Your Great Idea for a TV Series

I get asked this so often, that I suppose its worth answering the question yet again. I received this email today:

In my search for bible writing info, I came across your site and read the ongoing discussion about series bibles.   I’m a beginning writer and have come up with what I think maybe a very good idea for a television series. The only series bible I can find is for He-Man and it’s hard to relate that to
what I’m writing.   I’ve found only tidbits of information about what is
included in a bible. I really want to know how a bible is structured – what to
put in and leave out.  I know you’re an experienced writer with an understanding
of all the formats of television, books and film.   I’d be extremely grateful
for any information you could give me – websites, books or just an email with helpful info.

I replied that I have several bibles, also known as writers guidelines, available on my website and in my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING. That said, it’s a complete and utter waste of your time to write one. Networks and studios don’t buy bibles… they buy scripts and they buy experience. Ideas are cheap, execution is everything. No one cares about your idea. No one is interested in hearing it. No one will buy a series from you until you have established yourself as a writer. Stick the idea in a drawer and wait until someone at a studio or network approaches you and says "Hey, have any great ideas for a TV series?" That’s the hard truth.

UPDATE 4-13-05:  I got a response this morning from the person who posed the question. Here it is:

Thanks for the sobering message.  Is that true for everything? Even animated comedic
television shows?

Yes. There’s a saying in TV… ideas are cheap, execution is everything. What the networks are buying aren’t ideas, they are buying the people who  execute the ideas (their experience, reputation, etc.). A series about homicide  cops in NY isn’t a great idea… Steven Bochco doing a series about homicide  cops in NY is. They bought Bochco, not the idea. A season of a TV
series costs $50 million — they aren’t going to entrust that money to someone who doesn’t have the experience to pull it off. I know what you’re thinking… I’ll pitch my idea to someone with experience and they can sell it. The thing  is, the people with experience want to sell their own ideas because, for years,
they have been toiling on other people’s shows, itching for a chance to do something of their own. Besides, creating your own show, and owning a piece of it, is where the money is.   
Why would they want to share that with you?

In the case of an animated comedy show, the creators have usually proven themselves, and had great success,  elsewhere…either with animated shorts, features, games, comic books, etc. Matt  Groening had a hit comic strip… and then a series of hit shorts on TRACY  ULLMAN SHOW….and that led to THE SIMPSONS.

9 thoughts on “Your Great Idea for a TV Series”

  1. How does this work for novelists? I know Brad Meltzer jumped from writing novels (albeit bestselling ones) to writing for TV, with Jack & Bobby, and I’m having trouble remembering the name of the other guy (gal?) who recently did the same. If my series of novels based on a female-PI working on cruise ships does middling well in publishing, what’s the hard truth about moving to TV?

  2. That’s a very good question, Adam. The one short-cut when it comes getting a shot at creating a TV series is having success in a related medium… like writing hit movies (JJ Abrams, Aaron Sorkin, etc.) or bestselling novels (John Grisham, Stephen King, Michael Connelly etc.). You’ve proven yourself…you’ve made yourself a commodity. You’re bringing something marketable to the party…which is why an established showrunner will gladly team up to pitch/sell a bestselling authors TV series idea…
    Of course, the other shortcut is to become succesful movie director, producer or star… they, too, bring tangible experience and marketability to the table even if they don’t have any prior writing credits and have never worked on a TV series before.

  3. Curse these shortcuts for their absolute lack of shortness!
    Thanks for the response, Lee. I’ve got a couple novels out with St. Martin’s which did fairly okay–but sounds like I should try to become more established in publishing before I seriously consider anything TVish. On the other hand, I think I’m just too controlling to work in TV: I get the jeebies at the idea of pitching an idea which would be developed in large part by people who aren’t me. Say what you will about my stuff, it’s *my* stuff.
    Oh, and a season costs $50 million! My Lord. I had no idea. Jake in Progress costs fifty million per season? Wow. Thanks for the reality check.

  4. I should have qualified that… an hour long drama costs about $50 million for 22 episodes (MARTIAL LAW, for instance, had a budget of $2.2 million per episode, and that was five years ago). I don’t know what the average sitcom costs, but I bet it’s at least close to $1 million per episode.

  5. I have been a police deep undercover agent for 8 years of my 25 years of Law Enforcement. I have been deep undercover in Child Porn cases, Organized Crime, Heavy narcotic cases. All undercover,wired up and some life and death situations. No BS here.
    Everyone says I should give my true life stories to TV. Well I’m retiring and my question is ” Is it worth it and will someone be interested ?” My stories are sad, funny and all true”
    Thank you so much,
    Ed Wilkowski aka “Crazy Eddie ” (Undercover name”

  6. Do you have to have a lot of experience? I’m only 16, but i have a great idea and have done everything from plots to episode guides.

  7. I am not a writer. I just have a vivid imagination. I have an idea that will be several great tv shows. Are there professionals that can flesh it out and pitch it to the right people?


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