One of the most frequently asked questions here at TVWriter™ is, “What’s up with bibles?” As in, “I keep hearing that to get anybody interested in my TV series idea I have to write down what it’s all about? Is that for real…cuz whoa, it sounds hard.”
Well, it is hard. Hard enough so that the process takes up a big chunk of LB’s sorta, kinda well-known book Television Writing from the Inside Out, which if you haven’t yet read or bought you really should so check that out HERE.
But if you aren’t sure you want to pop for five bucks – and in these strange times who can blame any of us for not being sure about anything? – here’s an excellent – and short – intro to the whole process we came across recently. So:
How to Create the Perfect Show Bible
by Valerie Kalfrin
If you want to pitch a TV series, consider the metaphor of a road trip. You don’t just pack a bag or talk about what you’d like to see and do at your destination. You also want to know who’s coming with you, whose vehicle you’ll use, and your general route and possible stops along the way.
Likewise, a pitch for a TV series involves more than just writing the pilot. You need to write a guide to go with it – in industry circles, this is called the show bible or series bible. Calling it a bible doesn’t mean it’s a weighty tome. (Consider it an atlas if that’s less intimidating.) But it is important. Just as your road-trip plans offer a taste of your journey – are we talking National Lampoon’s Vacation or Nebraska? – the show bible offers you another opportunity to highlight your skills as a writer or showrunner, plus it indicates to executives that you have an idea with enough storytelling potential to last five seasons.
“[P]roducers are never really asking for a bunch of boring information about your TV series. What they’re really asking is proof that you know what you’re doing, and that your series pilot not only has a fabulous premise and collection of castable characters we’d want to spend our time binge-watching, but also has the kind of engine required to run for at least five years,” said Jacob Krueger, the screenwriter (The Matthew Shepard Story), playwright, producer, and director who teaches screenwriting through the Jacob Krueger Studio in New York City.
The engine is what powers your concept, kind of like the vehicle for that road trip. A story engine might be tough to visualize solely by reading a pilot, but a show bible done well makes it easy for a writer to reassure someone with the power to buy the project that there’s enough material here to go the distance – and to earn money the longer it’s on the air.
“In order to make a compelling case for your show, you have to have a clear understanding of where it is going to go, which means not only having clarity about the pilot, its themes and the story engine contained within, but also about the season and the series arc that the pilot episode will drive us into,” says screenwriting career coach and consultant Lee Jessup…