The verbal pitch is the process by which you, the writer, will present and attempt to SELL your cool new TV show idea to a network, TV channel, or media conglomerate. And it’s the ONLY game in town. Yes—occasionally some TV shows have sold based on a spec script, but even in those circumstances, the writers still had to drag themselves into someone’s office and TALK THROUGH their ideas further before they got the ultimate greenlight.
So, how should approach your verbal pitch? What are the most effective methods for communicating your ideas, and how should you best prepare?
Here’s what I suggest:
PREPARING YOUR PITCH
a. Preparation is everything. When you’re “in the room” you want to SEEM natural and at ease, but in reality, you should have PRACTICED your pitch many, many times beforehand. Fifteen minutes may sound like plenty of time to lay out your new show idea, but trust me—those minutes will be FLYING BY, and you don’t want to find yourself at minute fourteen having just started into your pilot synopsis. Write your pitch out beforehand, and read it out-loud at a natural pace and cadence. Time yourself, and make sure you’re bringing it home in the right number of minutes. Pitching is serious business—so give it the preparation and thought beforehand that it deserves.
b. If possible, MEMORIZE your pitch so that you are not reading it off a sheet of paper. There’s no harm in keeping a written version of your pitch nearby just in case you choke mid-way through, but do your best to INTERNALIZE the pitch beforehand so that it comes off ALMOST like conversation once you’re up and running. Yes, you are a writer—but for fifteen minutes you will need to become an ACTOR as well.
SHAPING YOUR PITCH
a. Generally speaking, once you re in the room with the TV execs, you should start your pitch by GETTING COMFORTABLE. Make nice with the execs and spend several minutes connecting as people. Talk about sports. Talk about fashion. Talk about ANYTHING but your purpose for being in that room. Then, when the moment strikes, transition out of friend mode and into business mode with an off-hand comment like, “So, let me tell you about my show,” or “Well. I guess I better tell you why I’m here.” Generally, THEY will initiate the transition into pitch-time, so be ready to switch gears.
b. Start your pitch by clearly stating your SHOW’S TITLE, GENRE, and LOGLINE. After this, move into your SHOW OVERVIEW. (For a refresher on these terms, read the post HOW TO CREATE A TV PITCH PACKAGE.) Maintain a conversational tone—as though you were pulling this stuff off the topof your head—but keep your sentences brisk and interesting. If you’re expecting a LAUGH at a certain line, but the execs sit there quietly—move on. Assume they heard you the first time, and don’t repeat yourself.
c. After the show overview, make a choice if you want to pitch the CHARACTERS first, or the PILOT SYNOPSIS. If your show is very character driven, such as Dexter or Weeds, you may want to start by describing your central characters. If it is more plot driven, such as The Wire or 24, you’ll probably want to start with the pilot. Definitely DO BOTH, but the order is up to you.
These days, it’s become increasingly common for writers to bring a CHARACTER BOARD to a pitch with them. You don’t need to do this, but a POSTER full of photographs that suggest the looks of your major characters can certainly be a useful tool in showing execs the type of cast you’re imagining for you program. Some writers will even use brief VIDEO TRAILERS to suggest the look, feel and tone of their new show.
d. Next, briefly describe the SEASON-ONE ARC of your show, and offer some examples of FUTURE EPISODES that may be included in this season. All of this should be kept brief—less is definitely more, but you also want to tell the execs enough about your series that they are confident YOU have done all the work necessary in preparing your show for a long run on television.
e. Finally, SUMMARIZE. Restate the THEME and HOOK of your show, and end on a HIGH NOTE. If you don’t have confidence in your idea, no one else will either, so you should finish your pitch absolutely BEAMING. If you are excited about your show, there’s a better chance THEY will be excited, too. Ending with a JOKE, QUIP, or THEMATIC STATEMENT is often the best way to wrap up your pitch.
GETTING OUT OF THERE
b. When the time is right, leave. Don’t linger. Once the thing is over, it’s over. If you haven’t received a YES in the room (a very rare occurrence), you WILL get a call within the week with a YES or a PASS. In some instances, a TV company may also give you a MAYBE, but this is rare as well. A ‘maybe’ will come accompanied with notes and an invite to pitch again once you have implemented these notes into your show concept. A MAYBE is much better than a PASS, and you will want to take it seriously. There was something about your pitch that they REALLY LIKED, or else they wouldn’t have made themselves available to hear the thing all over again in the future.
a. NEVER DISCUSS BUSINESS. During your pitch, never say things like “this show would be a great match for your company,” or “based on the success of a similar show, you should make a lot of money on my show,” or “the merchandizing possibilities are enormous!” When you do these types of things, you are telling the execs how to do THEIR jobs, and they won’t like it. It will also make you look like an amateur. Your pitch should be SO GOOD that it intrinsically suggests its profit potential, how well it matches their company profile, etc… It is NOT your job to state the obvious. You are a writer—they are the producers.
b. DON’T CUT YOURSELF SHORT. Don’t use expressions like, “I know it’s a little generic, but…” or “We know we still have work do on this next section, but bear with me.” If you don’t TELL THEM your show’s flaws, they will be less likely to notice them! These sorts of statements also undercut you as a writer. Once again—if YOU have no confidence in your skills, then why the hell should anyone else? There is no pitch ever delivered that had ZERO FLAWS—so focus on the positive, and worry about how to fix the minor holes in your pitch AFTER you’ve been contracted and paid to do so!
c. THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO PITCH. I’ve outlined a strategy used by this writer and many writer’s I know, but it is in no regard the ONLY way to pitch. There are several other successful strategies writers have used to get their ideas across the finish-line and into the script phase, and I would encourage ALL OF YOU to write down any tips, strategies or methods you have used to pitch TV in the COMMENTS section below.
That’s the reason we started ScriptFaze—to give writers an opportunity to help others out with tips, advice, and practical knowledge. So jump in!