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Developing Factual Ideas

Seven Reasons a Commissioner Will Reject Your Idea

Your commissioning editor needs to be reassured that you have the necessary skills and experience to make the programme you are proposing.

The following are guaranteed to raise red flags:

1. There is no clear narrative structure – there must be a beginning, middle and end, and something needs to change over the course of the programme – either the characters’ lives or the  audience’s understanding of a subject.

2. It is not castable – there is no point promising a series featuring eight sets of redheaded twin ten-year-old girls who are all seven-feet tall – you won’t be able to cast it. If it looks like a tall order but you know that you can cast it, you must provide proof, such as photographs or film of the girls.

3. It is not producible – an observational documentary set on the Moon is impossible to make, so don’t suggest it.

4. It is not producible within the available budget – larger terrestrial networks have more money to spend on programmes than small cable channels. Pitch your ambitious, celebrity-laden studio show to the bigger channels or downscale your ambition.

5. It is not clearable – all music and archive clips must be licensed for broadcast, and this can sometimes be prohibitively expensive. You don’t need to worry too much about this at the development stage, unless you are proposing a programme using rare archive or a series based on the work of certain bands. If specific archive footage or a particular band’s music is central to the proposition you must make sure you can get access to the material at a reasonable price before you promise the impossible.

6. It is not legal – your programme must comply with legal restrictions. For example, if you are proposing undercover filming, or have a competition element, will be filming children, or will be using phone or text votes, the commissioner will need to be confident that know what you are doing. If your company has a track record of making these kinds of programmes, the commissioner will feel confident that you have the correct resources and procedures in place. If this is new type of production for you, you need to convince them that you are aware of the issues and tell them how you are going to address them.

7. It is not safe – if you are proposing a programme that will put contestants under extreme physical or mental stress, you must consider how you are going to protect them from harm. For example, you could employ a psychologist to screen potential contestants, hire a stunt co-ordinator for a fight scene, or engage an animal handler if your programme features creatures.

See also:

How to Write a Proposal a Commissioner Will Actually Read

Where to Pitch Your Idea (and Avoid the Commissioners)

Six Ways to Allay Your Commissioning Editor’s Fears and Get the Greenlight for your TV Programme

Get more pitching tips inGreenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas from Concept to Pitch



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