Pitching a Series

I just got back from a pilot pitch over at CBS.  It went about as
well as you can hope for. I was happy, enthusiastic, and energetic in
the pitch and the execs we met with were laughing and engaged and
asking all the right questions. When we left, they thanked us for the
pitch and said it was "exhilirating," which is exactly the feeling we hope
the series — if they order a pilot script — will evoke. I don’t know whether or not
they’ll buy it, but at least I know we left a good impression that will
serve us well the next time we come in.

Speaking of pilot pitches, screenwriter John Rogers talks today about pitching TV series and working the room.

Remember what a pitch is for. You are a writer. If they were hiring you based on
your writing, then you’d know what the hell to do. Once you’re typing, you’re in
your element. But this is you convincing them to pay you to write the script.
The pitch has to be a very clean little description of an idea so intriguing,
they want to read the script for it. Yes, it has to make sense as a show, too,
but focus. Don’t let the pitch become bigger in your mind than it is.

its purest form TV pilot pitch addresses two questions: “Why should we put this
show on the air?” and “How will this show stay on the air?” *

Start, as always, with your hook.
Be it the high-concept pitch sentence, a vivid description of the opening shot –
PUNCH. No longer than a short paragraph.

I agree with almost everything he says in his post, though I think
he’s still coming at this like a screenwriter first, TV-writer second.
A series is 22 stories a year for five years. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend opening your pitch with the opening shot of the pilot. Nor do I think you should pitch the plot of the pilot. You’re pitching the series… the franchise…not
one single story (unless that opening shot is what sets up the entire
series, like, say aliens invading earth or the hero getting his
super-powers). I tend to focus on the story-engine (the conflicts and
situations that will drive every episode) short sketches of the
characters (who they are and how they relate to the franchise) and,
more than anything, trying to get across the feel of the show, so they have the visceral sensation of watching it as I’m pitching it (though without a specific plot or story).

If you boil your pitch down to the punchiest bits, you’ll find that you’ll be
able to move at a comfortable, confident clip regardless of reaction. If the
execs keep interrupting you to ask questions – well then, you should be so

That’s great advice. In fact, John is loaded with great advice. If
you’re trying to get into the screenwriting or TV game, I highly
recommend frequent visits to his blog.

5 thoughts on “Pitching a Series”

  1. I agree completely, which why I backed off the “pilot story” pitch later on. However, I still push young writers to have a strong hook, because it gives them something to start with. The sheer act fo starting cold is brutal, and this gives them somethign to focus on rather than the slow-spiral-in most try their first time.

  2. “I tend to focus on the story-engine (the conflicts and situations that will drive every episode) short sketches of the characters (who they are and how they relate to the franchise) and, more than anything, trying to get across the feel of the show …”
    I wonder how it would apply to book series. There are fewer “episodes,” but the structure has to support a number of books.
    Food for thought.

  3. I don’t think book series are pitched as concepts/franchises first the way TV shows are. I believe it usually begins with a book selling really well and the publisher asking the author for two more. When Michael Connelly wrote BLACK ECHO, I don’t think he was pitching a series. Nor was Gregory McDonald wrote FLETCH. They just wanted to write a damn good book. Of course, any time you write a book about a cop, private eye, spy, reporter or assassin and they’re alive at the end of the book…it’s a pilot for a possible book series whether you intend it to be or not.

  4. I have developed a treatment and have an incomplete pilot for a health show, unlike anything that is out there now. I’ve pitched it to private investors, great response, but I’m not getting money to finish the pilot. I’m completely green. Should I go directly to the networks? And if so, how?

  5. Hi, I read your blog, and it’s really good! Well, guess what! I’m only a 14 year old girl. My name’s Reed. I want to be a writer or a producer. I’m so in to movies and all that. I have an awesome idea for a kid’s drama series, and it would be great. I have a script and synopsis and all that as well. It’s so completely different than all the other stupid kid’s comedy shows (a.k.a. Disney comedies). I really would like to start making some of the videos and putting them on YouTube or something, and I was wondering if you had any tips. Thanks so much! I really appreciate it! If you even care, could you email me at fergusor@marist.com? Thank you so much! I’d even love to tell you about my show idea. Thanks!


Leave a Comment