TV shows

How to Write Ideas for TV Shows

Competition in the TV industry is fierce, with new series coming and going at ever shorter intervals. If you can write and know how to promote your ideas or scripts, you have a great advantage that allows you to get your ideas out into the world and get paid for it.

Develop a concept

Follow the motto:

“What if…?” This is the guiding principle in every single TV series and the idea that keeps all of Hollywood going. It can be something as simple as, “What if a documentary crew filmed a small paper company (“The Office”)?” Or something more complex, like, “What if a chemistry teacher started cooking crystal meth ( “Breaking Bad”)?” This sentence is the basis of your series – what makes it what it is and what will sell it. You don’t have to apply that phrase to every subplot or little idea just yet. First, put the core of your series on paper. For example, for the sitcom Seinfeld, a popular guideline was “What if we did a show about nothing?”

Find out in the current TV program what is currently in trend and where new opportunities could lie.

Visit the appropriate websites to stay up to date, such as to see what’s trending in Hollywood TV. for example, in August 2015, Deadline had an article about the TV stations trying to come up with ideas for hour-long comedy shows. Something like this could be a good indication of what might be selling well right now. Make a note of the names and studios associated with projects similar to yours. These are the names that are most likely to buy your work later on.

Decide on a genre.

Genre describes the nature of your show, such as a sitcom or mystery series. There are many subtle nuances when it comes to genres. If you’re unsure, look online to see what they say about the genres of your favorite shows and use that as a guide. For example: “Arrested Development” is a single-camera sitcom. That means there’s only one camera and no audience in the studio – like on the multi-camera sitcom Cheers, for example. This small but subtle difference makes a big difference when you market your series, because some broadcasters are only looking for certain formats. Genre determines your mood, intonation, and writing style, and it also determines what audiences’ specific expectations are for your show. Choosing a genre doesn’t mean you’re tied to a specific type of story. It just makes it easier to market and sell your idea.

Develop the first characters.

The most important thing in a good TV series are the characters. Because of them, people turn on the television week after week, and they continue the plot of each episode. Try to create 2-5 main characters, as each additional character will be harder to organize. Seven main characters (“Community”, most drama series) is the upper limit. Your figures should be characterized by: Roundness. The characters have many facets, they are not just “bad woman” or “strong hero”. Round characters have strengths and weaknesses, and they have the opportunity to develop. desires and fears. Her ability and inability to overcome her fears (of poverty, loneliness, aliens, spiders, etc.) is what feeds her conflicts in each episode and what guides you to the goals of the series. Story Effectiveness Good characters make decisions that drive the story forward. They make mistakes, try and solve things, go to parties, etc. They do these things because they have a certain character and not because the author wants them to do or not do something.

Learn how to sell a great idea.

The producers are the ones who give the green light to new ideas and they hear a lot about it. The best ideas, or at least the ideas that make it, share a few common traits: Originality: Has it been there before? Does it resemble anything else and, if so, is it different enough to stand on its own? Estimated cost: Hardly any studio will risk millions for the idea of ​​an unknown author or filmmaker. It’s hard to sell big concepts like The Walking Dead when you’re just starting out in television because there’s a lot of financial risk involved. A script/a proof of concept: That means you need a treatment, a script or even a few shot scenes. You can get a foot in the door with your idea, but you should have something to show that you really want to make the show a reality.

Write a treatment

Start with the title.

The grippier, the better. Most TV shows are based on a play on words, and with good word choice, you can be sure that your show will get noticed immediately. Mad Men, for example, is about an advertising agency and the men who work there whose lives spiral out of control. Community is about a state college, but also about a very tight-knit group. The importance of a good title cannot be underestimated.

Write a catchy log line.

The logline is a very short text of one or two sentences describing what the show is about in order to sell your idea to the producers. It is usually about the main plot of the series and/or the main character. If your concept can’t be summed up in a log line, it might not sell well, but that’s rare. It should say something about what people can expect and where in the series is what will later captivate viewers. Back to the Future: A high school student is accidentally sent back in time, where his presence means his parents will never be able to meet and father him. Jaws: A cop fights a killer shark despite being afraid of the sea. Meanwhile, things come to a head when the greedy mayor refuses to admit there’s even a problem at the beach. Ratatouille: A French rat teams up with an extremely bad cook to prove everyone can cook, while envious critics and the health department do whatever it takes to prove they can’t.

Write a 300-500 word synopsis.

This is a short, understandable overview of the series. There are many possible elements to include in the synopsis, but the shorter the better. Try to capture the essence of your show in a compelling, short text that would make you want to watch the show if it were made. Your synopsis should include the location of the action. The main plot of the series. The story arc of each episode (essentially what happens in each episode?

Write a short but detailed overview of the characters.

On another piece of paper, list all the characters and describe who they are in one or two sentences. Keep it short and precise. What makes them what they are, how do they work, and what makes them special? Unless it is important to the plot, never include physical characteristics or casting suggestions here.

Do a synopsis of three to four episodes.

This is a short one to two-paragraph description of some episodes. With this you show how the series will develop, how each episode will be structured and you give people an idea of ​​the budget and the characters in the story. If you’re writing a drama series, you might need 4000-5000 words for each episode, but for a 30-minute episode, you should limit yourself to 2000-3000 words. If you want to make a documentary-style reality show, it can be helpful to provide a small video on the topic so the producers can see where the potential lies in the show. You can also highlight potential plot lines from the characters’ lives.

Put your treatment together.

The finished document should be three to ten pages long, with all parts in the correct order. Include the cover page, which also features the show’s logo, as well as your name and contact information. The correct order is as follows: Title Log Line Synopsis Characters Episode arcs. If you’re writing a reality show for television, make sure it’s a workable format. For shows where people want to achieve something, you should make sure that every aspect of the games to be played is described. It’s important that you describe exactly what people will see while still being short and concise.

Consider writing a screenplay.

Ultimately, the treatment will not be what is shown on TV. Having a script to enclose with the treatment means you can show a prospect the first episode right away. However, many ideas are sold without a script, which is only ordered later. This is especially common if you are already established as a (Hollywood) writer. Read scripts for shows similar to yours to get an idea for writing and plot development. If you are writing a scripted series, such as a drama, learn how to write a screenplay. There are many courses, including online, that can teach you how to write a screenplay. Specialized screenplay writing software can make working on your screenplay a lot easier. Popular are: Movie Magic Screen Writer, Celtx, Writer Duets and Final Draft.

Register your project with a copyright service like the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

This makes your project intellectual property and gives you verifiable proof that you are the creator. You could also register your project for copyright protection online, such as with the Creator’s Vault, although this is often overkilled. Registering your project with the WGA only costs you $20 ($10 on the WGA website if you’re already a member), and it’s considered a standard in the film industry. Registered material will be kept there for five years or until you choose to update it. The terms are subject to change depending on the circumstances.

Promote your series

Upload your material online to a site that offers searchable material for the film industry.

These sites cost money, but in exchange, the station’s producers can find your scripts. Usually, you pay for where you are listed. The scripts that are rated highly appear at the top of the list. Many of these sites are not reputable, so remember to research them online to find reviews, endorsements, and achievements about them. Check out all “Success Stories” on IMDB to find out if they’re legit. The site The Blacklist has the best reputation, which has been reviewed many times and has led to many successes. Accepting unconfirmed submissions without an intermediary puts companies at risk of being charged with theft. Obtaining electronic proof of a company’s viewing is a unique advantage that the Internet offers to today’s evolving television industry.

Make a list of suitable companies that might like your idea and learn more about them online.

Go online and look up phone numbers, email addresses, templates for companies that make shows similar to yours. Try to get in touch with them if you can, talk to them about opportunities to meet in person and discuss your ideas. You don’t have to come across as a supplicant, just be willing to put in a little effort to sell your script. You would never submit a cheap monster movie to NBC, you would send it to SyFy. You wouldn’t send your historical drama to Greg Daniel’s (The Office) company. Consider what each company is producing so you pitch your idea to the right people. Look for production grants in the US. These are paid six to eight-week courses that allow you to pitch your idea to a studio. However, these programs are highly competitive.

Network with as many people in the scene as possible.

Meeting people is still the best way to sell your idea or show. Have coffee with friends, join an improv group, and get jobs on the movie set. Even if someone can’t realize your idea, they might know someone who can help. If possible, work as an assistant on the set or in the film and television office – as long as you can get your foot in the door. While it’s not mandatory, if you want to sell your idea in Hollywood, it’s easiest when you’re in Hollywood. If you’re serious, it’s time to move to L.A. A lot of TV stuff is also produced in New York City.

Know that when you have the opportunity, you need an effective hook to sell your idea.

You have to blow the producers away with your idea when you finally get the chance. Promotion is an art, and it will be more of a sales pitch than just pitching your script. Your goal is quite simply to get people excited about your show and to plant an image of the show in the minds of the producers so they can envision the end product. To do this, talk about: The hook: Go back to the “What if…?” question in your series. Why is it original, touching and worth seeing? The Audience: Who is the show aimed at? How does it fit with the current viewership of the station? The “Trailer:” If you were to pitch your show in an advertisement, what parts would you highlight? What are the compelling arguments for the series?

Now be a businessman and not an author.

Why does your series fit the channel’s audience? How does it fit in with the other series? Why do they need your series? Don’t just talk about how great your show is, talk about why buying your show is a good decision. You should know what types of series the network is still producing and who the viewers are in order to get the producers’ attention.

Promote your idea quickly and energetically.

Your presentation should be no longer than 12 to 15 minutes, the shorter the better. Give the producers an idea of ​​your show, capture it with your mission statement, and show them why it fits well into their programming. Then say thank you and answer their questions. You need to practice your presentation many times beforehand. It has to be as well prepared as your treatment and your screenplay. It can be helpful to have plenty of other ideas on hand, even if you don’t have a treatment for them. Maybe they love your idea but don’t currently have a place in their program.

Final Words

The more ideas and treatments you have, the better. Keep working on other ideas in similar genres so you can showcase an entire portfolio. Do thorough research until you come up with an idea that is truly original. People aren’t going to get excited about ideas that are already being used in movies, books, or other shows. By protecting yourself and demonstrably depositing your idea as your idea, for example by registering with the internationally active Writers Guild of America (WGA), you can prevent someone from stealing your idea and making a profit from it.


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About the Author

nicole king

Nicole King

Nicole is a shopaholic with decades of experience. With a passion for writing and an undeniable ability to grab the best deals, Nicole enjoys helping others feed their inner-shopaholic too. Her work has been featured on Business Insider, Lifehacker, The Motley Fool, USA Today, and Moneyish.