This is going to be the first in short series of blogs on television –
WRITING/PITCHING SCRIPTED SHOWS
There are two ways to create for television. By television I mean anything that is televised that is not film and not gaming. what all that means is fodder for another blog but let’s call it television and that means webisodes, shows on Netflix, cable, network, etc… This blog focuses on scripted show, next we’ll talk reality (non-scripted)
1. Write a pilot. As a younger writer or one that doesn’t have tons of writing/producing experience under their belt you’re going to have to write a pilot. Not only are you going to have to write a pilot but you’re going to have to create a bible or at the very least have an outline or one in mind. What is a bible? It is a plan for the series outlining the next 2-3 years. The pilot is the tease, the introduction to the plot, the setting and the characters. The bible is the rest of the show’s run. The bible is uber important because some ideas are great in a vacuum but really cannot sustain for a long run. Those may have another outlet (we’ll get to that later).
Thre are also limited series now, not full miniseries but shows that have one full arc of 6-12 episodes and that’s it. AMerican Horror Story on FX is a limited series even though it comes back every year in a different story. Also, recently the show Hostages on CBS was a limited series. For these, the bible is the series. It’s not an extra year or next year (in the case of AHS), it’s just what the whole show is and why it needs to be told. These are usually high profile ideas that have a little movie like feel – too small for a movie, too small for a tv show just right for something in between.
A pilot has to be alluring, exciting, it has to be solid and have a strong but not overreaching introduction to the show. For comedy, you have to decide whether you’re writing for single camera or multi-camera and you have to write the script in the correct format so the producers or network know you have what it takes. YOU MUST KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!! YOU MUST EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE BUSINESS YOU ARE PURSUING!! A half hour pilot is somewhere in the 30’s of pages and an hour long is somewhere in the 60’s. This is not set in stone but you really have to make sure you are writing to each episode’s story getting told in the time allotted.
Once you and your representative or a script consultant have gotten your pilot into the best order possible the ideal place to take it is to a producer who you think might fit with its tone. THIS ALSO TAKES HOMEWORK!!! Make sure you’re hitting the right people with your material, don’t waste your time. You can also go straight to a network, but unless you’ve got credibility already or the show is extremely high-concept they’re less likely to be interested until there are attachments. Yes, you really need a representative in the TV business as a writer.
Hopefully you get traction, you go in and meet and then the producer, if they take the project on to develop will want to make some changes. Let them. They know what they’re doing towards getting this made. Don’t sell your integrity down the river but get your foot in the door and keep it there. Next, you’ll go to a network where the producer has a deal or if they don’t have a deal you can go anywhere. When you’re writing you must determine whether you are writing for network or cable. Cable= Sopranos, House of Cards, American Horror Show, Mad Men Network= Law and Order: SVU, The Good Wife, Modern Family, The Mentalist, CSI. cable allows more swearing and nudity and subjects can be darker and more diverse. but seeing as The good Wife is brilliant and Law and Order: SVU has been on the air for 15 years, there’s something to be said for good old high paying network shows.
2. Pitching TV shows. This is less likely to happen to a young writer unless you have a producer already attached to the pitch. Even if the network says they like a pitch or producer does, they’ll likely want to see a script before pursuing further. Just write a script. Shows that sell as pitches have to be really heavily packaged and very very high-concept. Tone cannot be an issue. Someone like Steven Spielberg can pitch a show because it doesn’t matter what the show is – it’s Spielberg. This is true of more and more filmmakers as their experience shows their tone. However, until you are established and even beyond that, having the idea is not enough. Sometimes you can go in with the pitch and leave the script behind (with a bible). why do this? It’s good practice to learn to pitch (mainly for film) but it’s becoming less likely. TV execs and producers have tons of work and for them to have to take an extra step in meeting for pitch and then reading the script may be more time than they want to spend unless there is something super special about the project that just has to be discussed in the room before the script is read. This may be the case. Your representative or a producer involved can make that call. Write a script just in case. You’re going to have to revise it anyway.
TV executives are inundated but the good news is that there are so many outlets for television style content now that there are more opportunities for writers to get their break. This is how you’re going to start anyway. We’ll discuss non-scripted, different outlets and staffing in future blogs.
If you are unsure what a television script needs to look like and how it reads, contact me and let me know. I will send you a multi-camera, single camera (for comedy) cable or network show for drama.
The bottom line is you have to write and you have to know who you want to sell to. In television this is true more than ever. If you have a one show idea, wrote a movie. If you have a group of mobsters where the boss suffers panic attacks and his family has mixed feelings about their life in the New Jersey mafia, wrote The Sopranos.