ATX Television Fest: The Buyers

Finding out what it takes to sell your TV script

So you want to pitch a TV show to a bunch of powerful network executives. How best to accomplish this most stressful of tasks? If you’re Rooster McConaughey, you bring in a bunch of beer.

(l-r): Grant Gish, David Sleven, Kathleen McCaffrey, and Ken Segna, with moderator Lesley Goldberg (Photo Credit: Jessica Mims)

While that’s exactly what Matthew’s oddball brother did several years back, it’s probably not the best tactic for up-and-comers. There are more important things to consider in attempting to get a show on the air. The ATX Television Festival hosted a panel of industry big wigs tasked with procuring shows for their respective networks. These buyers are responsible for what ends up on your screen, and they have definite ideas about what they’re looking for.

The days of pitching a situation comedy that can “go anywhere” are over, Ken Segna of Starz says. Writers need to be able to give good answers about the direction the show will take. The choice of network will determine a lot. “A broadcast hit should be a broadcast hit,” ABC’s David Sleven says. For a cable network, the show needs to lean heavily on serialization.

Another good option is to base a show off of a successful book, or better yet, series of books. While that brings with it a built-in audience, those fans are also the hardest to please. “One mistake and you’re dead!” HBO’s Kathleen McCaffrey declared, not so subtly referencing her network’s mega-hit Game of Thrones.

It’s also important to know what to avoid. A show set in a medical marijuana dispensary or sex shop isn’t going to fly on a broadcast network. Ads are still the lifeblood of that industry. Conversely, some networks have specific red flags they avoid. For instance, Fox rarely goes in for superheroes or sci-fi. That said, 20th Century Fox’s Grant Gish advises writers to go for it. One day, a show will break through that, and it’ll be an innovative pitch that makes it happen.

Is getting a television show made an impossible task? Well, like everything in Hollywood, there’s a lot more failure than success, but right now the multitude of distribution opportunities makes it a great time to be a creative.

While it’s a tough time to be a buyer, it’s a great time to be a viewer.

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