Reality Shows - The Pitch Meeting
Mark Cronin (Founder & Producer) gives expert video advice on: How can I get a pitch meeting with a network?; How should I pitch if the person I'm meeting is a lower-level executive?; How can I tell who the power player is in a pitch meeting? and more...
What are the various levels of network executives?
When you're pitching a television show you may be pitching to someone so powerful that they have the ability to actually greenlight a series, which is basically the ability to sign checks for millions of dollars. Usually a television series costs anywhere from one to ten million dollars, in the case of some network shows, so it's a lot of money. It has to be a very powerful person at the network to have that kind of power. Often, you'll be pitching to someone a step down from that, who has the power to pilot, which is usually the power to sign checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In that case, you're pitching to at least somebody, though, who can spend some money. There's another level down which is when you're pitching to someone who has absolutely no ability to spend money but they do have the ability to hear a pitch like it and then go to their bosses and say, "I just heard a pitch I liked, I think we should look into it," and get you further down the road.
Is it worthwhile to pitch a reality show to a lower-level executive?
Pitching to a lower level executive, or somebody who isn't a green light person, is often just a reality of pitching as a new person in the reality show business. It does not mean that you should not do it. If you can't get a meeting with the green light person, take the meeting with the lower level person because it's better to pitch, and pitch in a timely fashion, than wait to hope that maybe the president will see you in a year. It just doesn't make sense and often the green light person won't even take a pitch meeting.
Can I insist on meeting with a high-level executive when pitching a reality show?
Of course you want to pitch your reality show to the highest level person you possibly can at the network, but depending on your level you may not get that big meeting. Top producers with long track records who have had many successful series can often push and get themselves in the room with very high level executives. Junior producers who don't have as big of a track record, who are not that well known, who maybe aren't walking in the door with a big talent sitting next to them - some kind of A-list celebrity or something - probably won't get that big meeting and may only get somebody who can't even spend money. But it doesn't matter. I recommend that you pitch your reality show, get a meeting at a network and pitch to the highest level person you can, but don't try and lever yourself into higher meetings. Another thing that happens sometimes is that people think that they want to sit in front of the person who can greenlight the show, and they don't want to take lower level meetings. What that can actually do is anger the people who you are telling, "I don't want the meeting with you, I want the meeting with your boss." You can get to a place where the people that you're angering can torpedo you even if you eventually get that meeting with the boss. They're the ones in the room after you walk out and if they say, "I don't like that guy," then they can torpedo your whole project. It's better just to be friendly and take the meeting with who you can. If you can do it in a nice way and say, "I'd like to get as many people in the room as possible" or "I'd like to get this as high level meeting as I can," it's not that insulting a thing to say, but to push repeatedly for it can be insulting.
Do I need to have tape to show when pitching a reality show?
Many production companies pitch reality shows completely verbally. Many production companies pitch with a tape or a demo or a presentation of some sort that they produce. I tend to lean towards verbal pitching, because I believe that the executives imagine what they like. As you're describing a show to them, they're imagining good-looking people to them, they're imagining their favorite colors, they're imagining their favorite location and they get in their own head a vision of what the reality show is; and then they feel like they own it more, they understand it more, and they like it more. If you commit to demonstrating your vision for the reality show - and often it's not even really your vision for the show, because it was done so low-budget and you didn't have the cameras you wanted, and you don't have the right cast - you're probably hurting yourself. You're probably showing them something less than what it could be, frozen in a way that they don't necessarily like: it's not their favorite color, it's not their favorite location, it's not their favorite-looking person - you could actually hurt yourself. There are times - and I've done it, too - where a presentation tape really helps when pitching a reality show to a network. If you're trying to convince them that a talent that you're working with is somebody really great, often somebody sitting in a meeting, at a pitch, is not the same as they are going to be on television. If you're trying to, for example, pitch a comedian, often in meetings they are not funny. In a sense it's a professional pride that they don't turn on the jokes just because it's a meeting. So often it helps a comedian, if you're pitching with a comedian, to have a tape of either their stand-up act, or them doing the funny thing that you're pitching that this comedian can do. Sometimes that helps make it so that if you are pitching a person who's being professional in the room, you can show them being silly on television and so everybody in the room can understand what you're pitching.