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What is a reality show 'pitch'?

Reality Show Pitching

Mark Cronin (Founder & Producer) gives expert video advice on: What are the chances of selling a reality show on a pitch? and more...

What is a reality show 'pitch'?

A reality show pitch is when you express to a customer your idea, or an idea that you've purchased and are using to make a television show. A pitch is when you are verbally trying to get a customer to see your vision for a show and commit money to either developing it further or outright buying it as a television show.

How does a reality show idea become a pitch?

The process of taking something from just a raw concept for a reality show to something that you can pitch to a customer is, firstly, that it needs to be developed to the point where you can get somebody else excited about the idea who may not get it right away. Especially if you're going to be pitching to multiple networks, it's really important to have a very compelling way of presenting the idea. No matter who is sitting is across from you - whether they are a very funny person or not, or an energetic person or not, or a very imaginative person or not - you need to convince all of them that your show is good, or as many as possible that your idea is good. You need to develop your reality show concept to the point where you can express it very compellingly.

What is reality show 'formatting'?

Sometimes you'll pitch a television show as just an idea for a show, and the question often comes back, "How does that continue as a series? I see how that's a great episode of television, but how does that become episode 2, 3, 4 through 10, and then what does that become season after season after season?" You have to be able to pitch the network the idea that there's a format here that continues, that it doesn't matter who the particular cast is, or it doesn't matter what the particular questions are in my game show, or it doesn't matter what the particulars are of it. The fact that it's just a concept that you can repeat with a new cast, or with new questions, or repeat over and over again, makes it a format. Customers like to buy formats because they see it as something that can go into the future. You only have to launch it once and then it continues into the future. Networks don't like, in general, buying something that just works once and that can never be repeated, because it's a very expensive thing to launch a television show and they'd like to launch a television show and have it keep going.

What makes a great reality show pitch?

I think what makes a great reality show pitch is that it gets a sale of the show. There are a thousand different ways to get there. When I pitched my shows, because they are funny, I feel a pitch goes well if I showed somebody how funny the idea is and I got them laughing. Ultimately, it's only a good pitch if the customers then say that they want that television show. Everybody in this town pitches a different way and uses a different technique for convincing people that it's a great idea, or they are the right ones to produce it, or the timing is right. It just really depends on what the show is and how you pitch it.

How can I pitch a reality show about my job, family or life?

Something I hear all the time is, "Where I work, it's a reality show! You should just put some cameras in here." Or, "At my car wash, we've got some characters in here. They're funny, and we've got this one guy..." I hear that all the time. Although it's true that there are workplace shows, like American Chopper and some others that are true comedic or compelling workplaces - and this is not to say that you may not actually be in one of those places that really could be a reality show - but most workplaces and most people are not funny or compelling enough to be on television. The funniest people you know are probably not funny enough to be on reality television.

Do I have to be an established producer to pitch a reality show?

If you're a person out in America - or in the world - who aspires to be a reality television show producer, and you feel like you have a good idea for a reality show, I must be absolutely honest with you and say that you have an enormous uphill battle. Most people who sell reality shows are professional reality show producers, who actually are living in LA or New York or one of the big cities in the world of producing, like London and Amsterdam. There are places in the world where these things are done, and most of the work is there, and done by people who live there and are doing this full-time. If you are doing something else, and you think that you're going to ring the bell and hit it big because you have an idea on the side, you are competing with an enormous industry of people who do it full time and think about reality shows 24 hours a day. I don't do anything else. Every day, I get up and try to think of a television show idea. Every day, I produce. Every day, I work my connections in town - getting to know people, going to lunch with people, making them trust me, etc. Everything I do is as a professional television show producer. If you are not a professional television show producer, you have an enormous uphill battle. You are not going to get your phone call answered. You are going to have a hell of a time getting your pitch across, and, if it's a good idea, it is extremely likely that somebody is already working on your reality show idea.

Do I need an agent to pitch a reality show?

In order to sell a reality show, you need a network to buy it. You need to get into a network. You need to get in front of somebody who has money to spend on television shows, and that's not a television production company; that is a network or an actual customer who is selling advertising and using that money to buy television shows. In order to get in front of a network, you need some kind of entrée. It could be that you have an agent, so even if the network executive doesn't know you, they know your agent and know your agent represents other producers who are good, so they trust that the meeting won't be a waste of time. They don't have a lot of time to waste, and they really only want to take pitches from people when they have a really high possibility that they're going to like what they hear. They don't even want to like what they hear from somebody they think can't produce it. Networks are usually only going to take a pitch from somebody who has the wherewithal to actually produce it, the actual experience to do it, so that they can be trusted with the millions of dollars that they're asking for; and there's a likely chance that they're going to like the idea because this is an experienced pitcher who has done other television shows or has the potential. The only way to get around that is an agent who says, "Trust me: this guy's good. He's in his early stages" or "This woman's good. She's not that experienced, but you should hear this reality show pitch; it's really good." An agent can get you over that hump. Getting an agent, of course, is its own little problem, but we're not answering that question, right?

If I have a reality show idea, should I partner with a production company?

If you are not a television show producer but you have a great idea for a reality television show, you're probably not going to get in front of a network executive who could buy it without a television production company with you. If you do something else, usually it's something related; you're a writer, you're a magazine editor, etc. For example, if you're a dancer and you have an idea for a dance competition reality show, it's easier to get in front of a production company to pitch your idea. Usually production companies are looking for undiscovered, unknown talent from left field. Networks don't want to take that meeting; they don't want to take a left field, undeveloped pitch from someone who doesn't know what they're doing and couldn't produce it even if the network wanted to produce it. They are looking to a production company to come in with the idea. The step you have to go back to, if you're not a television production company, is find yourself a television production company who will listen to your reality show pitch and love it and help you develop it into something worthy of taking to a network and selling. You're doing a good thing by teaming up with them because they have the experience to get you in the door, back you up and say, "We can get it done on budget." They have the experience to know who to sell it to, who to pitch it to. There are a lot of reasons why you want to team up with an experienced television production company for your idea. If you're out there in the world and have an idea for what you think is a reality show I recommend not calling NBC and MTV and anybody else. Call production companies; call LMNO and Mindless Entertainment and even Mark Burnett if you can get in the door over there, and start at the top and keep moving down to the smaller and smaller companies until you find one who's in the right place for you and start there.

What do networks look for in a reality show?

When a network is being pitched on a reality show, they are looking for a couple of things. With some of the things, it's impossible for you to even know about what they are thinking, because they are looking to fill a particular time slot - when they know the show is going to be over, they want to replace it - or there's a particular new demographic that they need to go after. You can't even imagine what they are looking for, sometimes. The things that they are always looking for include confidence from the producer or the picture - that they know what their show is, that they know who their audience is and that they know how to get the show actually done. They are looking for that basic competence and confidence that it can be done. Of course, networks are also thinking, "Does this have hit written on it in any way?" You may think it does, because you love it. You are pitching something you want to watch and you can imagine that millions of Americans would want to watch the show. Networks have the hard job of really trying to figure that out at because every pitch they hear, the person pitching it thinks it's the next big hit. Their problem is, they have tried this a lot and it usually fails.

What are the chances of selling a reality show on a pitch?

Your chances of selling a reality show on a pitch are depend on whether everything's right: if you're a production company that's got the wherewithal to do it, and a trusted reputation, and the pitch is a decent and the idea is not a complete joke. If you've done you're homework and you get in front of the right person who can buy it, that person can probably only buy 20 ideas in a season. Of those 20 ideas, only a third of them is going to become a pilot. Of that third that's a pilot, of those 7 pilots, only one of those is going to get on television. That's often what you're up against, being one of their 20 purchases. To become one of their 20 purchases, they will probably listen to 200 pitches to probably buy 10 percent of the pitches that they hear.