How to Sell Your Idea for a TV Show

TV writers and producers on stage during a panel discussion.

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

If you're an avid viewer of television, chances are you've found yourself toying with an idea for a TV show. But what do you do with it? Who would you sell it to? With a few exceptions, there's a pretty defined process for how TV show concepts are bought. Here is how it works and some things you'll want to consider.

The Idea

You're watching TV, or maybe you're driving your car or just puttering around the house when it hits you. It could be a reality show idea, a game show, or a sitcom. You have the idea. Now you have to flesh it out.

Think the idea all the way through. If it's a reality show, what's the whole concept? If it's a game show, how does it work? Is it a scripted series? Who are the characters, what are some storylines, and how do you see the series playing out?

The genre and the type of show you've come up with will determine how you go about trying to sell your idea. Here's the good news—most television executives are desperate for great ideas. They don't care who offers them as long as they're unique and fresh.

Now here's the bad news—they've probably heard your idea before. That said, there's still a chance that your idea might be completely new, or it might be a new take on an old idea that an executive would be willing to consider.

The Pitch

Now it's time to come up with your pitch. Pitch refers to what you plan to tell a potential buyer about your project to interest them enough to make them want to buy it.

Your pitch should be tight, no more than 10 to 15 minutes. It should include enough information that clearly explains your idea while simultaneously getting your listener excited about the concept. You might want also to consider coming up with a shorter two-minute "elevator pitch" version. In other words, this the amount of time it might take you to pitch your idea if you just happened to find yourself in an elevator with the right person. It's always good to have an elevator pitch in your arsenal in case you ever need it.

Consider Hiring an Agent 

No matter what type of show you've come up with, trying to get an agent to represent you and your idea is always a good first step. Having an agent comes in handy because they can lead you to the exact person you need to sit down with—the person who has the power to purchase your idea. An agent can also narrow down the list of potential buyers by focusing on people and companies that specialize in producing exactly the type of idea you've generated.

An agent isn't mandatory to the process, but having one does make it a little easier because they can put you in touch with the right people. Most companies— and many agencies, for that matter—don't accept "unsolicited submissions."

That's a polite way of saying that if they didn't ask you for it, they don't want it. If you type out your idea and send it off to a network or studio, chances are it will either come back to you unopened or with an "unsolicited submissions" form letter. Avoid sending out random pieces of material to everyone listed in the Hollywood Creative Directory.

How to Get an Agent 

So how do you get an agent? Network, network, network. If you ask enough people, there's a chance that someone knows someone who is an agent or who knows someone else who might know an agent. It may be a distant "in," but every connection helps so take advantage of contacts when they present themselves. 

You'll probably sit down with what's known as a development executive after you've lined up an agent. Your agent will arrange for this. These folks are specialists in helping to identify exactly what their studio or network is asking for—and they're usually classified by the genre they buy, such as comedy development, drama development, or reality development.

These people are the first ones you'll encounter who have the power to turn your idea into a paycheck, but you must first be able to sell them on your concept and state it in such a way that they can reiterate it to their bosses.

Selling an idea for a television show is not an easy task, but it can be done if you're persistent enough, patient enough, and passionate enough to keep trying.

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