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Developing Factual Ideas

Development and Pitching 101: Developing Ideas

Photo by CarbonNYC CC BY 2.0

Many people make the mistake of pitching a subject area instead of a TV show idea. What’s the difference?

A documentary or TV series idea must have a narrative structure. At it’s simplest that means a beginning, middle and end. But it must also conform to the grammar of TV and the particular genre in which you are pitching. You need to think about not only the narrative, but the length of the documentary (or each programme within a series) and length of series – and know which is more desirable to commissioning editors.

But wait, you say. I’m a creative person I can’t be constrained by parameters imposed upon me by TV executives. Well you’d better learn, and fast. There’s no point pitching a 90-minute film to a channel that only commissions in runs of 45 episodes to go into a 30-minute slot – you’re just wasting their time and yours.

But all is not lost. Whatever your pet subject, there is a suitable format to fit. For example, take a look at How to Turn One Subject Area into Ten Programme Ideas to see how the subject of ‘tribes’ can be, and has been, spun ten different ways.

If none of those approaches inspire you, see if you can find a format that will help you sell your idea in Field Guide to Factual Formats that Sell.

Of course, you could always try coming up with an entirely new approach, in which case you could be the originator of some truly groundbreaking TV. Or you could end up with something that is neither fish nor fowl.

The point of development is to kick an idea around a bit and see what works and what doesn’t – that’s the whole fun of it. Here’s a useful roadmap of the creative process (thanks to @richpayne88 for the tip off).

Once you’ve developed your idea, you might be concerned about someone stealing your idea. There is one surefire way to prevent your ideas being stolen. However, Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch, has some more practical suggestions of how to protect your idea and make sure you stay attached to it.

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