Aug 31, 2014

How to Pitch & Sell A Reality TV Show Idea

Learn how to create, pitch, and sell an idea for a reality TV show to a production company or network: 

Much of my background in television has been in and around the pitching and selling of reality TV ideas, many of which originated from ordinary people outside the industry with extraordinary imaginations, and a whole lot of persistence. With contemporary reality television having emerged in the same breath as mainstream Internet close to two decades ago, I witnessed the leveling of the playing field for new Writers and Producers breaking into the business. The industry began seeking outsiders with extraordinary lives and stories, and outsiders finally had a direct method of exposure for their ideas to the once insulated producers and executives of Hollywood. Here's a video from the TV Writers Vault explaining the process of pitching and selling TV shows at the platform:

The TV Writers Vault became a catalyst to simplify that process, but still, navigating the inroads of Hollywood is a confusing and misleading journey unless you understand the fundamental steps that inspire a Producer to invest in your project. Following is an overview of the most important factors to consider when creating and pitching your reality-based projects:

Character Is King:

A great idea for a show goes a long way, but in today's programming landscape we're seeing a heavy focus on documentary style reality shows, and that means one thing...CHARACTERS. They cover the spectrum of unique professions, businesses, families, lifestyles, and celebrities, and within any choice of subject or concept, Character Is King. No matter what world your project is set within, the people within that world are key to its success. Your pitch needs to focus on a person or people with personalities that are peculiar, strong, odd, hilarious, or unique in some way that transcends the expected norm. Projects with characters involved often gain the quickest traction with Producers and Networks. Docu-style series are low cost, relatively simple to produce for pilot, and have a "what you see is what you get" factor that gives networks confidence. Here's some good insight on the hot sub-genre of Docu-Style Reality Series and how to build a pitch around unique characters within a subject that sells.

Story Sells:

In any subject that you build your pitch around, focus on the most compelling stories within that. It may be as simple as the "make or break" moments a business entrepreneur faces, or the emotionally charged circumstance a family must survive. Producers want to see to the potential journey viewers will be taken on. Write a strong premise that sets the circumstances, and makes our character a potential hero. Producers want to see people set against unique challenges, whose lives or professions take us through a process we haven't yet discovered.

The Pitch:

Communicating your pitch to buyers is an exercise in both talent and choice. They need to know that the content of your show will be compelling and entertaining. Don't get bogged down in preambles and "education" on the subject. You need to get right to the core of what we're watching.

Start with the high concept (the one-liner) that tells the unique premise and hook of the show, and then drill right into the most compelling moments or ultimatums for the people involved that propels the stories within the show. Being able to describe the extreme circumstances, or ironic events, triggers the Producer's imagination so they'll see the potential for great content.

A pitch that makes in impact is typically 2 to 4 pages. Focus on what we're actually watching. The premise can be great, but if you can't detail what we're potentially seeing unfold, there's no content for a show. The TV Writers Vault has a great section on "Creating Reality", that helps anyone new to the process find the potential in their pitch.

If you're pitching in person, go into the meeting with the main goal of gathering information and making the Producer or Executive a new partner in future collaborations. This greater goal takes the pressure off of "desperately needing to sell" your project, and can sow the seeds for future meetings based on information you learn. If you're in the room, you're there because they're interested in your project. Get to the bones of it quickly, and communicate your pitch even more efficiently than your written pitch. If they do like it, they'll often take the lead in discussing potential moments and content we'd witness in the series. It then becomes more of a discussion in collaboration, because they see it, and they believe in it. If they make a deal with you for your project, they'll then prep it to pitch to the Network, often producing a "sizzle reel". This is typically video taped coverage of the people and world within the pitch. Skype has also become a great tool for Producers to interview and share coverage of the proposed characters involved in the project being pitched.

Networking & Marketing Your Pitch:

National Association of Television Producers and ExecutivesTo increase the odds of your pitch connecting with the right Producers you must use a multi-pronged strategy when marketing your project to the Industry. Two of the best venues for making direct contact with decision makers are the NATPE and Reel Screen Summit trade shows held annually. Both independent and major producers use these exciting events to scout and sell new projects for television. The entertainment industry is a contact sport, and using these open forums to create new contacts for pitching is a must-do for any creator and producer.

Pitch A Reality TV Show Idea at TV Writers Vault
Another efficient way to get your reality show pitch in front of top producers is the industry's online marketplace at the TV Writers Vault. The service was developed to break open the "closed door" of  Hollywood, and has helped many writers land producing deals, with many shows produced and broadcast globally for networks including; Discovery Channel, Lifetime TV, SyFy, A&E, and others. New writers submit projects to the database where the producers and executives review them, connecting directly with the creator for any pitch they're interested in pursuing.

Partnering With A Production Company:

Networks buy shows from Production Companies who can deliver, and those are the people you want to sell your project to. Your goal should be to land a deal with a producer experienced in producing your type of show for the networks that are best suited as possible outlets for your project. They have the resources and relationships with Networks to bring your concept to reality. Ideally, a production company would secure the rights to your project, and then sell it to a Network for production and distribution.

What's The Deal?:

Your basic expectation of any proposal given to you by a Production Company should include the following; A Per Episode Fee. This is what you get paid for every episode produced and delivered to the Network. Keep in mind that Cable Networks order in bulk, so even though the budgets are relatively low and the fees are modest, a hit show that delivers 40 episodes a season can bring in some serious revenue. Ask for profit participation in licensing fees. Expect 10% net (3% gross), IF they'll give anything. But know that this is where a hit show can deliver great financial reward, and its worth negotiating for. On Screen Credit- Typical offerings will range from Consulting Producer to Co-Producer. A "Created by" credit is also very important, and is often split with a designated showrunner (Executive Producer) for the Production Company.


Please take the time to visit the following resources that we've found to be invaluable for any new Writer or Producer creating and pitching new television projects:

The TV Writers Vault - The Industry's online marketplace for buying and selling new television projects. Used by hundreds of the top production companies and networks.

Mar 17, 2013

Is TV Writers Vault A Scam? | Legitimate Facts

The Internet is an easy place for any frustrated client or competitor to bash, and even slander a legitimate company. Being at the epicenter of TV development within the industry, and providing the general public with a direct link to Producers does generate a healthy amount of debate and scrutiny. But within that sits a handful of anonymous posters bent on publishing libelous statements about the TV Writers Vault being a "Scam", "Not Legitimate", a "Fraud" or other fun words.

New Writers are faced with the hard reality that an overwhelming number of Production Companies do not take unsolicited pitches. Agents are perhaps even more difficult to land because they're only interested in managing careers or representing a project that has some specific market value (Person, Brand, or Property).  So what's a new writer to do? They come to the TV Writers Vault where we provide an online marketplace that is used by top Producers and Network Executives scouting new concepts for TV from anyone with an original idea. The companies not only actively search the database reviewing and requesting contact for projects they're interested in, but they're each in agreement of our Non-Disclosure Terms of Service. All activities by Producers are tracked and recorded in the database, providing the Writer "proof of review" for their project. This is something you don't get in the traditional world of pitching.

The TV industry comes to the TV Writers Vault because its an efficient and direct sourcing tool for discovering new ideas for TV shows that they desperately need from Creators they would have no other avenue of meeting. Paul Gilbert, Sr. VP of International Formats for CBS Studios International said in an interview, "Your service [tv writers vault] is a very valuable asset for anyone involved in programming and production. Keep up the good work, Scott!". Producers at every level understand the necessity to reach beyond the rolodex in today's TV development world, because the competition to find new ideas and formats for programming is too challenging. In a sense, the playing field has been leveled.

Here's an overview of the process at the TV Writers Vault:

The commitment by Producers to scout new TV show ideas at the TV Writers Vault has paid dividends to new Writers pitching projects at the site. In just the past few years we've connected hundreds of new Writers and Creators with Producers, resulting in dozens of deals made. This past year also saw two original "ideas" from two of our members get produced and broadcast globally. "Saw Dogs" aired on OLN and Velocity, before being picked up for primetime on Discovery Channel. "Deals From The Darkside" aired on A&E Australia, UKTV, and SyFy Channel in both the U.S. and UK. We've most recently had a primetime series "Kim Of Queens" run two seasons on Lifetime TV. Both the Executive Producers of the show, and the Star connected via our site.. You can read stories from others finding success through the TV Writers Vault here.

Writers who found success weren't lucky, and weren't special. But they became lucky, and became special because they overcame the odds by believing in their concepts and working hard to constantly create new concepts so that one may eventually connect with the right Producer at the right time. It only takes one right concept, but often its a long road to get there. Frustration and disappointment is like breathing air to the experienced Writer. But not all can handle the hard road. Some won't accept rejection, and feel there shouldn't be a cost for the opportunity and service we provide.

So lets look at the value of the TV Writers Vault to those working to sell a project. To the benefit of Writers who sell their shows through the TV Writers Vault, we take no financial participation in any deal. The deal is 100% the Writer's. We charge a nominal fee to post projects in our marketplace to support the ordinary business costs involved in managing, marketing, and developing our service. When you look at the costs that any Writer faces with networking, mailing, calling, travel, social events, and other practical and impractical methods to connect with a Producer with hope of getting to pitch their idea... We're a pretty darn good value. We save time and money.

One added value that I enjoy freely providing members when they're being contacted by Producers and negotiating a deal on their project, is my own personal advice and guidance. If you've never spoken to a Producer, and never negotiated a contract for a TV show, it can be a bit nerve wracking. I've helped Writers understand what to expect, how to handle specific circumstances or deal points, and often how to get a better deal. An Attorney is always recommended for negotiating and closing any deal, but its a tremendous help for a Writer when they know how to lay the groundwork for a good deal before handing the contract over to an Attorney for fine-tuning. For a new Writer to be able to let a Producer know "they know", its a glass of cold water in the face of the Producer (or their business affairs dept.), and helps them get down to real business more quickly. Its good for all involved.

There are countless web forums for writing, with a spectrum of negative and positive views on the TV industry, and even more disdain toward TV's ugly step-child "Reality TV", which is the bulk of our business, and is reflective of programming today. There are also those who don't believe that Producers actually scout projects from anyone online.  There are those who think Network Executives would never order a series from an "idea" that was posted in a database by a guy from across the country. But they did, and they do.

The first project ever picked up from the TV Writers Vault was done so by none other than the Senior Vice President of Alternative Programming for Fox TV Studios (At the time, David Martin). It was an idea submitted to the site by a guy in Chicago. So when a Senior Network Executive turns to the Internet and happens to find the TV Writers Vault, uses it,  and makes a deal with a no-name guy from outside the industry, it tells us that the old notions of Hollywood being a closed door with restricted protocol for discovering projects just isn't so anymore. We've moved into a different time, and we're all adjusting to the new technology that causes us to redefine our own methods of doing business. We're proud to have cut the path to connect the outside world with the buyers inside the TV Industry, and we're fine taking the lumps that go with it.

It would be great if everyone could sell a show, and everyone could land deals. But that's not "reality". This industry is the most competitive in the world. Finding success takes talent, time, and tenacity. We're fortunate to see what the TV Writers Vault is capable of delivering for the person who dreams of becoming a TV Producer and breaking into the business. I often think back to my days running Development for Merv Griffin Entertainment, when we had sold an "idea" to Disney's Buena Vista TV on our first pitch. Two chief executives for Disney came to our offices for one of the early project meetings, and when leaving, we walked down the long hallway connecting the Griffin Group offices to the public area of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. As we did, one of the Network Execs said, "So how did you guys come up with this idea?". To which my Producer responded, "We bought it from a guy in Florida who called up and pitched the idea to Scott". The Network Executives response? Without missing a beat, she said- "I love when that happens".

Is the TV Writers Vault a scam? Nope. Just a new link in the always evolving entertainment world that was destined to be.

Additional Advice: We do recommend for any Creators pitching projects in the marketplace, visit to establish third party archival of your written works prior to any exposure to Producers or Executives.

Mar 10, 2009

TV Format Development

Probably the biggest hurdle any writer or creator faces is the translation of that great concept onto paper. How do you communicate what a producer or network executive needs to read? How do you get them to see the clever hook your concept has, and the potential of the show? Is your written synopsis showing them what the show is?

If you have any specific questions about the development or pitching of your television projects, post them here, and we'll discuss.

All About Scott Manville &

For those of you not yet familiar, after many years of working in development and selling concepts for shows based on ideas from new writers, I created the TV Writers Vault as a marketplace for the TV industry to scout new material and ideas for shows. We have writers from all corners of the world, and some of the top production companies and networks in Hollywood scouting new projects. Shows discovered at the TV Writers Vault have been produced and broadcast globally on networks, including; Lifetime TV, A&E, SyFy, Discovery Channel, UKTV, Velocity Channel, and others.

Ask me how it works, what you love about it, what your concerns are, what the future holds, how it benefits new writers, or any specific aspect of the service. I'm happy to engage in some inspired discussions!

Post away. I'll blog back! :)

Note: This is not a Customer Service thread. All questions related to your account, or service at the TV Writers Vault should be directed to admin at the site: webmaster at tv writers vault dot com

Reality TV Show Ideas - What Works and What Doesn't

Pitch Your New Reality Show Concepts To Top Producers at The TV Writers Vault

The First & Only Industry Website To Deliver "Ideas" From Everyday People To Production & Global Broadcast On A&E, Discovery Channel, SyFy & others

Why do some ideas for reality programs work, and others don't?

The biggest challenge I've seen with new writers and creators pitching reality-based projects, comes in two forms.

1) The pitch gives more description of "why" the show is entertaining, and not enough about what we're actually seeing as content for the show, and...

2) The idea is more entertaining in theory than in reality.

With all the expectation one would have with a great idea for a new reality show, pitches often fall flat when the Producer isn't getting the very simple information they need to make a judgement call. Its a very straight forward question they're asking when they start reading the pitch; What Are We Actually Watching?

You've got to be real with yourself and step outside of the love you have for your great idea, and see it for what it actually is. Here's a familiar one: "We do a relationship reality series about matchmaking on the Internet. Everyone can relate, the stories would be endless, and we could have sponsor it". Sounds like it should work, right? Wrong. What would you actually be watching? People surfing the internet? People on blind dates?(already overdone). People emailing eachother, flirting? One word describes all of that- Boring.

So the challenge remains; what key elements can you build a concept around that will give your pitch compelling content. Reality TV is successful because people are interested in the human condition, and seeing new things outside of their own reality. Concepts that are being scouted and picked up by Producers at the TV Writers Vault most often involve a unique business, hobby, lifestyle, family or other subjects with strong characters involved, and content that is truly interesting to watch.

Get more details on this subject by checking out "How To Create and Pitch A Reality TV Show Idea" at the TV Writers Vault.

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