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This is How...I Sold a TV Pilot

It's the second post in our new blog series "This is how...", an opportunity for Arts Alumni to share their experiences and inspire others to explore their own creative endeavors.

Today's author is Lucy Wang, playwright, mentor at escript.ws, comedienne and freelance writer extraordinaire. You can follow her at @SensuousGourmet Enjoy!


This is how I sold a TV pilot. Networks are always looking for the next Seinfeld, and turns out, you have some great ideas for a television show, what do you do? Well, the first thing I did was study a lot of TV shows. That’s right, study, not watch. I studied what happens at the open, right before the commercial breaks, at the close. Timed the plot points. I memorized what show was on what network, what time slot. I read a stack of pilot episodes, taking note how these first episodes introduced the premise and the characters. Friends teased me mercilessly because to them, “studying TV” was fun, not work.

Every show has a “bible” that lists all the characters, settings, and possible episodes. So for every pilot proposal I had, I wrote mine. It’s a great exercise to find out who your characters are, what they’ve been through, where they are going, and how strong your premise is. My “bible” prepared me for the onslaught of questions network executives and producers threw my way. “What-if?” this happens? Where did your protagonist grow up? What happens in the cliffhanger? Your 25th episode? 100th? Networks and producers are especially fond of high ratings and syndication, so think far beyond season one. You never know, and if anyone believes your show can go the distance, it better be you.

Learn how to pitch anywhere, anytime, to anybody. Without any prior TV staff experience, I practiced on my friends, my cat, and yes, my reflection. It was in the mirror that I could see my nervous habits and put a stop to them. I always pitched without notes because I found I’d use them as a crutch, and it broke direct eye contact. Without notes, I became more natural, more at-ease, more open. When an executive suggested a change, I no longer felt it was written in stone. As a newbie, I needed to project confidence and convince these executives, no way, they wouldn’t want to do this show without me.

You need to be able to read a room quickly, and adjust. Pitch meetings rarely go as planned. There will be surprises. Interruptions, executive substitutions, last minute drop-ins. Once an executive nixed my idea on the spot, and asked, “What else you got?” Fighting the slight panic rising in my throat, I responded, “Cool chick, cool car, cool pet.” He waved his index finger at me, “Tell me more. I like that one.

Being resourceful and resilient saved me that day, and continues to save me. I pitched six or seven pilots, a few of which attracted “talent,” before I ultimately sold my half-hour comedy. Oh yes, when pitching comedy, make sure your audience laughs and you leave them laughing.

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