LB: Glad You Asked Dept 4/22/13

Yes, you’ve seen the Steve Ditko pic below on TVWriter™  before. Last week, as a matter of fact.


But no, this post isn’t just a repackaged version of the same profoundly helpful verbiage as last time. I’ve decided to make the pic my “Glad You Asked” logo pic.

Like it?

And, yes, this is the place where I answer, or try to answer, all the questions that don’t start – or end – with “Why don’t you go #$%@ yourself?”

(Not that I can’t answer those. It’s just that I’m finally old enough to know that I shouldn’t.)

Here we go:

From Karen L:

Hi Larry,

Is it possible to pitch a show without a short sizzle reel?

Here’s what we currently have:

1. A very well-written treatment

2. Attached talent in the form of an established personality from a network hit series

3. No track record in television (riding on star’s coattails).

Under the above circumstances, can one skip making a sizzle reel? Go directly to the networks?

From avuncular ole LB:

Hi Karen,

It’s interesting to me that you see the sizzle reel as a necessity. I remember way back in the Dark Ages of TV – before the turn of the 21st Century even – when there was no such animal. Instead, there were “presentation trailers,” which were short, 5 minutes-or-less, mini-episodes commissioned and paid for by networks that weren’t excited enough by a script to want to pay for a full pilot. Mostly, presentation trailers were bones thrown to major suppliers that the execs couldn’t afford to offend, and they seldom resulted in any kind of sale.

In the early days of this century, however, enterprising reality show producers started putting together trailers for unscripted shows as part of their proposals, and since the networks, both broadcast and cable, didn’t have to pay for them the execs welcomed this new pitch element with open arms, so that it soon became a necessity in the reality biz. Especially after some genius renamed it a “sizzle reel.” It’s always been amazing to me how people whose business is to create buzz and the illusion of project heat invariably end up falling for their own illusions

I remember that when we first opened the now-defunct Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts in 2002 our first projects were all reality show sizzle reels. Newbies from all over the world used our brains/equipment/contacts both online and onsite to create them. The reels were an essential element in proving that the newcomers could in fact deliver the kind of shows they were promising.

So where was I heading with this history lesson?

Oh, right. My answer to your question. It boils down to this. If the show you’re talking about is nonfiction/unscripted/reality, then I’d say, yes, you definitely need to shoot some slick, exciting professional-type footage. Sizzle reels are the standard of the industry. They’re an institution. Yes, it’s a little more work and expense for the creator/seller (okay, a lot more work and expense), but that’s the cost of doing business with the television beast.

And I’ve got to tell you – I find the fact that the execs have acknowledged that they need an eyes-on experience. It’s tantamount to them admitting that their judgment can’t really be trusted, by sellers or even by themselves. They they can’t understand how a show will play unless they see a pretty damn slick sample.

Oh, and it has to be even slicker if the seller has no track record – star or no star.

OTOH, if the show you’re talking about is fictional and scripted, then I’d say that sure, even now, you can get into the game with a well-written treatment and a star…the game in this case being not a series sale (sorry) or even a pilot commitment (still sorry), but a script deal. It would help, of course, if you had a terrific pilot script already written, or at least a terrific spec pilot for a different, similar series.

And it would help more if the star whose coattails you’re riding on was an A-grade, automatic greenlight kind of star. Someone every network on the planet wants to have join their family. Otherwise, especially in scripted fiction, attaching talent can do more harm than good because what if the potential buyers absolutely can’t stand your star? Without her/him maybe they would’ve taken a fling. But with your actor pal, “hey, no way. This guy’s audience poison. Did you see how his last film tanked?”

If you’re looking for more sales ammo for fiction, some other types of attachments can help. Partnering up with – or selling/optioning your project to – an established production company or studio that network buyers already are in business with (or want to be in business with) is a big help. Especially if they can bring in a hot showrunner. A-list showrunners, while not quite as powerful as automatic greenlight type actors, can definitely make a huge difference.

Selling a series is the Holy Grail of television writing. There are many more nuances than I can possibly cover here, so I’ve done my best to stick to your actual question. Hope this helps, and, hey, let me know how everything goes!

Best of luck,


That’s it for this week. My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. Please remember, I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.