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“Watch… Read… Listen… Ask:” Advice From Those in the Pitch

Cartoon Network, Nick and Disneys hit shows got their shots by knowing what each network needed. Fosters © Cartoon Network. SpongeBob © Nickelodeon. Kim Possible © Disney Channel.

Creators of animation are so passionate about their ideas they sometimes have blinders on and try to pitch it to just about everyone. The mistake most make is they feel their show is perfect for all networks. They know that Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel will want it. This is a BIG mistake!

Knowing what the networks are looking for is the most important part of developing a show. I cant just develop something because I love it or think it is a good idea or even because I think the merchandising is brilliant and will generate billions of dollars, says Bill Schultz, co-ceo, MYP/Taffy Ent. Those are all important. But, one of my key questions is where am I am going to sell it in the key territories? Schultz should know. He is a veteran of development, having worked at Cartoon Network on Ed, Edd and Eddy and Courage the Cowardly Dog, along with his work at Film Roman on The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Garfield and Friends. As a partner at MYP/Taffy, he has been successful in selling the show, Pet Alien, to Cartoon Network.

I love the challenge of trying to second guess the networks/broadcasters, Stephanie Graziano, president for the newly formed company, Fortitude Animation. Under her former company, Graz Ent., she brought The Tick to the screen. Do you take them literally or read between the lines? Graziano believes you need to know what networks are currently programming. But in the end, it is important to come in with really great ideas that have been well planned, which might include merchandising partners, a great voice cast or even financing.

The best pitch meetings I have been in are with creators who love what they do and understand what my network does. Even if the specific isnt a fit for one reason or another, the respect and knowledge generated by that preparation is the foundation for ongoing communications, said Alice Cahn, vp/programming and development for Cartoon Networks new Tickle U block for the young set.

Understanding what the network wants is most important. Development executives dont have enough hours in the day to see all the pitches they are offered. And they do not want to see pitches that are completely wrong for their programming. So, how does a creator or producer find out what the network wants? Research.

In order to get to know the broadcaster you intend to pitch to, it is essential to know their programming grid, their motto and philosophy as a broadcasting entity, said Sylvie Belanger, independent producer. Know who their competitors are and what their current need is in terms of content. Belanger knows what she is talking about. She recently left her post as supervisor, original production development for TELETOON Canada to pursue her new career.

There is no one best way to find out about anything: but there are terrific tools at your disposal, advises Cahn. The internet is a treasure trove of information, from company websites that have everything from games to speeches to press releases, online is certainly a great place to start. She also suggests reading every trade magazine and online industry site that tells you what the trends are.

In an extreme example: would you pitch the next Blues Clues to Adult Swim or the next Aqua Teen Hunger Force to Nick Jr.? Blues Clues © Nickelodeon. Aqua Teen Hunger Force © Cartoon Network.

WATCH, WATCH, WATCH the network, says Kim Keith, manager of animation development for Nickelodeon, Watch at least one episode of every show currently on the air. This is the quickest way to get a keen sense of the networks programming and tone. Youll know right off the bat whether your series about a platypus who teaches math skills is right for the network. She also points out that most networks have development executives that specialize in specific programming. Keiths specialty is comedy for kids 6-11.

If you dont have access to the channel, Belanger suggests surfing the broadcasters website to get a strong sense of the networks identity and the programming grid.

Talk to broadcasters, says Schultz. He says broadcasters dont mind telling what they are, and are not, looking for. After all they think you might bring them their next hit. Belanger, Cahn and Keith suggest calling the networks to get answers to what they are looking for. When calling, Keith suggests that this is not the time to pitch. It is an opportunity to ask some key questions, such as what is the target audience, the genre, what the network is looking for and what they are avoiding. Keith says not to expect an appointment to pitch and not to take this as a slap in the face. Most networks receive thousands of pitches each year and cant possibly hear all ideas in person. If an idea is sent in to Nickelodeon, be assured that it will be read and will be responded to within 4-6 weeks.

If you start the dialog with Nickelodeon saying, I am gonna pitch you a show about a little Hispanic girl who talks to the audience, they are going to think you are clueless and have no idea what you are doing, says Schultz about doing your research.

The credibility of any producer/creator suffers a great deal when they pitch something that is clearly not appropriate as it is an obvious indication that this person is not serious or doesnt understand the market or has not done the homework properly, said Belanger.

I dont believe you can really figure out what they [networks] will want until you spend some time with them, says Graziano. Another way to learn about networks is to attend television markets and trade shows, such as MIPCOM, MIPTV, NATPE, KidScreen Summit and more. These are great places to meet programming, development and acquisition executives from the various networks, channels and broadcasters. By the very nature of a two- or three-day conference, time is of the essence.

Again it is important to do homework before requesting to see anyone at these events. Executives have scheduled meetings back to back, almost on the half-hour; so knowing who and why you want to meet them is being respectful of their time.

If you are reading this and have the next great television series and think you are ready to pitch it, take the advice of the experts -Watch, Read, Listen and Ask.

Jan Nagel, the entertainment marketing diva, is a consultant involved in the business of animation and visual effects since 1991. She represents creative producers and productions companies worldwide, including j9 Prods. and AGOGO Corp. Hong Kong, as well as being a frequent guest lecturer on the subject of the business of animation. She is also a founding member and current president of Women in Animation International.

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Jan Nagel, Entertainment Marketing Diva