If you are interested in pitching a TV show to a studio, it likely means you already have an idea in mind, and that’s fantastic! Keep in mind that producers and show developers have heard thousands of pitches and, sadly, only a few of them make it to production, but there are a few things you can do to help yourself when presenting your ideas to a studio.
Some of these tips are geared toward animated series, but many of them are helpful across many genres of television shows. Pitches will often be off to a great start, but they fall flat when the creator is asked questions about certain aspects of the show or how it will continue every week.
In a 90-minute art challenge with Bobby Chiu, Masae Seki, and Bright Ackwerh, Bobby answers a participant’s question about pitching tv shows. Bobby’s success with his Emmy-winning show, “Niko and the Sword of Light”, may have come from an atypical pitch, but it solved the common issue of a pitch getting skewed or condensed through the game of telephone as the pitch moves up the chain of command.
It is best to have realistic expectations and learn from your mistakes. Just because you have one bad pitch doesn’t mean the next one won’t be your big break. Every pitch meeting is an opportunity to succeed and improve your work. Feedback is critical for improvement, and your work can only get better with constructive criticism and learning new animation skills.
More Than an Idea:
It can be tempting to bring your good idea to a producer right away and think that they will help you develop it into something more, but they have a lot on their plate and don’t have time to start from an idea. The idea and concept of a TV show are separate from the actual story. The concepts include a description of the world the characters live in and a list of the characters, but the story is how they interact with the world and the other characters and what happens to the characters over a period of time. Stories that involve excessive background information aren’t an excellent fit for animated tv shows as they tend to be shorter.
Your pitch doesn’t have to include specific dialogue or scenes, but it should give the studio a mental picture of what your show would look like week to week. Most cartoons have a storyline for each episode rather than a season-long story arc.
Make Sure to Pitch an Original Idea for an Animated Show:
It may seem obvious that your tv show has to be an original idea, but there have been countless pitches involving licensed characters from the same studio or even a different studio. Production studios aren’t looking outside their company for ideas based on the shows they already produce. They are looking outside for unique and creative ideas.
Your show does not have to involve a complicated fantasy world, though many animated shows do, as it can be easier to animate the fantasy elements during production than to add them after filming with digital graphics.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to reimagine an existing show with a few elements changed and pass it off as an original idea. Attempting to recreate the success of a previous show, video game, book, or movie, only leads to an abrupt dismissal of your pitch. To make your pitch work, you need originality and unique characters.
What to Avoid When Pitching an Animated Series:
Included in your pitch should be a description of a typical episode and how the episodes will continue throughout the series. This is where many pitches fail as the episodes are often not well thought out, or they fall into a formulaic concept.
A cliche is precisely that because it has been done repeatedly, and the viewers are tired of watching. Be cautious of the monster of the week formula as they can get repetitive quickly. Every episode needs a story, but when it becomes a simple formula to create the next episode, viewers will lose interest quickly.
Every studio has seen some form of magic school or superhero pitch with the same tropes as literature. The main character is just trying to be a regular kid but is stuck with great responsibilities and has to step up to face their destiny. There are ways to make the tropes work in your favor, but it takes more effort, a well-developed concept, and unique characters.
Get to the Point When Pitching Your Animated Show:
A pitch for a tv show isn’t always in-person and can simply be an emailed file with all of the information. No one wants to sift through a 50-page document to get to the point. If you have to submit a file and aren’t able to give your pitch in person, do your best to lay out all of the information as clearly and concisely as possible.
If you’ve ever tried to explain your favorite song or book to someone who’s never heard of it before, you often miss pieces that were important or can’t find the right words to explain the feeling it gave you. A TV show pitch is similar, where on paper, the show may not seem like it works, but with examples and proof, it is shown to be a good idea.
The App Concept:
Bobby Chiu and the other creators of “Niko and the Sword of Light” had a story in mind, and they created an animated comic book app that worked as their pitch. Their story was developed into a presentation with characters, world-building, lessons, and plot development. He didn’t really have to pitch that show and producers came to the creators because they wanted to turn it into a TV show. The app came first, and it was number 1 in 30 countries in its category.
They created the app with the idea that it could potentially be a TV show. There are 22-minutes of animation in the story. TV shows are 22 minutes long. That wasn’t an accident. Because the app was successful, they were approached by producers that wanted to make their story into a tv show. They sold it to Amazon, and the show won an Emmy in its first season.
This method of pitching a tv show is not typical, but it created a way to demonstrate the concepts, animation style, and characters all in one place.
Game of Broken Telephone:
One of the keys that Bobby mentions is that the message of the pitch has to stay the same in the long game of broken telephone. The person you actually pitch to is probably not the person that makes the final decision whether it gets made into a show or not. You have to find a way to have your story stay the same as they pass it up the chain until it meets the top.
If your pitch is missing essential pieces when it gets to the higher-ups, they could pass on your ideas because they aren’t interested, or they could be signing on for a completely different vision than what you intended. Bobby explains this is a common mistake and that the pitch has to be able to withstand the game of broken telephone.
The app provided the perfect pitch because it could be shown to multiple people without changing the message, story, or concept. You don’t have to go as far as creating an app with a complete story and animation, but you can use this idea to create individual images of what the animation style will look like or how it can translate to an animated show.
Be Unique and Pitch Your Animated Show with Confidence:
The overall message of pitching a tv show is that it needs to be an original idea. Be cautious using tropes and cliches as they can be a turn-off right from the start. That doesn’t mean you can’t use any common themes or ideas, but you need to find a way to bring an original story and characters to it.
You will have a ton of ideas, but many of them will be derivative of another show or book, or they won’t have any substance to work with. It is okay to abandon an idea in favor of something else. Part of creating something new is knowing when it is time to move on.
Do your research of who you will be pitching to and cater to the format they prefer. You are pitching more than a TV show when you present in-person to a producer. The way you dress and interact with others reflects on your pitch as well. Do yourself a favor and treat it as an important job interview because it is, and dress for success.
If presenting with a slide show, the graphic design and animation should be exceptional. You are presenting in a visual industry, and if your slides are simple and dull, the producers may lose interest. There are many ways to pitch a TV show, and you have to figure out what works for you and the studio you are presenting to.
As Bobby mentioned, your pitch needs to pass the game of telephone and have the same message from the first person to the last. Good luck!