A surprising number of factual programme makers don’t watch television, either because they’re working long hours on location, or because they have an irrational aversion to popular programming.
No commissioner will take you seriously if you show disdain for the medium and knowing the schedules inside out will give you a huge advantage over people who have no idea who the up-and-coming presenters are or which shows have become sleeper hits.
And you don’t want to be in the embarrassing position of pitching something that sounds very like something that has already transmitted.
Know what’s currently on air, so you have a point of reference for discussing ideas with commissioners. They will be acutely aware of what’s been successful and what hasn’t, and will expect that you are too and are able to explain how your idea is better or different.
If you specialise in a certain type of programming watch everything in your genre. If your company specialises in science documentaries, you need to watch all the science documentaries on TV.
But be sure to watch other genres too – if you can apply a new or format to a traditionally dry subject, it will give you an edge over the competition.
Time-shift recording and viewing technologies such as Sky+, Channel 4’s 4oD or the BBC’s iPlayer (or TiVo in the US) make it easy to plan your viewing, and catch up with programmes you’ve missed.
Other ways to generate new factual TV ideas:
Get more development and pitching tips in Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch