// you’re reading...

Developing Factual Ideas

Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch – Recommended Resources

Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas from Concept to Pitch reveals how to get an idea for a documentary or non-fiction/reality television series such as Touching the Void, The Apprentice or Supernanny from concept to commission and explains why having a great idea is not enough. Candid interviews with fifty top industry insiders – including international producers and buyers – reveal how globally successful shows were originally conceived and pitched; their war stories are in turns cautionary, entertaining and inspiring. Each chapter is stuffed with case studies, practical tips, resource lists, sample proposals and exercises designed to boost your skills and help you develop your own commission-winning ideas. Read it straight through for a master class in development and commissioning, or dip in to specific chapters when you need a refresher. Read this book to ensure your documentary or TV proposal is the one in one hundred that gets noticed.

Here are the links to the resources recommended at the end of each chapter:


Billion Dollar Game: How 3 Men Risked it All and Changed the Face of TV by Peter Bazalgette – the story of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Big Brother and Survivor from the producer of Ready Steady Cook and Changing Rooms.

Desperate Networks by Bill Carter – an account of the LA TV industry over an eventful season in 2004-5, when hopeful producers were pitching programmes such as The Apprentice, American Idol and Survivor – and were all turned down.

Reality Check: The Business and Art of Producing Reality TV by Michael Essany – the former E! Channel talk show host describes how he launched his first show, aged just thirteen, and explains how he turned his small fry cable access series into an internationally syndicated programme.

Steps by Steps by Iikka Vehkalahti and Don Edkins – a step-by-step account of how an international documentary project featuring 38 films about HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa was conceived, developed and realized.

Chapter 1: Welcome to Development Hell (A.K.A. What the Hell is Development?)

TV Mole: Development Moves – for information on who is the head of development at various independent production companies (use the search box to find a specific company).

TV Mole: Commissioner Moves – for information on commissioning executives at channels in the UK and USA (use the search box to find a specific channel).

Women in Film and Television has more than 10,000 members in 40 chapters around the world.

Chapter 2: Do You  Have What it Takes?

Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite by Paul Arden – with lots of pictures and big text (and easily read in the bathroom) this short book offers an injection of confidence if you ever doubt your creative ability.

Jump In!: Even If You Don’t Know How to Swim by Mark Burnett – he explains why fear and procrastination are the biggest barriers to success, among stories of pitching and producing Survivor. Note that the first people he thanks in the acknowledgments are the 1500+ “show runners, producers, field producers, editors, assistant editors, loggers, casting associates, accountants, camera, sound, art department, unit and challenge teams” on his successful shows.

Chapter 3: Understanding the TV Landscape

Broadcast – a weekly magazine devoted to the UK TV industry, including commissions, premieres and interviews with top industry players. Broadcast has a free daily email newsletter with the headlines, but you need to subscribe if you want online access to the full articles.

BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) – provides daily audience viewing figures (overnights) for UK TV programmes.

CableU – part of a development/distribution/representation company, CableU is an excellent subscription based website that analyzes US network performance, covers commissions and cancellations and offers detailed network profiles, including current briefs and pitching tips. Full access is currently $850 per annum but you can sign up to the very useful CableU blog for free, which has industry insights and interviews with producers and channel executives.

C21 – news and features about the TV industry. Various free newsletters can be delivered to your inbox; some articles can be read online, for other others you need a paid subscription.

Cynopsis – a daily email newsletter with new commissions, programmes in development, hirings and firings across the US TV industry. There is a separate newsletter for digital news.

Hollywood Reporter – daily and weekly entertainment industry magazine with a TV section. There are a number of daily email newsletters.

Nielsen – provides audience viewing figures for US TV shows.

Realscreen – an international magazine devoted to nonfiction programming. Sign up for the free email newsletter which is delivered Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week.

Variety –  weekly magazine focusing on the US entertainment business but with an international readership. There is a free daily email newsletter with all the headlines but you need to subscribe to get full access to online content. Currently, nonsubscribers can access five pages on online content per month.

The Wit – another subscription only site that gives you access to factual and format programming commissioning and development news from around the world. You can also follow them on Facebook.

Chapter 4: Generating Ideas

Likemind – a monthly breakfast meeting for creative people, usually held on the third Friday of every month in approximately 50 locations around the world.

Lexis Nexis – subscription news service with more than 4,000 sources. You can get free access to selected front page news stories, US military press releases, news programme transcripts, missing person information, among other things.

TV Mole: Ideas Generator – news stories, trends, exhibitions and new books are uploaded five times a week and categorized into art; books; business, documentary; history; lifestyle; multiplatform; natural history; reality; religion; science; technology innovations and videos. Click on the category list on the right side of the page to go to a specific category where you’ll find dozens of short articles to help kick start your ideas.

Wikipedia list of historical anniversaries

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – drawing on more than one hundred interviews with creative people this book muses on the nature of the creative process. G

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp – an inspiring book by an acclaimed choreographer who explains her creative process and how to make creativity part of your daily life.

Chapter 5: Developing an Idea

How to Devise a Game Show by D. Bodycombe – game shows are very specialized but you might be called upon to develop one, or to include game show elements in your format. This excellent e-book describes the development process, including all the legal considerations, in great detail.

HARO – Help a Reporter Out – a free online US-based resource that puts journalists in touch with experts and PR people. They have more than 100,000 sources and you can send a request for a request with an expert, information or stories to be included in their email newsletter, which goes out three times a day.  Good for research: gathering background information and finding potential experts (do your own due diligence).

ProfNet – a US-based database that lists approximately 27,000 academic and corporate experts willing to talk to the media. Free to journalists, but experts must pay a fee.

Trading TV Formats by Chrisoph Fey – published by the European Broadcasting Union, this book discusses the issues around the copyright of programme formats and how to protect yourself. Although it’s a complex area, the book does an admirable job of explaining it in plain English with lots of case studies and advice.

Writers Guild of America West – WGA provide a script registration service that you can use for your programme proposal/treatment. You don’t have to be member and you don’t have to live in the USA. WGA suggests registering drafts and works-in –progress with them and then registering the final draft with the US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  The WGAW registration fee for non-members is currently $20.

Writers Guild of America East – the WGA also has an east coast office. Registration currently costs $22 for non-members.

US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. – offers various services that register and record the authorship of an original work.

BECTU – the UK’s media and entertainment union offer a registration service to its members for “proposals, concepts, ideas, formats and outlines, as long as they are written down in detail”.

The Script Vault – approved by The Writers Guild of Great Britain, The Writers Vault offer a script, format or treatment registration service for £10. They also offer a useful ‘notice of copyrigtht ownership’ paragraph you can include when sending your idea to third parties.

Own It – provides a free intellectual property advice service for creative professionals in the UK.

Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writersby Christopher Vogler – a book aimed at screenwriters but helpful for anyone trying to structure a story: Mark Burnett’s programmes, such as Survivor, make use of mythical storytelling techniques.

Chapter 6: Considering Multiplatform Content

Addicted to Beauty – Oxygen – TV, online videos, original web series, merchandise, game, forums and blogs.

Battlefront Ch4 – TV, video reports, blogs, campaign tools, partnership with Bebo.

Britain from Above – BBC 360 degree project: TV (BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4), geo-tagged original online videos, photographs, ‘making of’ videos, archive clips on YouTube, embedded Google maps, Google Earth, embeddable content.

Shark Runners Game – Discovery USA – TV (Shark Week), website, online game, email, text messaging.

Springwatch – BBC2 –  TV series; website with blogs, message boards and webcam footage; official Flickr group with geotagged photos; book.

Cynopsis Digital – daily email newsletter with the latest (mainly US) multiplatform commissions.

Twitter – microblogging site where you can tap into what people are talking about and spot breaking stories as they happen. Try following some of the following (feel free to suggestion anyone you’d like to see on the list):

Channel 4 Education Multiplatform Commissioning Website – clear and detailed information about developing and pitching a multiplatform project.

Cynopsis Digital – a useful glossary of digital terms.

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins – an entertaining introduction to the ways that audiences respond to, interact with and repurpose old media content on new media platforms.

New Media Age – a weekly magazine dedicated to interactive media with a range of free email newsletters.

Chapter 7: Writing a Killer Proposal

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – a slightly irritable guide to commas and semicolons.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White – the much loved classic guide to grammar, composition and style (Chapter V offers excellent advice that is particularly applicable to proposal writing).

The Guardian Stylebook by David Marsh and Nikki Marshall – an A- Z guide to tricky spellings, apostrophes and foreign accents (of the written rather than verbal variety).

Chapter 8: Finding and Keeping Talent

123people – a free people search engine. See where potential hosts have a presence on the web and get their contact details. Beware as can throw up several different people with the same name.

Findatvexpert – free website featuring profiles, resumes and contact details of UK experts who are interested in appearing on TV.

Hollywood Representation Directory – book and online database that lists the contact details of more than 10,000 US talent agents, entertainment attorneys and casting directors. Updated twice yearly in April and October.  Online subscription is $19.95 per month.

LinkedIn – check potential a potential expert’s credentials and get introduced to interesting prospects via your connections.

Red Pages – subscription website that lists the agents, publicists and managers for more than 20,000 international celebrities.

Spotlight Presenters Directory – features profiles and agent contact details for more than 700 UK-based TV presenters. Cost: £20

TED Talks – a non-profit organization dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”, which holds annual conferences around the world where expert speakers from the  worlds arts, business, science, technology deliver inspiring 18-minute talks. Around 600 talks can be accessed online.

Chapter 9: The Pitch Tape

Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making Your Documentary Fundraising Trailer by Fernanda Rossi – a short book, aimed at independent documentary makers, which explains the art of making a fundraising trailer. It’s also useful for helping to crystallize your idea (and your motivations).

Chapter 10: The Pitch

CableReady – a US-based representation company that will help you pitch your idea to an appropriate production company or TV network. They work with channels, production companies and individual producers anywhere in the world.

Hollywood Creative Directory – “the phone book to Hollywood” that lists staff titles, email addresses, telephone numbers and websites for more than 2,000 production companies, networks and studios. Updated in January, May and September. The book is approximately $65 or you can get a monthly subscription to the online site for $19.95 per month.

PACT – a membership site for UK independent producers that has a free directory of production companies, searchable by genre.

Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2011 – contact addresses and telephone numbers for UK TV channels. Also lists contact details for UK production companies, including their area of expertise, contact name, telephone number and website. Updated annually.

Writer’s Market UK 2009 by Ed: Caroline Taggart – contains useful list of UK TV channels with contact details, an overview of the type of content transmitted, submission details and staff email formula. Also lists contact details for UK production companies, including websites. Updated annually.

Creating a Presentation in Microsoft Office Powerpoint 2007 for Windows by Tom Negrino – an easy to follow – and very visual – guide to making professional PowerPoint presentations.

Keynote 2 for MAC OS X by Tom Negrino – presentation preparation skills for Mac users.

The Pitch by Eileen Quinn and Judy Counihan – a short, witty and accessible guide to pitching in the TV or film industry.

Chapter 11: Alternative Sources of Funding

Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot! Finance Your Factual TV/Film Project  an introduction to ten different types of funders and what they look for in a pitch.

The Age of Stupid – an independent documentary about climate change that was funded by more than 600 ordinary people who donated money or invested in the project.

End of the Line – documentary was funded by grants from a number of US and UK not-for-profit organizations such as WWF, The Marine Conservation Society, The Waitt Family Foundation and Britdoc.

Blast! –  an independent documentary about a group of scientists who travel to the Antarctic to launch a high-altitude telescope, funded via ArtistShare.

The TV Book Club (10×30’) – More 4’s new book club is funded by opticians Specsavers.

Alabama Film Organization – has a useful list of US film foundations and grants.

ArtistShare – primarily a site for musicians where fans can help fund a project in exchange for “access to the creative process”.

Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation – UK foundation that offers funding to socially documentaries that wouldn’t be funded by a UK broadcaster. Also runs the Good Pitch, which brokers “relationships between third sector and filmmakers” for social-justice films. The Good Pitch tours the UK and  North America.

Indiegogo – provides online resources for “fundraising, promotion and discovery”, where filmmakers can upload their pitch and ask for funding.

Film Finance Handbook 2007/2008: How to Fund Your Film by Nicol Wistreich, Adam P. Davies – aimed at independent (narrative) movie producers but has an extensive global directory of funding bodies.

Shaking the Money Tree: 3rd Edition: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film and Video by Morrie Warshawski – a guide to planning your fund-raising strategy and how to apply for grants from corporations, individuals and foundations.

The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts by Carole Lee Dean –  US focused book written by a TV Producer who founded the Roy W. Dean Grant Foundation, which has granted more than $2milllion to filmmakers.  Visit her website to find out more about the grant guidelines.

UK Film Council –  funds documentaries that are intended for theatrical (cinema) release.

TV Mole – Selected TV Conferences and Markets  2010 ¦ 2011

Chapter 12: Getting the Greenlight

Documentary Television – blog of TV consultant Peter Hamilton, which reveals what channels will pay for their programmes.

The Age of Stupid – provides a budget breakdown of their £485K feature documentary.

TV Mole: Production Budget Template

CableReady – a US-based development, distribution and representation company that will broker deals between you and a production company or TV channel. They work with channels, production companies and individual producers anywhere in the world.

cmbusinessaffairs.tv – UK based business affairs consultancy that works on a pre-agreed hourly rate. Advises on development and production including drafting and vetting of contracts.

Rights TV – a UK consultancy offering business affairs advice to people in the TV industry, including guidance on development deals, co-production agreements, writer’s rights and licensing deals. They provide a free initial consultation and a flexible fee structure.

Dealmaking in the Film & Television Industry: From Negotiations Through Final Contracts by M. Litwak –  written by a US entertainment attorney and professor of entertainment and copyright law but aimed at professional and aspiring film and TV producers.

TRC Media – an independent charity that facilitates training within the UK TV industry. They have published a couple of eye-opening reports into development and commissioning: Inside the Commissioners and Risky Business. (Their research was done almost a decade ago, but my own, more recent, research findings echo theirs).


Filmography – a list of – and links to – TV shows and documentaries mentioned in Greenlit.


Select Bibliography – a list of books consulted, mentioned or recommended in Greenlit.

Buy the book on:  Amazon.co.uk ¦   Amazon.com


Add your comment for “Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch – Recommended Resources”

Post a comment