I've found some very helpful links for you on how to pitch a TV show.
But first, let's consider expense: You don't have to worry about
coming up with funds to cover production costs. The production company
and/ or network will assume those expenses. It's similar to, say, if
you sold a manuscript to a publishing house, the publisher wouldn't
expect you to pay for the actual costs of printing and marketing the
book. (Unless of course you self-published the book, but I'm not aware
of any vanity or do-it-yourself TV networks!)
The only option that would involve any expense on your part would be
hiring a writer to write the treatment (summary/ proposal of 3-5
pages; really, a written pitch). If you feel you will need a pro to do
that, there are many resources available to you:
According to the Writers Guild of America (WGA), East (scroll down to
as of May 2001, the minimum union fee for a TV treatment appears to be
about $1,400 - $3,600. I'm going by what they're categorizing as
"Polish" (as opposed to writing a full teleplay), because I don't see
separate fee rates for just treatments.
Please note that these are the minimum rates production companies and
studios must pay union writers. You can probably hire someone for less
money, but you may have to settle for a young writer who's in college,
or just out of college, and hoping to start a career as a
screenwriter. You may also attract experienced copy or features
writers who want to try their hand at film and TV, and who are willing
to work for less than scale to get a treatment credit on their resume.
You can advertise (for what I believe are fairly reasonable rates) for
a professional writer at quite a few sites, including:
http://www.nwu.org (the National Writers Union)
Many writers are scrambling for work these days, so you'll get a good
response. You may have to choose between spending a bit more than you
wanted to, or settling for a less experienced treatment writer. My
advice is, hire the writer who is most experienced and whose
background seems most in sync with your proposed project.
I'm a professional writer, so I'll admit to a bias: Unless you have
considerable writing experience, I think you're going to be better off
having a professional writer write the treatment, or at least finesse
your draft of the treatment. (No, I'm not auditioning for the job! The
only TV writing I've ever done was narration and I don't have any
experience in entertainment television, other than watching it.)
Whether or not you decide to hire a writer, I strongly advise that you
not approach any production company or network until you have an agent
representing you. (They probably won't consider an "un-represented"
proposal anyway.) An agent will also advise you on how to fine-tune
your treatment to increase its chances for success, and may even
recommend a writer who's perfectly suited to your project.
BE AWARE: reputable agents don't charge upfront fees, sometimes called
"reading fees"! If an agent charges any such fee, turn and run! Many
agents do pass along long-distance faxing and telephone, and copying
expenses to writers they represent; that's standard practice.
Most agents take 15% of the money they get for you as their fee. (And,
as those personal injury lawyers love to say: they don't make money
unless you make money! A reputable agent will never charge you for
their time; only for results.) Good agents also negotiate fair
contracts for their writers and are on the lookout for contractual
clauses could hurt and haunt you.
So, the only expense you risk in approaching agents would be mailing
fees. You solicit agents with what's called a query letter, which is
really a pitch for a pitch. You want to send a letter that, in 2-3
paragraphs, sums up your idea for a TV show, which you hope to pitch
to a network. Then close the letter by offering to send the agent the
treatment. Enclose a SASE for the agent's response.
What you'll have to decide is, is your pitch good enough for an agent,
or is it worth spending about $1,000 - $1,500 (or, a little less or
maybe a little more) to have a professional polish the treatment for
you? For a little extra money, that writer may also agree to write a
template query letter for the project. Only you can evaluate the true
strengths and weaknesses of your writing abilities. Even though
queries and treatments are short, if they're not concise and "grabby,"
they're bound to result in a form rejection letter.
If you decide you can write the query yourself, check these samples of
query letters to agents and how-to advice:
"Writing The Query Letter":
The WGA's "The Quest for A Winning Query Letter" (this article is
geared to film and TV projects, and to screenwriters, but the
parameters apply to your needs):
Another word of advice on queries: don't "oversell" it. If you state
"sure to be the next big hit" it will likely be a turn-off. Agents
want clients who are who are innovative, talented, hard-working,
even-tempered -- and very realistic.
For agents who handle scripts and TV projects, go to your local
library and consult the newest edition of Writer's Market Guide. You
can also peruse their Web site at:
You can search the WGA's database of agents at:
http://www.wga.org (at left see menu of links and click on "List of
As for approaching a network directly, without an agent: as
cryptica-ga mentioned, most networks and production companies won't
even read your proposal, just as most book publishers won't look at
any manuscript or proposal unless an agent submits it. Some of the
links I'm about to list for you may challenge my stance on that, but I
firmly believe that any writer (or "idea person") without an agent is
utterly exposed to the wolves. A good agent is worth far more than the
15% he or she will charge.
But if you can't get an agent and you want to forge ahead, find
contacts at the Hollywood Creative Directory:
If you then obtain a meeting with a development director at a network
or production company, and your idea sells, immediately hire an agent
(an agent who turned you down before will now gladly get onboard), or
an entertainment lawyer, before you sign the contract. Don't use just
any lawyer; you need an attorney who specializes in
Ok, here's that promised list of sites offering advice on how/ where
to pitch your idea for a TV show:
"So You Wanna Pitch A TV Show?"
Pilot Project (contest in which you pitch your idea to judges):
See more about Pilot Project in this June 2003 Seattle Times article
"The Sundance Channel's TV Lab":
(Of course, Sundance is so prestigious, I wouldn't worry about
participating in this event without an agent.)
NAPTE runs boot camps where you can develop TV show concepts, and then
pitch them to actual TV executives. The fee for non-members is $460:
See the June 25 press release detailing the event, which is held every
August. Unfortunately, you missed this summer's camp, but you can
e-mail to see when boot camp will be held again.
Some advice from a former movie executive about breaking into TV:
This June 2003 article from The Business Journal of Phoenix, aimed at
entrepreneurs developing a business plan, will give you some insight
re: what TV executives are looking for in a pitch:
Read this writer's account of a pitch session gone wrong, at:
Here's a discussion group composed of experienced TV writers and those
hoping to break into TV:
This board would be a good place for you to ask what the standard fee
is for writing a treatment.
As far as assessing risk: show business is, by its nature, a high-risk
game. Any business that involves such steep sums of money is basically
a minefield (not to mention, a crap shoot). I can tell you that, over
the years, I've continually heard and read that most literary agents
and publishers reject 90-99% of the proposals they receive for
non-fiction books and novels. From what I learned researching your
question, I'd say that ratio correlates to TV and, I'm sure, film.
That doesn't mean your project is likely doomed, but you may have to
wade through a lot of rejection slips until you find the agent or
executive who believes in your project. If your idea is a good one,
and if you're focused and tenacious, then there's always a chance
you'll ultimately be successful.
Good luck! (Or should I say, "Break a leg"?!)
"how pitch idea TV show"
"writing TV treatments"
"query letter agent"