and the writers are NY-based as far as I know.

Hope and Faith, also shot at Silvercup. Sure, it was only on for like ten episodes, but its premier was a hit. :slight_smile:

This is highly unlikely unless you are a well known screenwriter, director or other hot commodity. Hollywood wipes its ass with new writers.

Well, the L & O franchise shows are all shot in NYC, and they’re top 30 Nielsen. I’d thought the others shot their interiors in LA, but it looks like they do it all at Silvercup and the other Queens studios. They’d have to have their writer’s rooms in NYC too, for last minute changes, revisions, etc.

Okay, so almost all of the work is in LA. :smiley:

slight hijack.

are the soaps still done in nyc?

There’s a huge difference between having a show shot in NY, and needing the cast and crew and writers there, and having the show originate in NY. All of television is centered in LA. All the work of creating a show is done in LA. Once the show already exists, then it may be shot anywhere. NY is one place; Vancouver may have even more shows shot there.

That doesn’t matter in the slightest, any more than a movie being shot in Romania means that the writing is done in Romania.

There may be some writers who can work exclusively with shows being produced in NY. It’s possible, but it’s no more than an odd sideline to the rest of the business.

If you want to write for television you either live in LA or make arrangements to travel out there as often as necessary. That’s so close to 100% true that it doesn’t make sense to tell a beginner anything else.

There are conventions which allow you to pitch ideas for shows, although these rarely involve regular sitcoms or dramas. (Reality shows, cooking shows, adventure shows, etc.) I can’t remember a single series ever materializing out of these pitches, even though some of them do get agents or production deals. Maybe some of the filler that cable networks use are made from these pitches, but that’s about it.

If you want to sell a television show, there are only the tiniest few possible routes.

  1. You sell something else that becomes famous, like a novel, play, or graphic novel.

  2. You make a show for local television or the internet or some alternative medium and lightning strikes.

  3. You give up everything else in your life, move to Hollywood, find some sort of in by working in the mailroom or as a gopher or some other incredibly badly paid entry-level position, work you way up the ladder and make contacts over a number of years, and pitch, pitch, pitch, until lightning strikes.

The overwhelming majority of tv writers have followed route #3. The bottom line: If you’re not already living route #3 you have no hope of success. If you think Simon Cowell is cruel, just wait until you meet the real Hollywood.

People here (L.A.) would laugh at your ‘simple’ demands.

More than likely, if you were lucky enough to find someone who liked your idea, and could do something about it, they’d chew you up and spit you out. Something as basic as a ‘Created By’ credit would very likely go to someone else!
People who can actually develop shows will have more established people that they’ll want to attach to the project. That does not mean that the project will be better in quality. It ain’t about better quality. It’s about a better chance of going forward, and making money.
The exception is someone who comes to the table with a built-in audience… a popular stand-up comic, best-selling author, MASSIVELY hit YouTube video, etc.

It is all about the one question they’ll ask… “Why do I need you?”

SaintCad, it CAN be done. Just understand what you’re trying to get into. If you don’t live in L.A., move here. Meet up with like-minded folks. Learn. Start small…
get a job on a studio lot. Learn. You’ll be told by some that it’s all YouTube now. It’s not. But a hot YouTube video, AND some connections with developers… well, maybe you have a chance. Any way you can gain some leverage is desirable.
I don’t mean to discourage you. I mean to give you the straight dope. It’s hard, but it can be done. Good luck, and don’t give up.

If you really want it, just don’t give up.


Er… what Mapcase said. I guess I was writing my thing when his/her post was done.
My ideas were good. Just 15 minutes too late. Next time, Sepulveda.

I’ve never been on a soap opera set in NYC, but All My Children and Guiding Light still shoot in NYC according to various googled sites.

Days of Our Lives still shoots on the NBC lot in Burbank, near the Leno show stage. There are others that shoot at CBS Television City in LA proper - Young and the Restless, the Sony lot, CBS Radford, the ABC lot etc.

Well I live in L.A. so that part is already taken care of. My show is something along the lines of those 15 minute shows on Adult Swim (although better than Squidbillies I hope). I understand the viral sort of promotion you get on Youtube, but with the saturation of that market, how effective can it really be?