How To Pitch a TV Show

As I am soon heading off to StoryExpo, a screenwriting conference in New York, I figured I’d detail some of the things that go into preparing for it. This week, I want to share some advice about pitching to production companies.

Picture it:

Tables fill the open room, their polished surfaces cradling cellphones and stacks of paper. Behind them sit producers, ranging from the stylish, put-together woman with the expensive scarf, to the guy in a wrinkled T-shirt that ran in twenty minutes late and left for the day fifteen minutes later.

The writers stand in a line on the opposite side of the room, cradling their portfolios and cups of coffee. Some resemble George R. R. Martin, seated on stools as they regal those around them with tales of their previous pitching experiences. Others could be mistaken for Bambi, stumbling on their spindly baby writer legs as they furiously take notes in a leather-bound notebook, staring with wide eyes. Then you’ve got the guy in the suit (there’s always a guy in a suit), who oozes confidence, coupled with his megawatt smile. These are your peers. Most of them are sources of great knowledge. Speak to as many as you can. 

I don’t think I can stress this enough. The most important thing to do is speak to everyone.

The way pitching works, at least at StoryExpo, is that they have a list of the producers attending for each day, alongside what they’re looking for. Some just want feature films, some just want reality TV, and others only deal with animation. The best piece of advice I could give you is to try and talk to every one of them. Even if you’re not pitching to them, ask if they have advice, or if they have anyone that would be interested in your show. These people make connections for a living. Use them!

Pitching itself seems nerve wracking the first time you do it. You’re shaking as you walk across the room to the table. You want to come off as sophisticated and intelligent, while putting your show in the best light. But you’ve got to realize that these people are just that: people. They’re just looking for you to be passionate about your show. More often than not, even if they don’t want your show, they’ll give you some good advice or a connection, simply for the way you speak about your show.

I had a producer once tell me that I interested him in my show because of my passion. If you can speak well about it, and truly believe in the story you’re telling, nothing will stand in your way. I learned that through my work trying to get my TV show produced. People like your passion. Use it.

As for the pitch, you sit at the table and just start a conversation. You’ll give them your “elevator pitch” which is a two-minute MAXIMUM synopsis of your show. What does it boil down to at its core?

Then, you’ll discuss details. Where do you want the show housed? Which translates to: do you want it on a network, like ABC, or do you prefer streaming, like Netflix. How do you feel about a web series? How much of the show have you written? (Which should always be all of it. Don’t pitch an incomplete show.) Who else have you spoken with about it, do you have partners, etc. It flows like a regular conversation.

Keep a notebook with you. Write down what they say to you. And always, ALWAYS, ask for their contact information. Two weeks or so after pitching, reach out to those people. Refresh them on who you are, and follow up with them about your show. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Other than that, have a good time. Even if you don’t sell your show, you’ll come out with some sort of direction, invaluable pieces of advice, or some awesome contacts. You never know what’ll happen if you don’t try!

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