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Jack’s TV Writing Notes! — By Jack

If you remember a while back I did a post on TV writing. That was from my first class which basically focused on how to write a TV spec script. Essentially you write an episode of an existing TV show.  Now I’ve picked back up with TV writing II: Electric Boogaloo…I mean writing a pilot.

I could explain to you what a pilot is, but I think I’ll turn that over to my friend Jules…

Thanks Jules. Now in case you don’t like Pulp Fiction or that video has been taken down or SOPA/PIPA/ACTA got passed and I’m in jail, I will explain what a pilot is after all.  When developing an original idea for a TV series you sell the first episode of a show to a production company and/or (not sure if it’s either or both) a network. Let me clarify, you don’t sell quite yet. You option your pilot script.

When you option the show you get a certain amount of money and the production company has a window of time to make the show. Then if they film the pilot episode you get more money. If the pilot episode is successful and a network makes a second episode that’s when the real money comes in!

So how do I sell my show? I need my elevator pitch! An elevator pitch is a short 30 second – 1 minute pitch I could rattle off if I were in an elevator with an executive or whoever could get my show made. Not that any of us will be so lucky. But when pitching the show I need to distill what’s important about my show and what’s most attractive to get someone’s attention.

What do my targets need to hear?

  1. Distill the essence of my show.
    -Depending on which network I pitch to, my script will have to subtlety change.  A pitch to MTV better be a bit different than a pitch to HBO.  No matter who gets the show, changes will be insisted upon. What in my idea  must I hold on to that makes it different from every other show? If I can be as specific as possible on this, I can hold my ground on what I need and change everything else that’s not so important.
  2. What THEY need to see.
    -The production company (people physically making the show) needs to see that the show can last 100 episodes. Around that time a TV show goes into something called syndication. I.e. it goes to TBS or channel 32 and it shown at 6:00 pm then again at 11:30 pm. When that happens everyone who makes the show really gets money. Every time the show airs, you get money, but when it goes from once a week to 5-10 times a week, that’s 5x -10X more money a week. When a show’s on network, it will only airs as long as it’s being made. In syndication it could run for decades.
    -The network  (the people airing the show) needs to see it appealing to a massive audience and possibly attracting celebrities. They don’t care so much about it going into syndication, they want it to have as many people watching it at one time for the sake of ad revenue.
  3. The type of pitch. Depending on the type of show, my pitch needs to be different.
    a) Title Show pitch. (Seinfeld, Cosby, Louis C.K.) For these shows I’m pitching the character.
    b) Circumstance pitch. (Northern Exposure, Raising Hope) Guy X is taken from big city and moves to small town.
    c) Concept pitch. (LOST, Battlestar Galactica) Most appropriate for sci-fi, you have to sell a concept about the world of the show.
    d) Theme (Modern Family, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives) You guessed it, you’re selling a thematic idea for the show and how your characters revolve around that theme.

So that’s pitching and I have to develop my idea enough to have a sound elevator pitch for class next Monday. Come back next week for another exciting installment of Jack’s TV Writing Notes!

-Jack Out

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in By Jack, Writing

 

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The TV facts of life — By JACK

I’ve started a TV writing class.  It’s been too long since I’ve been in a class room setting. It’s nice. I’ve missed it. People ask me why I want to write TV opposed to theatre or film or even novels. Then they ask me why I’m going after something that’s so hard to get into. As if maybe I should set my sights lower. Fuck it. I’m already in my late 20’s. I’ve only ever seen myself doing something in entertainment. I’m not going to change now. I can’t imagine myself in a 9-5 working for someone else’s benefit. If I’m going to devote 40 plus hours a week of my life to something, it’s going be creating some thing unique from me and meaningful.

The first thing the teacher said: “In TV writing you are not creating anything unique. You’re following a formula pieced to together from vaudville, film, and radio. It’s been perfected. You write in that formula or your fired.”  Well fuck. I still want to do it.

Here are the TV facts of life.
1. Less writing a script as you are executing a brand.
As a TV writer it is your job to safeguard the characters. A brand has been establish and it’s essential you protect it. Characters don’t change. They return to saneness. The audience identifies with something in the character. If we change that, we change the reason people watch the show

2. There are no pre-planned story arcs.
Each week you as a writer are given notes. From the top. YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE. The notes come from 3 sources which decide the direction of the show. Always.

Committee of Experts (bigwigs)
Primary Advertisers
Focus Groups

3. All news for about the inner works of a TV show is fake.
      A TV show’s news if a fiction that the network want to keep going.  Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t improved, it has 14 writers.  When it comes to interviews every writer/actor/etc, is given talking points. If you deviate from that, you’re fired. The network spends a lot of money on the show and they’re not going to let anything get out that they don’t want.  Even the Charlie Sheen scandal was spun. You didn’t hear about the armed guards keeping him out of the studio.
Am I selling my soul? Probably. But I’ve spent a lot of time doing art and not getting paid for it. I still love shows like West Wing, LOST, Twin PeaksBreaking Bad, and 30 Rock. If I get to be apart of anything like that, I’ll consider myself incredibly lucky. Even if it means I have to do crap the rest of the time.

-Jack out.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in By Jack, Writing

 

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