How to write and present an idea for a TV series

How to write and present an idea for a TV series
How to write and present an idea for a TV series

Competition is fierce in the television industry and series can be canceled as quickly as they were produced. Knowing how to write and present original ideas or scripts will give you a huge advantage and allow you to share your ideas and benefit from them.


Part 1 of 3: Developing the Concept

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 1

Step 1. Find your basic premise that should answer the question "What if?" " It's the start of any TV series and your ticket to Hollywood. It can be as simple as the premise: "What if the crew of a documentary filmed a small printing house?" Like in "The Office" or a more complex idea like: "What if the chemistry teacher starts making drugs? As for "Breaking Bad". This is the basis of your series and what will allow it to stand out and be sold.

You shouldn't or want to burden your premise with too many subplots or other ideas. Keep only the essence of your series. Seinfield, for example, was presented this way: “What if we do a series that has no specific subject? "

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 2

Step 2. Research recent TV shows to learn more about current trends and opportunities

Use specialty markets like the ubiquitous and absolutely essential or Variety to learn about the latest trends in Hollywood TV shows. For example, Deadline published an article in August 2015 explaining that TV stations were specifically looking for hour-long comedy series. This can be a very useful clue as to what is currently selling.

Write down the names and studios involved in projects similar to yours. These are the people who are most likely to buy your idea afterwards

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 3

Step 3. Choose your gender

Genre is the style of the show you want to do: it could be a sitcom or a police investigation. There are many nuances of genre, but if you are unsure about yourself you should search the internet for the genre of your favorite TV series to help you. For example, “Arrested Development” is a single-camera sitcom, which means that the series is not filmed in a studio with an audience like a classic sitcom like “Cheers” which is a multi-camera sitcom. The difference, although subtle, makes all the difference when you present your TV series, because some channels specialize in a genre of series.

  • The genre affects the mood, tone and style of writing, but also audience expectations.
  • Choosing a genre doesn't mean you have to follow a particular plot style. It will just be easier to target your market and sell your idea.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 4

Step 4. Develop some characters

The very essence of a good TV series is its characters. The characters are the reason people follow a series week after week, and they are the common thread of the plot of each episode. Try to develop 2-5 main characters, as more characters might make your series less easy to follow. The maximum is 7 characters (as with "Community" and most drama series). Your characters should be:

  • complexes:

    your characters must be multi-faceted and not be for example just an "angry woman" or "an honest hero". Complex characters have strengths, but also weaknesses and can thus evolve;

  • filled with desires and fears:

    their ability or inability to overcome their fears (of being poor, of being alone, of aliens or spiders) drives their internal conflicts in each episode and tells you the goals of your series;

  • have free will:

    a good character makes decisions that advance the plot. They make mistakes, try to work things out, go to parties, etc., because it's something their character prompts them to do and not something the author needs them to do.

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 5

Step 5. Understand what makes a great idea marketable

Decision makers are people who give the green light to new ideas and are presented with a lot of them. The best ideas, or at least those that will be chosen, share certain points in common.

  • The originality:

    have we seen this before? Does this look like another series and if so, is it different enough to stand out?

  • The estimated cost:

    some studios will risk millions of dollars for an unknown author or director. However, it is difficult to sell a concept like that of "The Walking Dead" if you have just started working in this industry, because the financial risks are very important.

  • A scenario or proof of concept:

    this means that you have to write a presentation, a script or film some scenes to present your series. Your idea may allow you to present your series, but you must prove that you have already started working on your project.

Part 2 of 3: write the pitch

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 6

Step 1. Find the title of your series

It must be very easy to remember. Most TV shows are pun based, and a good turn of phrase will make your show easy to identify. "Mad Men" for example, talks about an Advertising Agency ("Ad" in English) and the men who work there and whose lives often follow a destructive spiral. “Community” speaks of a public university (which is called “community” in English), but also of a very united group. The importance of a good title should therefore not be underestimated.

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 7

Step 2. Find a good hook

The teaser can be summed up in one or two descriptive sentences of your series intended for producers. It mainly presents the central story of your series and its main characters. If your concept is difficult to translate into a catchphrase, that probably means that it will also be difficult to sell it, but it is relatively rare. It should introduce people to what they're going to watch and the main storyline or appeal of your show.

  • Back to the future: a high school student is sent back to the past by accident and his presence prevents the meeting of his parents and therefore his conception!
  • Teeth of the Sea: A police chief fights against a deadly shark as he fears the water. At the same time, greedy members of the city council refuse to admit that there is a problem and therefore complicate its resolution.
  • Ratatouille: A French rat joins forces with a bad chef to prove that anyone can cook, although envious critics and a health check will do everything to prove it is a sham.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 8

Step 3. Write a 300 to 500 word synopsis

This is a complete summary of your TV series. There are a lot of potential elements you can include in your synopsis, but the briefer you are, the better. Try to present your series in an interesting and brief way: the style of summary that will make you want to see your series if it is on TV. These elements may include:

  • the decor
  • the general plot of the series
  • the structure of the majority of episodes (what usually happens in each episode?)
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 9

Step 4. Create a short presentation of the characters, including as much detail as possible

On a separate sheet, list each character with a one to two sentence presentation. Be as brief and specific as possible. How do they work, what makes them unique? Other than if it affects the plot, don't include any physical details or your casting choices.

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 10

Step 5. Show 3-4 episodes separately

Use fairly short paragraphs of one to two sentences with multiple episodes. The goal is to give a general vision of how your series will unfold and what each episode will look like as well as an idea of ​​the budget and the plots of the characters. If you are writing a drama series, you can use 400-500 words for each episode while a 30-minute series should be limited to 200-300 words.

If you are presenting a documentary-style reality series, present a short video of the topic or people who will be part of the project so that producers can fully realize the potential of your program. You can highlight potential storylines from the lives of the characters you are going to follow

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 11

Step 6. Finalize your pitch

The final document should be a maximum of 3 to 10 pages, with each part in order. Add a cover with the title and potential logo of your series, your name and contact information. In order, you should have:

  • the title;
  • the hook;
  • the synopsis;
  • the presentation of the characters;
  • the structure of the episodes;
  • if you're creating a reality show, make sure your format can be produced. If your program is in the format of a competition, highlight the different rules of the latter. It is important to describe precisely what viewers will see by keeping it brief, but highlighting the most important points.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 12

Step 7. You can choose to write a script

In the end, your pitch will not be shown on television. If you also prepare your script, you can give your potential producers the first episode directly, if they liked your idea. However, most ideas sell on their own and the commission on the script is paid back later. This practice is more common for authors already known in Hollywood.

  • Read the scripts of programs similar to yours to get an idea of ​​how you can write and prepare your plot.
  • If you are writing a scripted series, such as a drama series, learn how to write a script. You can also take screenwriting classes in college.
  • Specialized computer programs also exist to make your work easier. Movie Magic Screen Writer, Celtx, Writer Duets, and Final Draft are very popular among screenwriters.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 13

Step 8. Register your project with the appropriate copyright authorities such as the American Authors Guild

This will protect the intellectual property of your project and provide you with proof of when your program was created. You can also register your project online in The Creator's Vault or fill out copyright protection, although this is not always really necessary.

  • Registering with the Guild will cost you $ 20 ($ 10 on the Guild website if you are already a member) and this is considered a requirement in the television industry.
  • The recorded content is kept for 5 years, from which date you can renew your copyright. Conditions may vary depending on the service and your location.

Part 3 of 3: Introducing the TV Series

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 14

Step 1. Add your program to a specialized online database

These sites are paid, but in return, they make it easier for channel managers to find your scripts. Usually you pay to get a grade and the highest rated scripts will be featured at the top of the list. However, many of these sites are not very reliable, so be sure to do some research to find reviews, testimonials, and successes with the site before signing up. For example, you can look up the "success stories" of a site on IMDB to find out if the site is reliable or not.

  • The most reputable site is The Blacklist which has been scrutinized many times and enjoyed many successes.
  • Accepting a spontaneous proposal without going through a third party can put the chains in a delicate situation, because they can be accused of theft. Having electronic proof of some form of control is one of the unique advantages that the internet offers to channels in the current development of the television industry.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 15

Step 2. Create a list of channels that might like your idea and contact them online

Go online and find their phone number and email address to submit your idea to channels that produce series similar to yours. Make contact, try to make an appointment to discuss your ideas. Don't sound too desperate, but just show your willingness to do everything in your power to sell your script.

  • It would be illogical to present a somewhat cheesy monster movie to NBC, you'd send it to SyFy instead. You also wouldn't offer a historical drama at the production house of Greg Danial (the character of "The Office"). Choose the studio that already produces series similar to yours.
  • Look for an internship in a studio. These are paid 6 to 8 week programs that will allow you to sharpen your ideas. These programs are however very competitive.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 16

Step 3. Extend your network as much as possible

Meeting people is still the best way to sell your ideas or your program. Have coffee with friends, join an improv group, or take a little job on the set of a movie. Even if one person will not be able to help you make your ideas come true, they may know someone who can help you.

  • When possible, work on the set of a movie or television series as a production assistant or intern: it doesn't matter what position as long as it allows you to enter the industry.
  • Although it is not strictly necessary, selling your idea in Hollywood is much easier if you are already in Hollywood. If you're really motivated, it might be time to move to Los Angeles. However, many series are also produced in New York.
Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 17

Step 4. You should be aware that you need an effective pitch to sell your idea once you've been introduced to the right people

You need to knock the decision-makers out of their chairs once they've given you the opportunity to present your work to them. Presenting a project is an art in itself, but it's more of a business presentation than a script. Your goal is quite simply to create excitement around your program, to embed the image of your program in the minds of the producers so that they can imagine the end result. To do this, you need to mention the following points.

  • The appeal of your program:

    come back to the basic premise (“what if”) of your program. Why is it unique, fascinating, and worth watching?

  • Your audience:

    Who is targeting your program? Is your audience consistent with that of the channel?

  • The teaser:

    if you were to sell your program in an advertisement, what parts would you highlight? What are the images that really represent the universe of your program?

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 18

Step 5. Remember to put yourself in the shoes of a marketer, not an author

Why is your program suitable for their viewers? How does it integrate with the other programs of the chain? Why do they need your series? Don't just talk about how great your program is, but let them know why they'll be making the right choice in purchasing it.

You must also know the other programs that are produced by the channel and what their audience is in order to capture their attention

Write and Pitch an Idea for a TV Show Step 19

Step 6. Your presentation should be short and forceful

It should not be longer than 12 to 15 minutes and the shorter the better. Give the producers a general idea of ​​your program, pique their curiosity with the basic plot of your series and show them that it is the right choice for their channel.Then thank them and answer their questions.

  • Practice several times before presenting your program. You should prepare your presentation as meticulously as your script and presentation material.
  • It can be helpful to have backup ideas ready, even if you don't have a presentation material. They may love your idea, but not have a niche for that style of series.


  • The more ideas and presentations you have, the better. Keep working on different ideas in a similar genre so that you have an entire portfolio to come up with.
  • Do some research and come up with an idea that is original. Channels will not accept an idea that is too inspired by a movie, book or other TV series.

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