The Mail I Get – Writing the Treatment

Bryon Stedman  asked me this question in a comment to another post:

I have a situation where a broadcast entity claims they want to hear my idea for a boxing series or made for TV movie. The characters belong to my family from a comic drawn by my father.

If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

A series treatment and a TV movie treatment are very different. A series treatment sells the characters and the franchise of the show…the relationships and format that will generate stories week after week. A TV movie treatment sells a story.

If the studio is already familiar with your Dad's comic, I don't know why they need you to come up with a series treatment…the strip itself sells that or they wouldn't be interested in the first place.

A series treatment isn't about telling a story…it's about describing the characters, how they interact within the unique format of your show. Who are they? What do they do? And how will who they are and what they do generate 100 interesting stories?

For a TV movie treatment, you're selling the characters and their story.  At this point, you're trying to sell the broadstrokes…they can pay you to work out the rest. Write up a punchy over-view of what happens in the story, as if you were writing a review of a great movie (only minus the praise). You want to convey the style and tone of the movie. But don't go into great detail. Keep it short, tight and punchy.And whatever you do, DON'T include camera shots or dialogue.

Don't fixate on treatment format, because there isn't one. Tell your story in the style that works best for you. Don't worry about whether the character names are in capitals or not (it doesn't matter). Concentrate on telling a strong story.

(This is a repost from June 2005…and it was a blog post on this topic from Scott Myers that inspired me to unearth it).

2 thoughts on “The Mail I Get – Writing the Treatment”

  1. Thanks for making the distinction!
    It seems like it’s really hard to come up with a franchise that can generate 100 stories. It’s as if PROVIDENCE, JUDGING AMY and SEX AND THE CITY proved it can’t be done if the franchise is, “a group of characters search for romantic fulfillment.” So it seems like “medical franchises” and “cop/crime franchises” are basically it. 90210 would be an exception as would primetime soaps like DALLAS and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Shows like THE WEST WING, “the life-in-Washington franchise,” also ran out of gas.
    What’s left? Comedy? “Lawyer frachises”? What new and fresh franchises can work on primetime?

  2. Ensemble comedies always come up with plenty of ideas. There were plenty of stories with Friends and Two Men or Whatever with Sheen. When in doubt add a new character for a couple episodes, right? As long as the audience likes the characters and the writers are decent it seems like any show should be able to last.
    Take my own brilliant concept of Cat Dudes. There are umpteen million ideas that could make an episode. Lost kittens, kittens with mange, kittens playing with string, kittens getting lost, kittens vomiting, kittens with leukemia, kittens who steal jewelry, kittens wrestling with other kittens, kittens asleep on keyboards, so on, so forth.


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