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.

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