Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 21 Things a Broadcaster is Looking for in Your Script or Pitch

Yeah, I thought I'd add some boring old practical stuff that you could find anywhere... Consider it a public service.

There really are 21 things - but the numbering slips because of the bullet points. Stupid Blogger.

  1. Always tell a story that makes people want to know what happens next.
  2. Open the show ithe a compelling situation so viewers stay tuned to their station.
  3. Create cliffhangers within the show so viewers stay turned to their station during commercial breaks.
  4. Scripts should answer the following 5 questions clealy, and the first two questions quickly:
  • Who's story is this?
  • What do they want to achieve?
  • What is stopping them from getting what they want?
  • How do they overcome these obstacles?
  • Do they achieve their goals?
  1. The dialogue should sound real. (Hint from Steve: After you've written the script, read it ALOUD! Don't read it silently to yourself, read it like you're TELLING A STORY. Does the dialogue sound natural? I bet that you'll want to make some changes...)
  2. Scripts should recognize the realities of production. Don't have 25 speaking parts, 2,000 extras and 54 new sets a week. Think economically. If there is a way to make a compelling story on a smaller scale - YOU'D BE WISE TO DO IT!!! Broadcasters know what can - and more importantly, what CAN'T be done on a TV budget.
  3. There should be an 'inciting incident' at the end of the first act, which sets the story in motion. Something should propel our heroes into their quest. (More about story structure in a coming post, if I get around to it.)
  4. The subplots should support (and at some point, tie into) the main story. Be cleaver about it. Watch any episode of Frasier or Big Bang Theory as an example.
  5. The endings should be believeable. Avoid situations where 'The Cavalry' comes ringing over the hill to save the day.
  6. There needs to be an interesting central idea or concept that drives the story forward. Try to avoid a "so what?" situation. The story needs to be interesting to more people than you.
  7. Try to create humour as a result of character, rathe than at the expense of character. Example: Rather than have the character simply recite funny lines, try to build situations where the character's strengths or weaknesses create the humour. Example: An obsessive compulsive neat freak on his way to a job interview... Its a swealtering day and he's stuck on a crowded city bus, next to a pig farmer - who just ate 2 bean burritos for lunch...
  8. The characters hsould remain consistent from scene to scene, or episode to episode. If a guy has a mean streak in Episode 101, he shouldn be winning a humanitarian award in Episode 103. But then again, if we slip him a couple of bean burritos before the awards presentation...
  9. Scripts should focus on STORY, rather than on camera or stage direction. Tell them WHAT is going to happen. Leave the HOW it is going to happen to the Director.
  10. There should be a 'rise' in the complications faced by the protagonists. To be interesting, the quest should get more difficult as they near their goal.
  11. There should be a balance between the forces of good and evil. Even if the good guys are vastly outnumbered, the audience should have some hope (however faint) that they will succeed in their quest. Otherwise, what's the point?
  12. Characters should be forced to make difficult and dramatic decisions while under pressure. Try to avoid classic, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping" situation. Example: In any number of bad action movies, characters trade off-the-cuff remarks during life and death situations. That doesn't happen in real life. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict.
  13. There should be enough "backstory" in the show to keep viewers interested. What happened to the bad guy at age 14 to make him the rat-bastard that he is today?
  14. Create humorous or insightful payoffs to situations instead of preachy moralizing.
  15. Try to avoid the use of COINCIDENCE. There's never a Cop around when you need one, or a parking space in front of the building with the nice public washroom when you really have to pee.
  16. Show us the situation rather than tell us about it. Avoid talking heads wherever possible. SHOW IT - DON'T TELL IT.
  17. If there's a message, try to keep it subtle, rather than blatantly stated. Don't TELL me that smoking is bad for you. Show us the autopsy. Use a demonstration. It's a visual medium so, keep it VISUAL.


  1. Best post yet! Tons of great information here! Why aren't more people commenting?

  2. Yeah, ya try to do something useful for once and nobody cares... sniff...

  3. My favorite one is "Don't have 25 talking parts, 2000 extras and 54 new sets". These creative decisions never happen during the pitch. Only when production is in full swing do you get a script that describes such grandiose epic crowds and scenery that would take the wind out of Cecil B. DeMille's sails!...and you have 2 weeks, good luck! ;)

  4. True - but sometimes the sample scripts accompanying the pitches can be epic. Keep the stories simple and focus on character. Unless of course, you have access to lots of stock footage. Can anyone say "Irwin Allen's TIME TUNNEL"?

  5. Hi Steve,
    I really enojoyed reading your blog. I am a fashion designer by profession but am writing my first children's book. Your pointers have been very educational. Just wanted to thank you for writing.

    On another note - if you enjoy sartorialist then I would suggest have a look at this blog too its cool

    I will be reading your blog more often. Keep it going.


  6. Hi Mr/Ms. Anonymous - Thanks for the note.

    Best of luck with your children's book project. I'm always in awe of people who can pull those off. I've written a few children's books - but the publishers (and their child psychologists) don't seem to understand that kids actually LIKE to be scared. Or challenged. Or surprised.

    Kids are a lot smarter then the experts give them credit for.

    The InternationalMode blog is very nice. I'll have to check into it more. One thing that I notice at first glance is that the photographer doesn't show some of the "questionable" fashion that sometimes turns up on The Sartorialist.

  7. Thank you for your reply Steve. You seem to be a very interesting person :).
    I do agree that kids are much smarter than experts give them credit for. If kids did'nt like challenges and surprises how would harry potter be a hit? Excuse me, I might be wrong because I don't know your what age children you were writing for.

    Anyway, I would love to post a few lines when I am ready for you to read. My stories will not exceed more than a page in any case.

    About the blog.Yes I do agree that I haven't been able to click questionable fashion - its because I haven't stumbled upon such subjects yet. But I do look forward to keeping that in mind for future. I really appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

  8. Oddly enough, I don't write for children. I write for adults. When we did FREAKY STORIES one of my friends commented about a musical story we did about pirates. He jokingly referred to it as a 'classy piece'.

    I pointed out that they story was based on "The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allen Poe - one of the first true mystery stories. And the musical score was based on "The HMS Pinafore" an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan.

    It was smart. It was fun and the kids loved it. Never underestimate the little bastards and never talk down to them.

    Sure. Send along your stories.

  9. You wrote "try to avoid "a so what situation", what does that mean?

  10. Read it again.

    It says "try to avoid a so-what?" situation.
    That means make the situation compelling to the viewer.

    Are you the person from Brazil that's going over this blog with a fine tooth comb?
    You'd be better off actually hiring a pro to write your pitch bible.
    Just sayin'...

  11. Hi Steve

    I have completed a bible for an animation series. It is based on a childrens book which I had published some years ago and is aimed at boys/girls in the 8-14 year age group. Do you offer a service which would have you look over it let me know if you think it good enough to present to a production company or the TV networks If so maybe you would let me know and approx. cost of same.

    I look forward to your reply.


  12. Hi Carmel,
    Yes, I do offer a review service for pitch bibles. You can reach me privately at" steve(dot)schnier(at)rogers(dot) com.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

  13. "There needs to be an interesting cintral idea or concept that drives the story forward."

    Very true but it's "central" not "cintral". A professional writer shouldn't be making such mistakes even on a blog.

    love, a. nony. mous.

  14. Oooh. I made a typo. It's funny... Everyone else seems to see the value of the material posted on this blog - and all you can find to complain about is a transposed vowel?


    (Sorry, hon. But that's about as polite as I get on the subject. It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to write informative material that I GIVE AWAY FOR FREE... and you're complaining? Please haunt someone else's blog. Thanks.)

  15. Actually, there are numerous spelling & grammar errors, so don't take it too personal when you're spotted for one. This is an informative blog, you have good pointers and the message is solid; you simply may have forgotten to proofread.

    No big deal.
    But they are a slight distraction.

    22 - Proofread before posting!

    Be cool and keep up the good work ~

  16. If you want perfection - please in the future check out Mark Mayerson's excellent blog:

    He hates everything but his punctuation is impeccable.