Monday, March 5, 2012

How to Sell a TV Show: the fine art of pitching

There's an old expression: "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle."  There's an art to making a sale.  Plenty of screenwriters and producers will tell you that there are some writers who write brilliant work, but just "aren't good in a room."  They ramble, they get nervous, and they might even blow the pitch.  Meanwhile, there are guys who might lack the fine skills of character and plot development, but can sell the hell out of the idea in the room.

You can't rely on a great idea to sell itself.  Getting someone to buy your idea is an art all its own.  You've got to be your own best ad man.  Some people think this means that you have to pull some sort of silly gimmick to get your script noticed, like including concept art, having your horror script delivered in a minature (and bloody coffin) or sending a screenplay in a gift basket.

A silly stunt rarely helps.  If the delivery of your script makes someone roll their eyes, how is that going to translate into excitement for reading the script?

The Wrap has a blog post from Keith Feinmore talking about how got a buyer for a show that, by all rights, should have been a hard sale.  How'd he pull it off? Showmanship!

I developed a concept and crafted a written treatment for a show that was to be a non-scripted buddy-road-trip series where the guys roam through cities and towns performing magic and looking for local magicians along the way. A point worth noting: The development of this show cost me nothing but my time.

I set up pitch meetings at five cable networks and began the daunting task of selling a magic show with two unknowns. The odds were heavily stacked against me.

Sidebar: I want to make clear that in addition to this magic show, at that time, I had about five other projects in different stages of development. My advice is never, ever have just one project. A good way to beat the odds is to play multiple hands!

My pitch strategy was to forgo the typical presentation tape and rely on the power of a live performance. I was going to have these guys perform close-up magic, face-to-face with the buyer at the top of each pitch meeting. I did not utter a word. 

Not a bad way to hold attention, eh?  It would be easy to write that magic off as a cheap gimmic,, but it's a gimmick that's right at the core of the show's appeal.  Keith probably couldn't have sold "Awake" or "Smash" had he gone in with magicians.  Here, the buyers could see that if the magicians could keep them captivated, they'd probably entrance America as well.

 Keith concludes with the following advice:

Take meetings. Talk to people. Hear ideas. Don’t go off of network mandates, because a lot of the time they don’t know what they want until they see it. And most of all, follow your gut and take risks.

Sage words.  Print them out and hang them by your computer.

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