I Want My Own TV Show! 
By Jeff Carroll
Like everybody in Comedy, having your own Television Show is a goal. So as the reporter/Entrepreneur that I am, I took on this challenge. I developed a concept (actually I’ve have so many I took one from my archive) and went to where TV show ideas go to get their big breaks. The National Association of Television Programmers and Executives (NATPE) is the alliance of media content professionals and they have an annual Convention & Exhibition as one of their main activities. Their 2003 Conference was held in New Orleans and it gave all areas and levels of TV, Cable and Satellite the opportunity to interact and advance their programming. There were networks looking to buy programs and foreign companies looking to licences American programs and sell their hit programs. Just as the “Just for Laughs” festival in Montreal and “NACA” National College buyers conference allow sellers and buyers to network with each other so does NATPE. 

Well, NATPE covers a lot of areas of the industry and one of the areas that they do an excellent job in is with providing new ideas the opportunity to showcase. I have not been to a national convention where new people are given such an opportunity. All of the other conventions have a selection process. NATPE have special workshops dedicated to helping people with new show ideas, learn how to present them to TV producers. These workshops are capped off with a convention wide program entitle the “Pitch Me” competition. It’s like an American Ideal for TV show ideas. 

Since, I wanted to sell my idea to a network I attended all of the workshops in this track. The one that I though was most beneficial was the “How to Pitch your Pitch” workshop. This workshop was conducted by Jonathan Koch, President of Foglight Entertainment. Jonathan is the pitch king and he was very informative. It is almost equally important to be able to pitch your idea as it is to have a good idea. 

In order to pitch a show well there were a few tips and hints that Jonathan gave in the workshop. Jonathan said first you have to understand that people with new show ideas are presumed to not have a good idea. That is one factor that you have to overcome in your pitch. So the first thing is to make sure your idea is good. To do that you have to study the shows that are on TV. Network executives know TV and if you are going suggest a show to them then you need to know how it fits in. You need to understand the characteristics of the Network that you are going to pitch your show to. Keep your pitch simple and brief. Try to make it as quick as you can. He said that the “it’s this meet that” one liner pitches still work. Although some ideas need to stand alone and can’t be pitched that way, there is nothing really “new”. For ideas that are very similar to a popular program already on TV that you need to highlight the twists you’ve made to it. 

For people that feel that pitching may seem easy or that this information is obvious Jonathan said that most of the pitches he has seen fail are for lacking some of the points that he mentions. He said that most people sometimes forget to highlight the basics of the shows elements, the amount of commercial breaks and the demographics. 

The last phase is trying to get the pitch meeting. After you have a good idea and you have a quality pitch you have to have somebody to pitch it to. As you know this can be just as hard as thinking of a good idea. He said there is no sure fire way of achieving this. He suggested that you should not take rejection personally. He said that it took him a long time to sell his first idea and just as long with the second. You should not let rejection stop you but, you should adjust to it. 

As far as risking your idea getting stolen. To protect yourself against that from happening you should register you idea with the writer’s guild. However, the best way is to protect your idea is to put your elements in the idea. It’s very hard to determine a stolen idea because Networks have think tanks and they hear everything. I guess this is the area that gives comics the advantage. Most of the main elements of a show that a comic pitches is built around the point of view that a comic has. Two good examples are Home Improvement, which was Tim Allen’s stage show and The Cosby Show which was Bill Cosby’s stage show. 

All of this was preparation for the grand finally. The “Pitch Me” is a program where there is a combination of preselected people mixed with randomly selected audience members. Each person selected is given a chance to pitch there to Network executives as well as everyone registered. This is a big opportunity for everyone. I learned from just seeing the people pitch and I learned from hearing their the feed back. This is a better opportunity than what you get in Aspen or at Laffapolooza or up in Montreal. The winners had two shows ideas that I think will make it to airwaves. This year there was tie between a show on the History of Daredevils with a reality show with people who want to be daredevils and a Bounty Hunter show. 

The audience at NATPE was very diverse. I know how we think there’s a lot of discrimination out there that is preventing good Black programming from making on TV. However, this was an entry level forum and the executives were biting anything that made good economic TV since. Understanding that we as African Americans make up only 13% of the US population (according to US Census), I feel that we are well represented on TV numerically if you look at the census percentages. At NATPE I saw a mostly white audience of eager, frustrated people who seemed to put there whole lives into there show ideas. I have learned that the TV game is very competitive and if “You want your own TV show”g then you have to keep studying the industry and keep trying. Finally, Mr. Jonathan Koch suggested the Book “The Hollywood Creative Directory” which lists anybody trying to sell a TV show needs to know. I wish everyone reading this good luck and the patience to keep trying.