Let's talk about options and option fees.
Option fees are paid to creators (that's you) by production companies (that's them) so that they can represent your intellectual property to buyers on the broadcast market. Broadcasters don't pay option fees - they provide the portal for your property which gives it market value.
Let's say that you've pitched a show to a production company. They like it and want to shop it around. They need to get the rights, to "option" it from you - giving them the right to shop it for a specific period of time. The option doesn't allow them to own your property - they're only "renting" it for now. After a specific period of time, the rights to this property will (should) revert (return) to you.
Now this is where it get tricky. I've been in many meetings where the person who is interested in one of my intellectual properties - wants it, but doesn't want to pay for an option. This is the point where they say (in the nicest, sweetest voice possible...):
"Steve... Steve... Steve... NOBODY pays option fees..."
Now, let's stop right there.
Nobody pays option fees - UNLESS you insist on it.
Sure. They'll take your work for free if you let them.
A couple of years ago, a production company wanted to option one of my properties. They really, really liked it. But they weren't going to pay me for my work. "Sorry", they said. "It's not our policy to pay option fees."
Fine. I thanked them for their time and left.
A couple of days later, I pitched the show to another company. They also really, really liked it.
So they paid me the biggest option fee that I'd ever received. It was 3 times larger than any other option feed that I'd ever had. Just so that my property could sit on their shelf. Why? Because I asked them for it. Nicely.
Was the first company evil? No. The "no fee option" was simply their policy. I was free to take it or leave it. I left it - but let them know later that I'd had the property optioned for a nice chunk of change by someone else. You get what you negotiate.
So what happens if you're dealing with really nice people - who you'd really like to work with -- but they simply don't have the money to option your project?
If they have shows in production, negotiate a deal whereby you get to write an agreed upon number of scripts at Guild rates within a set period of time - a play or pay deal. You're a writer. Let them pay you to write. That way, not only do they get to option your work, you get your money and a foot in the door with their production company.