Charlie Jane Anders, our favorite sf-fantasy critic, has turned her discerning mind to illuminating the darkness that makes websites like TVWriter™ and contests like our People’s Pilot Competition possible. That’s right, kids, it’s time to home right in on This Amazingly Cool TV Show Creation Thing That We (Try So Hard To) Do! A big tip of the hat to CJA:
by Charlie Jane Anders
During pilot season, tons of TV shows are ordered and then enthusiastically spruiked in trade magazines. And then, nine months later… most of them will not be on television. What is this mysterious crucible? Here’s our step-by-step guide to the process of pitching a brand new television show.
Right about now, we ought to be in the middle of watching the first season of Hieroglyph, a show about gods in ancient Egypt that was “ordered to series” by Fox. But Fox pulled the plug on Hieroglyph, even after ordering a full season in advance, and we never even got to see it. That’s just one extreme example of a more common phenomenon — to casual observers, it looks like things are getting ordered all the time, then never showing up.
To find out more about the many stages of the TV development process, we talked to some seasoned TV professionals — some of whom are quoted below, and some of whom asked to remain nameless. So here’s a painstaking guide to the various stages of the TV development process, and all the jargon you’re likely to hear. (This is slightly more geared towards US broadcast networks, but the process isn’t hugely dissimilar across the western world .)
1. The Pitch
This begins in June or July for the broadcast networks. In a nutshell, you pitch a studio, and once you have studio backing, then you go to the network. Often, you’ll pitch a producer first, and the producer will have a deal with a particular studio that he or she will bring the project to. On occasion, a producer can go straight to the network, skipping the studio — but networks like to know that a studio is backing a show, because that makes it more likely they will actually get the show they ordered.
This process, from producer to studio to network, can take weeks — or it can go incredibly fast, if you have J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg on board as a producer, or if your show is based on a well-known comic book or beloved property.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of The Middleman and writer for Helix, explains:
It helps if you think of the studio as a bank. What they do, in the broadest and most essential sense, if advance a showrunner/show creator the money and resources to actually make the show in advance of the network paying their fees (networks basically “rent” shows for a premiere showing and a number of repeats. They also get a creative oversight because the fees they pay cover most of the show’s cost. That much said, if the show costs more to make than what the network pays — which is most of the time — then the studio has to deficit finance those costs, so their interest is to make sure the show stays around long enough to be sold into syndication, which is where they bounce back from the deficit.
Read it all at Lifehacker (Australia)