Mind Your Business: Pitch a Hit

Mark Simon steps onto the mound in this month's "Mind Your Business" to show how to pitch a hit TV series.

On the mound, pitching for a hit, Mark Simon. Images courtesy of Mark Simon.

In the baseball game of creating shows, you're the pitcher. And in this game, you want a hit from your pitch.

Rookie pitchers are often confused as to what to bring to a pitch. They are hesitant to step up to the plate until they know how to approach the batter.

The batter in this case is the network. Luckily, they are also looking for a hit. You are actually on the same team. There's no reason to be afraid of them.

The one pitch you don't want to throw is a curve ball. Make it easy for them to understand the show concept.

Warm up your pitching arm before you step onto the mound. Research the networks and make sure your show is a fit. Don't waste their time pitching a show they would never air. The Disney Channel would never run a show called, Porn: Behind the Scenes. BTW, according to many execs, this is one of the most common pitches, so don't think you're the first to think of it.

Start with a fastball; your one-liner or hook. What is the 30-second description of your show that will make them want to hear the rest of your pitch?

Then you want to follow up with the rest of your pitch. How you throw your pitches over the plate is not nearly as important as being able to tell your pitch as a compelling story.

Your winning pitch is the story. Everything is about story. Reality shows are about story just as much as comedies and dramas. Are the contestants on American Idol always the best singers in the country? No. They are good singers with great stories. Do we care about someone else's old things on Antique Roadshow? No. But the stories behind their antiques keep our attention.

How you present your story is up to you. There is no one single secret element to bring to a pitch that will sell a show... besides story.

Coach recommends throwing at least a one-sheet or sales sheet. Give the exec something small, light and accessible to remind him of the concept and storylines.

You can always pitch with a treatment. A 6-10 page description of the main elements of your show can help the exec sell your show to the owner of the team.

If you can handle a bigger pitch, toss out a full production bible. This can sometimes be too much at a pitch, such as at a conference where it could be heavy for an exec to carry. But developing the bible always helps you further refine your concept, so creating one can only help you.

Don't forget to throw a script to the batter. A description of a show is one thing, but a great script can sell a concept. Just ask Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives. No one wanted an hour serial program until they read his amazing pilot script.

The game is going well. You decide you're going to throw for a home run. You pull out a pilot/video/short. Before you can show it, your team manager calls "Time" and calls you over to the bullpen to discuss your options.

Coach warns you that having a pilot can both work for you and against you. Whether you strike out or pitch a home run depends on two main things -- The quality of your sample and what the exec is looking for.

Years ago I was pitching my Timmy's Lessons in Nature series at Klasky Csupo. The pitch quickly went nowhere because it was too far developed for them. They told me they only do projects where they can design their own look. A number of execs will more readily fight for a project if they have a creative vested interest in it. That's hard to do if a video sample already exists.

However, a finished video can also help sell the show. The trick is to only show a video sample if you can produce a piece that is as good or better than you would expect to see on TV. A poorly produced piece could kill a potential sale.

Executive TV Pitch Program with Jeanne & Mark Simon.

Mark Burnett pitched Survivor as a fascinating story. But he also showed a video sample of his other outdoor reality series, Eco-Challenge. The beautiful scenery and high production values proved his Survivor story would make not only great TV, but also great-looking TV.

Maybe you want to pitch somewhere between written words and a finished pilot. Maybe you throw in a few illustrations or photos as sample visuals to support your pitch. Great. Maybe your mascot walks out in character and helps your pitch. You could act out a scene. You could even pitch a storyboard.

A great pitch is anything that helps you tell a fascinating story. Just remember to pitch with passion and you will have a better chance of hitting it out of the park.

Get a copy of Mark & Jeanne Simon's free report on the 7 Biggest Show-Pitching Mistakes you should know about and more information on how to pitch. Mark may be reached at MarkSimonBooks@yahoo.com.

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