Creating & Pitching TV Show Ideas That Sell

By Scott Manville
Founder, TVWritersVault.com | Contributing Writer, Natpe.com 

Scott ManvilleThe TV Writers Vault is the television industry's first online marketplace to bring "ideas" from people outside the Hollywood system to production and global broadcast. The single most important aspect of a TV show idea being pitched is the "Logline". Its the short pitch, the one-liner that tells and sells your show. Its the shorthand that a development executive uses to sell it to her boss, and that her boss uses to sell it to the network executive. Ultimately it is that core "idea" that is used to market the show to viewers.

Supporting that core idea for a pitch should be a synopsis that illustrates all of the unique and original facets of your concept as they play out in the proposed show. "Ideas" are protected under copyright law only when there is a unique and original expression of them. "stock ideas" that are vague and generalized with no original creation of proposed content in a pitch cannot be protected. So it pays to roll up your sleeves and get creative and clever in your premise, your plot, your characters, and proposed scenarios. The TV Writers Vault has served as a groundbreaking sourcing tool for new concepts purchased and produced by the industry, and we're happy to share our knowledge with you to bring your ideas for new shows to fruition.

TV Industry Leaders confirm that "ideas" are the fuel that drives the entertainment industry:
"There are sectors that make up the business. Itís not just producers selling finished content. Itís all about the beginning of the process, the idea stage."  
Rod Perth - President CEO, National Association Television Program Executives | January 21, 2016 Broadcasting & Cable

"The idea is king. Plain and simple. But it has to be made well, and it needs many elements to succeed. I always say a good game needs to have both sizzle AND the steak. The steak is the solid format. The sizzle is what makes it a television show and not a board game."
- Phil Gurin - Executive Producer "Shark Tank", "Weakest Link" | TV Writers Vault Interview

"I hear a lot of ideas...but there's one today that's shocked me. And I have to tell you, its a great idea. I don't just like that idea, I love that idea. I love your idea so much that I want to sit down and figure out a way to buy your idea from you. It was fresh, it was original, the pitch was great. It was honed. Well done. I'm really excited about that idea."
- David Glasser, COO/President, The Weinstein Company | NVFF Pitch Panel - Watch Video Here
Understand the importance of "idea" and how it fuels and determines the potential of your show being sold:

A "Logline" is a one or two sentence description that tells the basic premise and purpose of a TV show idea. Loglines for the sake of pitching a project are similar to a TV Guide description of a show, but more specific in describing the concept of the program. This is the catalyst for increasing the odds of selling a script or idea for a television show. You can have the most polished pitch reel or presentation crafted, but if that core idea isn't highly original and captivating it will never find the traction it needs to become a show. In my twenty years of working in development for major television companies I've seen countless occasions where an executive fell in love with an "idea" pitched, and then worked from the inside out with the Creators to develop the best approach for that concept. That's called the "development process". In the same number of years I have never seen a bad idea purchased because the pitch was polished and professional looking. Executives have a very keen sensibility when it comes to seeing the potential in a great idea, as well as knowing when the core concept just won't work.

Ask yourself these critical questions when conceptualizing an idea for a TV show: What are we actually watching happen in the show? Is the premise too familiar, or is it something that hasn't yet been explored in television? Are the characters compelling? The Creator must take a hard look at what they're actually proposing. Often what is great in theory falls flat in reality. That said, and assuming your idea is highly original, you absolutely need to invest your time in developing the pitch so that the premise and path of the show is communicated for the executive to see its potential. Look for irony in the world or subject you're proposing. Viewers want to experience things in a way that they don't expect. Keep in mind that this is television, so no matter the subject, you want to propose personalities that are polarizing. We want to experience a heightened level of the human condition, and it takes strong characters with interesting perspectives to portray that. Your pitch is a roadmap with ingredients that set things in motion. The setting, the circumstances, the agenda and plight of the people involved are all major components that need to be fresh and crystal clear. And continue revisiting your logline as the touchstone that all things are derived from. In fleshing out your pitch you may see that the logline needs to be modified, and hopefully becomes more clear and clever.

Developing your logline is also an opportunity to express an original hook that your show has that separates it from others within the same genre or theme. A great logline should provoke interest and inspire the TV producer to see the potential of the show. Odds are, if you can't boil your pitch for a TV show down to a solid 1 or 2 sentences that tells what the show is about, producers will never be attracted to it for development.

To an executive scouting projects, the TV show logline is perhaps the most important element of the development process. It is the core concept of the show, and is very close to the short pitch a Network markets to the public when promoting a new show. This holds the "idea power" of your project.

The following are examples of could-be loglines for popular television shows:
"Ordinary people face their fears by competing against each other in outrageously devised stunts" - Fear Factor

"A likeable husband's tolerance and marriage is tested by the constant intrusion of his overbearing parents and dim-witted brother" - Everybody Loves Raymond

"Twenty women will court and compete to win the affections of one man who will narrow the selection until he must decide on his one true love." - The Bachelor

"Contestants' general knowledge will be tested when given the answers to questions they must then form." - Jeopardy

"Aspiring singers will compete in a nationwide talent search on live television where they will face the often unfair scrutiny and sarcasm of a panel of judges before one is finally branded the "American Idol", receiving a recording contract." - American Idol
Now lets talk Title. Unlike film titles that may be more ambiguous to serve some underlying theme of the film or character, Television is a title driven medium unlike any other. Its the first message delivered to viewers that provokes interest and keys on what the show is about. Its often a play on words, and rolls easily off the tongue. A title can be a great sales tool as it confirms something we haven't seen before, and inspires the imagination, allowing the buyer (executive or producer) to see the potential for the series simply based on that title.

And here's a write up at my blog that gives some good insight on what new creators and producers need to know about pitching ideas for reality TV.

When you've got your great idea for a new TV series worked out with a clever title, a captivating logline, and a clear synopsis, then you're ready to put it to market. But before you so so, be sure to establish proof-of-creation with third party archival prior to any exposure in the marketplace. You can do so at www.creatorsvault.com.The second measure of protection is provided here at the TV Writers Vault. When you list your pitch in our secure and private marketplace, we provide electronic proof of review when any executive accesses your pitch. When an executive likes your pitch and wants to discuss the project, they simply click a button to request contact and are provided your direct contact information. You receive instant notification of all activity and requests.

Producers at the TV Writers Vault are always scouting new projects for reality television and other genres. Read Success Stories from the TV Writers Vault, and click below to pitch your new idea for a TV show.

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