Can You Sell a Pitch?Complications Ensue
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Q: if you're a new writer, should you even be considering pitching bibles and treatments? It strikes me that you need to have whole specs each time for awhile. Am I wrong on this? Would having a couple of specs as samples be enough to let me send out other shows simply as pitches?
Probably not. There was a run of networks buying shows even from novice writers, but I think most of that was networks buying spec pilots. These days there's a lot less development going on, and even experienced writers are back to writing spec pilots. At least, that's what my agent is telling me to do.

For experienced writers, it depends on the show. Lisa and I have a couple of high-concept pitches out there, where anyone can get what the show is just from the pitch. One of them I'm not speccing because the concept is so particular that we may not find a network where it's a fit, so writing a pilot might be a huge waste of time. The other one we're not speccing because it would require a ridiculous amount of technical research, and it's an execution-independent concept for which, really, any veteran writer could bang out a pilot based on our five minute pitch. (We're also not speccing them because we've optioned these to producers whose job it is to find me the money to write the pilots. But that doesn't really change the calculation.)

We're speccing everything that's at all execution dependent, particularly comedies, where you need to see the characters in action and hear their voices to know if it's going to work or not.

Even if your agent is willing to send out pitches, I wouldn't do it. Unless you're a TV genius, your pitch is not as good as you think it is. You'll discover how to make it better once you write the pilot. You'll discover elements that don't work. You may have to chuck out a core character or two. You may discover a brilliant new core character. You may change a character's personality when you realize it's not working on the screen. Why send out something that isn't as good as you can make it?

Write the pilot. It's easier to get someone to read a spec pilot than a pitch. A good spec pilot will get you further than a pitch. A pitch never comes alive. It's just a description of a show. A spec pilot is the show, and everyone wants to read a good one.

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