How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting | Television

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: How to Pitch a TV Series

1 May , 2014  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

How can you pitch a new TV series? Screenplay Doctor Susan Kouguell finds an answer to this question of the month with Jeff Greenstein, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of Dream On, Friends, Will & Grace, Parenthood and Desperate Housewives. E-mail your question to screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com.

Question: One of my partners and I have begun creating a pitch for a new television show. We’ve great faith in the idea, but I’ve never pitched for TV before. Is there a different approach to presenting our ideas when it is time? Besides a treatment, should we have a ‘pilot episode’ teleplay at the ready? Should we also have a synopsis of several episodes? What do you recommend?

Answer: Pitching for television takes skill, a lot of preparation, and some luck. Writers must know the company to whom they are pitching and the types of projects they are seeking.

For television, it is generally recommended to prepare 1) a pilot episode; 2) a synopsis that describes the series concept and major settings; 3) a character sheet that contains one-paragraph biographies of the main and supporting characters that includes who they are, their main goals and obstacles, and how they relate to the other characters; and 4) approximately three episode summaries that are one or two paragraphs in length.
So, this was the general response.

Now, for the reality check response, I went to the top and asked Jeff Greenstein for his insights. Jeff is the Emmy-winning writer and producer of Dream On, Friends, Will & Grace, Parenthood and Desperate Housewives, and has directed episodes of Desperate Housewives, the acclaimed web series Husbands, BBC comedy Way to Go and CBS’s new show Mom. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and attended Tufts University in Boston, where he started out as a computer science major, careened through the art history department, and ended up with a degree in film and dance. As he quips, “This is now the recommended path if one wishes to pursue a rewarding career in television comedy.”

But seriously, take Jeff’s advice: “Here is my partially irritating answer. Over the years I have developed a foolproof pitching strategy which goes like this: I open with a description of some emergent phenomenon in the culture and/or my personal experience with said phenomenon, which leads to…a description of the main character and/or central relationship and/or series predicament, which leads to…the other characters and relationships and/or the pilot story, which leads to… a quick rundown of the direction of the series, including some future story ideas. And I do all this in 15-20 minutes. It never fails.’

‘Now comes the annoying part,’ he continues. ‘If you’ve never worked on a television show before, forget about pitching. Everyone has ideas; the challenge is executing them. So instead of wasting your time on a pitch and a treatment and a cookie basket for some low-level development executive, concentrate on writing the finest pilot script known to man. I mean it. You gotta make The Sopranos pilot look like a crayon drawing. Then maybe, just maybe, you can get someone to buy your script and turn it into a series. People hate that answer, but it’s true. The TV business is a showrunner’s business, and showrunners are visionaries who can execute, so you gotta fulfill both halves of that equation in order to get the job.”

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. (www.su-city-pictures.com). Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862, and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply).

Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/.

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Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. (www.su-city-pictures.com). Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862, and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/.