How NOT to pitch a pilot


by Ken Levine

Pitching pilots to networks is somewhat of an art. I mean, it’s not Adele singing or Linda Lovelace eating a cucumber, but it does take a certain skill. My writing partner, David Isaacs and I have been pitching pilots for years. We don’t sell them all but we have sold quite a few. So we have some sense as to what’s involved.  (And it’s closer to what Linda Lovelace does.)

Generally, we keep our pitch down to about fifteen minutes. We never read. We may go in with a sheet of bullet points or no notes at all. We explain the premise, the theme, and what about the project excites us. We introduce the characters briefly, and offer possible story suggestions for down the line. Along the way we integrate a few jokes.

The idea is to spark their interest in a way that they can actually picture the show on their network. We answer any questions and keep the dialogue going for as long as we can. The more they talk about it, usually the more interested they are.

Generally the whole process is over in a half hour and we leave. Networks tend to bunch their pilot pitch meetings together so we know they already heard three pitches this morning and two more are scheduled after us. It must get very tedious hearing all these pitches back to back. I don’t envy them.

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Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 3/11/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Chrissy Pietrosh & Jessica Goldstein (COUGAR TOWN) have signed a 2 year deal to develop new projects for Universal TV. (So if you’re a big fan of COUGAR TOWN, MY NAME IS EARL, and something called BIG DAY, rejoice cuz with this kind of money changing hands something these two ladies write will definitely show up on your screen. OTOH, if you aren’t a fan….)
  • Lena Dunham (GIRLS) is writing a 4 part comic book series about everybody’s least hip, trendy, edgy, or even interesting teenager – Archie! Yep, she’s going to give the world her take on Archie and his gang. (And to make matters worse, Archie Comics is actually paying her to completely destroy their franchise. Oh, has the munchie one gone too far in showing his displeasure? Nah…I haven’t even come close to adequately expressing my disgust.)
  • Dylan Morgan & Josh Siegal (30 ROCK) have joined the uber talented Chrissy and Jessica with a 2 year deal of their own at Universal. (Except on this one el muncho is looking forward to the results of their labors.)
  • Leesa Dean (CHILLTOWN TV) has won the Focal Press “Bound to Create” contest, and TVWriter™ couldn’t be happier. (Cuz not only is she a genius animation writer-creator-producer, she just happens to be one of our featured columnists. Congrats, Leesa. Just one question…who’s Focal Press? Please spill cuz let’s be honest here, your friendly neighborhood munchman is way too lazy to google)

Creativity and Madness

This probably is a place we shouldn’t go cuz…well, cuz many of us here at TVWriter™ just plain assume that creativity and madness go together. Which means that reconciling meds that stop the madness with our writing needs sometimes becomes overwhelmingly stressful all by itself.

But that’s just, you know, us:

Medsby Gila Lyons

I had rarely felt so alive, so close to the spitting pulse of energy and awakened life. I moved from the Berkshires to New York City for graduate school, to pursue an MFA in writing. My first year was an exhilarating blur of freedom and power. Each morning when I stepped out of my apartment, I felt like I owned the world. I felt beautiful and talented and young. I knew famous people, I was creatively inspired, I was meeting regularly with editors and publishers who were interested in my writing. My only responsibilities were to read, study with some of my literary heroes, write, and teach part-time. But by the end of my third year in the city, an anxiety disorder that had plagued me since the beginning of my life, and would flare up and calm down on a strange circadian rhythm of misery, had gotten so bad it reduced me to a quivering non-functioning bundle of raw nerves. I barely squeaked by in my last semester of my program, writing, reading, and teaching between emergency room visits, therapy appointments, panic attacks, and crippling phobias.

There were so many low points during my last year in New York, but a few stand out in sharp relief. I remember the terror of leaving my bed, and how humiliated and desperate I felt calling a friend in the middle of the night to ask her if she would come over to bring me a glass of water from my kitchen. I remember being too afraid to leave my bed for therapy, and calling my therapist on the phone sobbing as she tried to coax me out the door to the subway to meet her. I remember how difficult it was to communicate through the oxygen mask strapped over my mouth as the EMTs alongside my bed in an ambulance asked me questions — I’d just collapsed in a shaking heap at the gym from a particularly fast-acting and surprising episode of panic. I remember arriving at the emergency room, unable to talk because my jaw was clenched shut from adrenaline. I remember the drawer in my desk where blue hospital wrist bands accumulated in piles; I saved them like a soldier might save shells from the bullets that nearly killed her.

During this time, I was writing prolifically, and I feared that taking medication to ease my anxiety and panic might destroy my urge or ability to create. I had heard of many artists who had gone mad or suffered from horrible depression, and took the popular prescription of the day, never to write or create again. Their troubling symptoms had been muted, but so had everything else, their thoughts, perceptions, libidos, and ability to access deep feelings. They reported feeling emotionally void, deadened, seeing life as if through a veil. I also heard of artists who went mad and died, victims of suicide, drug overdose, or fatal manic episodes, and that scared me even more. David Foster Wallace, a writer I admired and sympathized with for his closeness to the raw fire of his own internal demons, committed suicide during my second year of graduate school, when my emotional world was crumbling, and it shook me to my core.

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Peggy Bechko: The Writer’s Influence


by Peggy Bechko

There are many many quotes about writers, writing and the imaginary world writers create. Quotes about how reading and writing affect us, what reading means to us, the joy of fascinating communication.

One of my favorites is by Oscar Wild –

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”? Oscar Wilde

Think about that for a while.

Oh, Oscar you only published one novel (remember The Picture Of Dorian Gray 1891) but were nonetheless a proficient and versatile writer. You also had a very acerbic tongue at times (what am I saying, at times?). Oscar was more into plays. He wrote and produced nine of them in the Victorian era which must have had its challenges. So I’d venture to guess he might have taken up pen to write for TV or film in this era. He probably would have had some very pointed remarks on the subject as well.

But I digress. We were talking about the quote above. Have you thought about it? Most of the folks reading this are writers in one stage or another of their career, or their hoped for career. Thus, we’re also mostly readers (we darn well better be). Oscar wasn’t acquainted with the mass entertainment venues we have in this era so he couldn’t have extrapolated that quote into film, TV, the web, whatever.

But seriously, think about it. Doesn’t it apply to what we watch as well? (and thus to writers of the scripts of our lives?)

What you watch when you don’t have to (i.e. you aren’t watching to learn something or broaden your horizons, you’re watching only for entertainment) determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Plainly what you watch or partake in is not the ONLY thing influencing your life, but I think it is plain that it does have an influence.

Example? Well, laughter for one. It’s now established that laughter is good medicine. Therefore, doesn’t it stand to reason that what you watch, should it make you laugh, might actually be good for you? Doesn’t it stand to reason that that is an influence on you? That you take something away from it that you might pass on to others? Or, if you choose to watch a heavy drama, doesn’t it seem that it will influence you for good or ill? Or a video game – again, won’t it raise your better (or perhaps not so much) instincts?

This is a debate I know is taking place in the entertainment industry all the time. What influence the various streams of entertainment, from books, to film, to tablets and their contents have on the user. It far and away is not the only influence on any reader, or watcher, but it is an influence.

And, it’s not new. Oscar wrote and produced plays. So did Shakespeare. Gilgamesh was ‘written’ by somebody. We’ve just watched the Oscars and based on that alone who can say film and entertainment doesn’t influence our lives?

So I circle back to Oscar’s quote at the beginning of this short article and I say thanks Oscar, thanks for the food for thought.

How Does A Web Series Jump to TV?

Here ya go, peer producers and other entrepreneurial creative sorts – the answer you/we/everybody wants to know:

broad-cityby Aymar Jean Christian

Five years ago, making a web series to get on traditional television was a fool’s game. The few web series producers to secure development deals with networks — from “We Need Girlfriends,” “Quarterlife,” “Private High School” and “The College Humor Show” — either never made it to air or didn’t last long when they did.

But today many more web series have been optioned for TV and made it onto television. Some have even been successful, making it to a second season — like Comedy Central series “Broad City,” which was renewed last night. More series could be coming soon. In the past year hardworking producers like Issa Rae, Ray William Johnson, Benny and Rafi Fine, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenefeld and have all signed development deals.

Now that web production is an established route on the long, hard path to a television series, it’s worth asking: how do web productions get developed?

There are many paths to network television, and they all involve some combination of knowing the right people, achieving popularity online or finding a match with a network in need of buzz.

The Celebrity Shepherd

Comedy Central’s freshman series “Broad City” has been enough of a hit to earn a second season — the sitcom is bright and refreshing, particularly in light of that network’s macho brand. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are a true indie story: the Upright Citizens Brigade members started producing the series on a shoestring budget as a way to demonstrate their comedy chops in the competitive New York market.

The pair made two seasons, starting in 2010, and the online series made its way to Amy Poehler’s browser, who likely saw the two smart girls as a younger Amy and Tina best-friendship. Poehler, who appeared as a guest star on the web incarnation, decided to executive produce a television version of the series and helped Glazer and Jacobson find a network home.

For creators making writerly series, from character-driven comedies to arthouse experiments in short-format storytelling, one route to TV is catching the eye of a celebrity executive producer. The benefit of this approach is that powerful executive producers can get creators multiple meetings with networks and help protect the voice of the show. As in the case of Don Roos and Lisa Kudrow’s “Web Therapy,” which is still airing new episodes on Showtime, it helps if your creator and star is already a television icon. Issa Rae has had two such partnerships, one with Shonda Rhimes and more recently with Larry Willmore for an HBO series that has critics excited. Black & Sexy TV’s “The Couple” secured its HBO development deal with director Spike Lee. Expect to see more of this in the future.

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