Now, more than ever, you need to know how to pitch a TV show. Every network and streamer needs content. So, it's time to learn how to develop your TV ideas.
Do you have a great TV show idea? How can you get it in the right hands? It might be time for you to master the TV show pitch and to write your pitch treatment to get it ready for the room.
You've probably heard someone say that we're in a "golden age" for television. There are 400+ shows on the air right now, and more are added each year as digital and streaming channels begin to dominate the airwaves. If you're a writer or director, your best chance to break in and to form a long career is no longer just in movies. Now people are talking about television.
This rise of TV has to do with lots of different factors, from the sheer size of the unit in your house to the prevalence of access, to the diversity and uniqueness of the form. There are also a few key decisions you need to make initially. Like is your story a single-cam or multi-cam?
In addition to creating a tv show bible, learning how to pitch a TV show is super important to your chances at breaking into Hollywood.
Today we'll go over all the aspects of television pitches, give you a free pitch template, and discuss how to get your ideas into the right hands.
Table of Contents
What is a TV show pitch?
A television show pitch is a comprehensive document or presentation that outlines your idea from logline to full season for executives who are in control of a network. This presentation could last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and should detail all 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.
You want to make sure your tone, the core idea, and the heart of the story come across.
What are the parts of a TV pitch packet?
A television pitch packet differs from the aural pitch you'd give in a room full of executives. A pitch packet contains your bible, pilot script, and any other documentation you want executives to have that reflects your TV show. Sometimes those other docs can be a look book, novel, intellectual property the show will be based on, or even a sizzle reel you cut together or shot yourself that reveals the tone and story you want on the screen.
Pitch packets and sizzle reels are much more prevalent in reality television because they're usually selling a family or storefront or something else that will be the star, not the writing.
The TV Show Pitch Template
When you sit across from development executives, your pitch should take them on a great journey. You want them hanging on the edge of their seats because you also want them to see the viability of your tv pitch in the open market. This pitch will help you get producers, and then you'll take the producers out to snag a network or a streamer.
So what should be in your television pitch?
The TV Pitch Checklist
- A personal connection to the story
- The way you came up with the idea
- The events of the pilot
- A summary of season one of the series
- An explanation of where the television show will go in future seasons
So what do each of these headers mean? Let's break them down.
1. A personal connection to the story
This is so important and cannot be understated. Your story needs to come from you. Why are you the right person to write it and why will other people care. Your personal connection to the story also needs to get executives to find their personal connection too. So try to make your story universal in a way that draws others in, but specific enough that they'll see the audience who could become die-hard fans.
2. The way you came up with the idea
Everyone loves an origin story. So while making your personal connection, get us involved in the spark that took your idea to the next level. That spark should light a fire in the executives. Remember, you're trying to get people on your bandwagon.
3. The events of the pilot
Sure, at this point they might have the pilot to read, but you want to take them through the character arc and development within the pilot. Who are we following? What's their world like, and how will the pilot shake things up? This is applicable to both dramas and comedies. Once you're done describing the pilot, I want to know where we are going.
4. A summary of season one of the series
This can be quick, but we have to know the show has legs. Where are we going in season one? How do the events of the pilot cause a ripple effect in the character's lives? Here's where you can listen too. Executives love having a hand in helping craft seasons. See where they think it's going, subvert their expectations, and use their best ideas. This is all about collaboration.
5. An explanation of where the television show will go in future seasons
After season one, where can we go? This is where you can explore the major themes of your story as well as the way you see it ending. How big can the conspiracy get? Will people fall in and out of love? Cook meth for a white supremacist and die next to their creation? The choices are yours, but always have an idea where your story map leads.
Tips on how to pitch a TV show
Now that we've covered the "how to," let's look at some tips on pitching television shows to networks and streamers. Masterclass put together a few pitch tips from Shonda Rhimes and Judd Apatow, two of the best in their fields. Apatow's main advice is to keep it short. He says...
"The worst pitches are long pitches. When someone comes in and starts giving a play-by-play and you think, this is going to take 20 to 45 minutes. First of all, I think they're crazy. I think they've lost their minds. And I want to escape the room. Sometimes I will tunnel and I will crawl out through the floor."
Rhimes takes her advice and spells out the process for you.
"If you can't take me from plot A point to plot B to plot C point, and I don't know what's going to happen, or I have no sense of where we're going or where we've been, that's terrible. If I'm lost or it's just too much, like if it goes on for too long, and it gets sort of painfully long, you're doomed. You want to be able to get in, speak your piece, let them ask you questions, and then you can elaborate all you want to, and get out."
“Open and close with the theme of the story, and if part of your opening can include why you relate to that theme, why you’re the one to tell this story, even better. It lets you start the pitch with your enthusiasm for the big picture. Also, make it as conversational and colloquial as possible. I recommend memorizing, and when my partner and I work on a verbal pitch, we literally write in “um” and “so” and “like” to remember to keep it casual and give it room to breathe.”
Hopefully, these tips get you ready for your next big pitch meeting. Whether you are pitching to HBO or just trying to get your web series some legs, make sure you follow our template and checklist to get you feeling comfortable in the room. Practice your pitch with your friends, tell it at parties, and make sure you know it front to back. Keep it breezy, leave room for questions, and get out there and sell your TV show!
What's next? Learn how to write a TV pilot!
Want to learn how to write a TV pilot? You've come to the right place.
Breaking into Hollywood with a writing career is one of the hardest things you can do. Fewer and fewer movies are being made every year, and now, many young writers are turning to television to find jobs. But to get a job in television you need a sample. Samples are speculative pilot scripts that your agent or manager can hand to showrunners to prove your worth. Don't hesitate to read other TV pilots to help get a sense of what works... and what doesn't!
Click the link to learn more!