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More TV Pitching Tips

About ten yeas ago, I worked with a really smart man named Erik Nelson.  Erik owns a company called Creative Differences (love the name!), which is a very productive reality/documentary television company.   While I was working with him, I happened to be producing a “Pitching and Development” seminar, and, since Erik has sold literally hundreds of shows, I asked him to be part of the panel.  He obliged, and also offered up his bullet points for effective TV pitching.  I’m including it here, and hoping that Erik is not upset by my posting it!

Keep in mind that Erik pitches reality and documentary shows, so this may be a bit specialized for those arenas, but really, his tips are good, all around advice.

ERIK NELSON’S SIX STEP PITCHING PROGRAM

1. GATHER INTELLIGENCE

2. PLAN OPERATION

3. RECRUIT ALLIES

4. STORM THE BEACHHEAD

5. IMPROVISE NEW BATTLE PLAN

6. TAKE NO PRISONERS

All I need to know about pitching I learned from Field Marshall Erwin Rommel —  selling a show is like planning the D-Day Invasion — and if you saw the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”, you know what can go wrong…  Your buyer is your target.  (The enemy may come after show is ordered!)

SIX CRITICAL STEPS!

1. GATHER INTELLIGENCE

  • WHAT DOES BUYER WANT — NOT WANT.
  • WHAT DOES BUYER LIKE — NOT LIKE.
  • WHAT HAS BUYER DONE IN PREVIOUS LIFE?
  • DISCERN TARGET — WHICH IS UNBELIEVABLY NARROW.
  • TAKE AIM — VECTOR IN ON TARGET — WHAT HOLES EXIST IN SCHEDULE — (THIS IS WHERE AGENT COMES IN).
  • ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL — YOUR IDEA NEEDS TO FIT BUYER’S SPECIFIC NEEDS, NOT OTHER WAY AROUND.
  • GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS — WHERE ARE THE LEADS?

2.   PLAN OPERATION

  • CREATE SHOW WITH INTELLIGENCE IN MIND — MAKE SURE IT IS PITCHED IN TERMS OF WHAT IS CURRENTLY WORKING.
  • CUT PROMO? MOCK AS? PROPS?
  • WRITE TREATMENT.
  • REHEARSE AND PRACTICE PITCH (AND BACK UP PITCHES).
  • YOU EXIST TO SERVE THEM, THEY DON’T SERVE YOU.
  • THERE ARE A MILLION IDEAS OUT THERE, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOURS.
  • SAYING “NO” IS EASIER THAN SAYING “YES”.

3. RECRUIT ALLIES

  • ANY PRODUCER/DIRECTORS THAT NETWORK LIKES?
  • ANY OTHER CREATIVE BAGGAGE THAT CAN BE ATTACHED?
  • ANYONE INSIDE NETWORK/STUDIO THAT LIKES YOU?
  • IS THIS SHOW LIKE OTHER HITS? IF NOT, MAKE IT LIKE OTHER HITS.
  • BUYER NEEDS TO DEFEND BUYING SHOW.

4. STORM THE BEACHHEAD

  • SHOW UP ON TIME, AND IF YOU’RE LATE, MAKE UP FUNNY EXCUSE WHY.
  • CHAT UP ASSISTANT, THEY RULE AND CAN BURY YOU.
  • ONCE INSIDE, “READ” OFFICE AND BUYER — “SWEET SMELL” STORY.
  • MAKE SMALL TALK (SEE ABOVE).
  • ASK THEM WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR — ADJUST YOUR PITCH ACCORDINGLY.
  • ESTABLISH A CONNECTION AND DRIVE POINT HOME (REALITY DISTORTION FIELD).

[reality-distortion field n. An expression used to describe the persuasive ability of managers like Steve Jobs (the term originated at Apple in the 1980s to describe his peculiar charisma).  Those close to these managers become passionately committed to possibly insane projects, without regard to the practicality of their implementation or competitive forces in the marketplace.]

  • BUYER HAS TO SELL TO THEIR BOSSES, MAKE THEIR JOB EASY, THEY WILL LOVE YOU.
  • PRETEND YOU ARE TALKING TO A FOUR YEAR OLD (NO OFFENSE, GUYS).  SHINY THINGS, SIMPLE THINGS, PAINT BY NUMBERS.  ’CAUSE REMEMBER, THEY HAVE TO SELL TO THEIR BOSSES, AND THINGS CAN GET LOST IN THE TRANSLASTION…
  • BRING PROPS (SHOW CARDS).
  • SIMPLE IS GOOD, BIG IS GOOD, DUMB IS BETTER, IPSO FACTO: SIMPLE BIG DUMB IDEAS RULE.

5.   THROW OUT THE PLAN AND IMPROVISE — REST ASSURED, YOU WILL HAVE TO.

  • WHEN THEY SAY NO, THEY MEAN NO, LET IT GO, BE OPEN TO INPUT, INVEST BUYER IN IDEA, MAKE IT SEEM THEIRS…
  • MOVE IN TO OTHER IDEAS (SACRIFICE PITCH).
  • TRY NOT TO EVER PITCH MORE THAN THREE.
  • DON’T OVERSELL.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN — TO WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, AND WHAT THEY ARE TRYING TO SAY.

6.   TAKE NO PRISONERS

  • FOLLOW-UP, FOLLOW-UP, FOLLOW-UP.

Well, there you have it.  I thank Erik in advance for not suing me, and hope this helps you in your quest to sell a TV series!

Posted in Career Advice, Hollywood.

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One Response

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  1. Young American Wisdom says

    I’ve been told, that as a newbie, I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting an opportunity to pitch my script, unless I have a published book in my back pocket. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.



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