Do you have an idea you want to pitch to a network but don’t know how? If YES, here are 21 sure tips on how to pitch a reality show to a network successfully.
A reality show is a type of television program that aims to show how ordinary people behave in everyday life, or in situations that are most times created by the program makers, which they use to represent everyday life.
Unlike scripted shows like sitcoms, dramas, and newscasts, reality TV does not rely on writers and actors, and much of the show is run by producers and a team of editors. It is said that reality TV is the most influential medium for branding individuals, products, and businesses.
Documentary Reality Series has become the most attention-grabbing programs to watch and produce, largely because they take viewers into worlds they would otherwise never experience, and sometimes, a world that they earnestly which to belong to.
Be it a family that builds custom motorcycles, a couple of guys who travel the backroads to hunt for collectibles, or a group of women living jet-set social lives – or any area of life, work, or other interesting activity, it can be the basis for a reality television series.
If you are an avid viewer of television reality shows, chances are that you have found yourself toying with an idea for a TV show. You may already have the idea on script, but you may not know how to begin the process or how to go about it.
What Does It Mean to Pitch Reality Show?
Let’s create some emphasis here. Pitching reality TV means pitching something real that you have on film or reel. You don’t just create a reality TV pitch on a piece of paper, send it off to someone in the network, and make a bundle of money.
No, it doesn’t work that way. If your reality TV idea is still on paper, then it is technically still an idea. Here you have to know that reality TV ideas are a dime a dozen, and ideas are pretty much worthless because everybody has one, and they are all very identical, and a lot of people have them on the script.
This then means that a lot of people who are convinced that they are pitching their ideas are actually doing the opposite because it would not go anywhere. The scripts would just lie abandoned on the tables they have gotten to or would lie buried in mailboxes if they were sent through the mail.
A reality TV show, by virtue of its manner, has no pre-determined script or story; this is what sets it apart from other types of shows, and this is what gives it its lure. Because of this attribute, a lot of preparation has to be done before you can successfully pitch your reality show to a network and get a good response from them.
If it is difficult pitching a movie idea that has a pre-determined storyline, cast, timing, location, etc to executives, think more about how it would be for a show that has nothing fixed or determined.
Your pitch document has to be brimming with information to communicate the particular brand of reality show you’re aiming to create. Without this, you can so easily lose the pitch. There’s a pretty defined process for how TV show concepts are bought. Here are how it works and some things you’ll want to consider.
Tips to Pitch a Reality Show to a Network Successfully
A pitch refers to what you plan to tell a potential buyer about your project to interest him enough to make him want to buy it. To get a positive response from reality show executives, your reality show pitch should be tight and should be no more than 10 to 15 minutes.
It should include enough information that it clearly explains your idea while simultaneously getting your listener excited about the concept. You might want to also consider coming up with a shorter two-minute “elevator pitch” version.
The elevator pitch is the shorter version of your overall pitch, and this is the amount of time it might take you to pitch your idea if you just happened to find yourself in an elevator with the right person. It’s always good to have an elevator pitch in your arsenal in case you ever need it.
You also have to note that reality TV shows are almost never purchased on the basis of an idea alone. You need to prove that you have the talent and skills to execute that idea. This is how to prepare your pitch and how to go about pitching it to a network in order to gain acceptance.
Pick a concept
When you first set out to create a reality TV show idea to pitch, you’re going to propose a concept for the show. There are two types of concepts to utilize when drawing up a reality show. They are the Arc and Self-contained. Before you start, you have to decide if you are proposing an “Arc-Style” concept or a “Self Contained” concept.
An Arc-Style concept refers to a long-term competition format, wherein the same set of contestants are pitted against one another and one person is voted off each week.
Examples include Survivor, The Bachelor, and Top Chef. On the other hand, the Self-Contained reality show format is where new contestants/challenges are featured each week, with a structure that is limited to its run-time, rather than a full season.
Examples include Fear Factor, Undercover Boss, and Chopped. You have to pick one of these and maintain the track as you go on.
2. Create the hook
Create the unique “hook” for your show. This will be the unique premise and agenda that fuels the events in the series, and the ultimate result that people would witness and that would draw them to the show.
Once you’ve settled on a format or concept, the next step is to begin putting together your pitch. Just like narrative television, the premium is placed on the originality of your proposed show, so it’s always wise to try tackling a subject that has never been exposed before.
Choose a particularly odd profession, a wild and wacky family, a niche lifestyle, or anything that is, in some way, alien to the general public.
3. Choose your Title phase/ logline
After you’ve decided on your show’s premise and unique hook, you should now create a captivating title for your reality show that supports your core concept. A title should be clever, clear, have an impact, and tell people what they are essentially watching.
Just as in the narrative world, pitching reality begins with a title, logline, and synopsis. The title should hit on what people would be seeing in a more straightforward manner, as opposed to the sometimes ambiguous nature of dramatic TV.
Similarly, the logline needs to be more direct in terms of hitting upon the nature of the premise and the “rules” that the cast must abide by. When writing your logline, there is a great rule you can apply. Once you think your logline is strong enough, put it out of mind for a couple of weeks. Then, go back to it, asking yourself questions such as:
Is this concept truly original? Will this idea stand out from the pack? What makes this show’s world unique? Am I showing viewers what they’ve never seen before? If, after this, you’re not sure if the concept is really a knockout, then it probably isn’t. In which case it’s time to go back and brainstorm ways to make it better.
On the other hand, if you still think your show’s idea is truly exceptional, tell other people about it and see how they respond. It’s hard to feign enthusiasm, so this will tell you a lot.
You can email people your idea, but telling them face-to-face is probably the best method as you’ll get a real-time gut reaction. If their reaction is not very strong, know that you have more work to do. You should never accept a non-pulsed yes, that just won’t do.
This process of getting feedback on your concept from other people or a script consultancy is essential, rather than just deciding it’s good enough by yourself and then diving right into the pitching process.
4. Create your synopsis
If you are creating a “Docu-Style” series idea, you’ll want to focus on writing a synopsis that includes these three things; describing the specific people involved and their relationships, describing the unique world the show takes place in and describing the potential events that will unfold.
The synopsis typically ranges from one to four pages long, depending on the idea you are proposing. For a docu-style series, remember that you are pitching to a specific world and the individuals inhabiting it in the place of a traditional story.
This is content based on real lives, after all. Keep in mind that you have no way of predicting exactly how things will turn out, so rather than approximating specific situations, it’s better to lay bare the ways in which you would try to drum up drama (particular challenges, gimmicks, and so forth) in a captivating way.
5. Progress stage
Here is where you have to focus on building up the show’s series. If you’re creating a competition format, focus on writing a synopsis of the “arc” of the series that describes how the competition works and progresses over the course of the season.
This may involve the elimination of contestants based on competition or choices by judges or another person, or it may involve points or votes awarded that lead to a single winner at each episode or at season end.
Generally, any pitch package will entail completing a finished pilot script to go with the logline, so as to give the executive a sense of your writing style and the general direction the story is headed in. So, as you write, make sure every aspect relates back to the core concept.
Stay true to that initial idea that got you excited to write it in the first place and this enthusiasm will come across in your writing.
Again, once the script’s done, put it out of sight and mind for at least two weeks. Then, ask anyone you know (preferably someone who works in the industry) or a script consultant to give you honest feedback on your 1 hour or 1/2 hour pilot.
6. Create characters that are acceptable in a pitch
One other thing that would make your pitch scale through is your characters. You have to create characters with the right kind of mix, excitement, conflict, and balance. Make one sheet with all the characters, with their pictures. Write three sentences about each person.
One of those sentences should be put in a box; one should expand them outside the box so that the people you are pitching to would follow your show line. People like boxes, but they also like surprises; you have to learn to use and vary the two.
Try to throw in some descriptions that help people envision the conflict in your reality show. It doesn’t have to be a conflict between characters. It can be about how the characters will conflict in your scenario. People want to read your characters and immediately know the conflict.
7. Make a Test Run
Like we have said already if your pitch is still in script format, then it’s just an idea. You would have to produce a 2-5 minute promo reel (aka sizzle reel) of your concept to be able to pitch it to executives.
A 2-5 minute promo reel demonstrates your concept and your ability to execute the concept. HD video is incredibly cheap now, so you need to scrape together some money and make a test run. You can save up for a few months, then do it instead of having to go borrowing.
You need to shoot a lot in order to get the best presentation for your pitch. Reality shows have about 6-8 hours of footage on each camera. You should have three cameras.
You’re going to build it in the editing room. You should not forget to plan your pitch copy in such a way that it has a beginning, middle, and end. A lot of reality show sample videos do not have that and this is enough reason to toss them out. Don’t fall into making the same mistake.
8. Put it in a Nice Package
Print your footage in color on a very good printer. Put a label on your DVD. Keep it in a amray case. The $10 you spend on the presentation will be the most cost-effective of the whole endeavor. You would have to spend $10 per presentation in cases, labels, printing, etc.
9. Get proof of creation
Prior to any exposure in the marketplace (Production Companies, Agents, Networks, or Marketing Services) get proof of creation by researching online archival services for your reality TV show pitch. This provides third-party proof that you created this specific and unique expression of a TV format at a specific date and time.
10. Search for similar companies
You now have to research production companies that produce similar shows within the same genre as yours. Never send your pitch unsolicited, but send a direct query requesting permission to submit your reality show pitch for their consideration.
The best way to find a production company (prodco) or showrunner partner that might work with you, is to find companies and showrunners who have made shows that are similar to what you want to pitch, and figure out how to contact them; and see if you can get a meeting set up.
When you go into the company, you may be made to sign a waiver noting that it is possible the company may already have something similar in development. If you’re too scared your idea will be stolen, then it may have to sit on your shelf forever.
If you want to actually get it made, talk to as many (reputable) showrunners and companies as you can. If the production company or showrunner likes the concept and characters enough, they will be willing to front some small amount of cash to shoot or create a sizzle reel – maybe $5-15k.
If a prodco isn’t willing to put any production or editorial resources behind your idea, it’s probably not worthwhile to do a deal because the odds of selling the show to a network without that are slim to none. It also means your concept and characters likely aren’t strong enough to warrant that time and money investment from the prodco.
If you are looking for a legitimate conference to make connections and learn from established reality TV producers and executives, check out Reel Screen Summit and the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE).
You can download a complimentary copy of the 2014 NATPE Pilot Bible, provided in partnership with Variety Insight, to access a complete guide to the new group of broadcast shows including the specific producers on each show.
11. Use TV Industry Websites
When looking for where to pitch your reality show, you may have to check out TV industry websites that producers use for scouting new TV show ideas and formats.
Production companies scouting online at websites like the TV Writers Vault are required to agree to a “Non-Disclosure” agreement, and are tracked electronically by the database as they access materials, reading your TV show pitch.
Although most companies do not take unsolicited pitches, it is still critical that you make efforts to find direct connections to development executives and producers at production companies.
Some will take a pitch submission, and most will require you to sign a “Material Release Form” which acknowledges their role within the creative TV Industry and the fact that they may already be working on a similar or identical project, and therefore have the right to produce such.
12. Don’t send your pitch through the mail
There are essentially two ways to submit your pitch; through the mail and through hard copy, but you are advised not to send in your pitch through the mail. If you send your pitch copy through the mail, it is usually not opened.
In cases it gets opened, the receiver does so casually while checking through his or her mail, so for them, it is nothing serious. Again, the 20 seconds it takes to pull the DVD out of the case, put it in the drive, then punch play means they pay that much more attention to it.
Another good thing is that most people feel guilty to throw physical things in the trash, so they let it sits on their desk, and one day, they would get around to opening it.
Again, most people would be forced to open your pitch copy if it’s on DVD because it would look like you put a lot of effort to get it produced. So you see that sending a physical DVD is much more effective than sending a link.
But you have to beware not to send your copy unsolicited. This goes in the trash. Make a personal connection with the person, exchange cards, and ask if you can send the DVD. Ask them if their uncle wants to see the DVD, then have them hand-deliver it.
You need to give them the impression that you want one specific person (or company to see it). It carries more weight way that.
13. Get an agent
No matter what type of show you’ve come up with, trying to get an agent to represent you and your idea is always a good step.
Having an agent comes in handy because he can lead you to the exact person you need to sit down with—the person who has the power to purchase your idea. An agent can also narrow down the list of potential buyers by focusing on people and companies that specialize in producing exactly the type of idea you’ve generated.
An agent isn’t mandatory to the process, but having one does make it a little easier because he can put you in touch with the right people. Like we have said before, a lot of companies and agencies don’t accept unsolicited submissions.
If you just type out your idea and send it off to a network or studio, chances are that it will either come back to you unopened or with an “unsolicited submissions” form letter.
An agent can help you bypass this embarrassment. So how do you get an agent? You have to network in the right circles. If you ask enough people, there is a chance that someone knows someone who is an agent or who knows someone else who might know an agent.
An agent would help you get to a development executive. Development executives are specialists in helping you to identify exactly what their studio or network is asking for—and they’re usually classified by the genre they buy, such as comedy development, drama development, or reality development.
These people are the first ones you’ll encounter who have the power to turn your idea into a paycheck, but you must first be able to sell them your concept in such a way that they can take it to their bosses.
14. Be passionate and prepared
You have to be passionate when pitching your reality show. When someone comes in with an idea, it is easy to see whether or not they are excited about it. Passion is a driving factor when pitching. You need to not only know what exactly you’re pitching but why you love it, and why you think audiences will feel the same.
Passion will get you far, but you need to be able to answer the right question when the time comes. You should be able to know why your show is a series and not a feature, and other such things.
But you have to note something here. Despite the importance of being prepared, an overly rehearsed pitch can completely kill a conversation. A pitch is a conversation. Executives are looking for people who can sell their idea but do so in a way where it feels like it’s really coming from the heart.
15. Communicate clearly and effectively
When pitching to producers in person, be very direct by immediately communicating the unique agenda of the show. Follow that with specific descriptions of what they are potentially seeing unfold in the show. But don’t get bogged down in too much detail.
You want to give powerful highlights in very efficient beats. This may include the specific challenges, or ultimatums that contestants or subjects face.
16. Hand out papers at the end of the pitch
It’s a small thing, but an important one. While you present your pitch, you have to be careful not to hand out papers or scripts at the beginning of the pitch. All humans like to read if something is in front of them and they will not pay attention. So, if you are going to hand out papers, please do it at the end.
17. Give out compliments
Giving out compliments to executives is a good way to break the ice and show yourself in some good light. A lot of people may not take this seriously, but a quick compliment early on can go a long way. Something as simple as “I like your wristwatch” can set the tone of the conversation in your favor. No one on this earth doesn’t appreciate a good compliment.
18. Option Agreement
When a production company is interested after your pitch, they will propose an “Option Agreement” to you, for your project. This gives the production company exclusive rights, for a limited time period (typically 12 months) to sell your TV show idea to a Network. If you get to this stage, then kudos to you, your reality show is very likely to be on TV.
19. Consult an Attorney
Before you sign anything though, you have to be sure to consult with an attorney first. An attorney would help to ensure that your interests are well represented in the deal.
A standard producing deal for a TV show idea created should include an on-screen “Created by” credit, some form of Producing credit, a Per Episode Fee (usually a percentage of the show’s per-episode budget), and a small percentage of the production company’s profits.
It’s a long road learning how to pitch a reality TV show to a network, cable or streaming company, but if you are willing to put in the work outlined in this post, you’ll get there surely.
You only need to come up with an awesome, never-seen-before concept for your reality TV show, learn how to write for TV and write a spectacular pilot, get some professional writing credits and gain representation, put together a pitch document, research which companies are the best fit for your show, and pitch your reality TV show to them.
You can also up your chances by entering contests, submitting your scripts to online submission sites, and landing yourself an agent or manager as they will be able to guide you through the tricky waters of how to pitch your reality show.
Most importantly, keep writing and studying existing TV shows of the type you want to sell and keep improving your craft.