If you want to know how to sell a tv show, take a look at this case study.
It centers on reality TV but the story could apply easily to scripted TV.
How To Sell A TV Show – Act I
The hero of our story is a young Chad Gervich (After Lately, Cupcake Wars). At the time, Gervich was a development executive for Warren Littlefield.
Stephanie: What was the first show you ever sold?
It’s such a good title and I wish we could have called the TV show that. It’s the perfect title. We had actually started shooting, and were working on Episode Three when the network called and said we had to change the title.
Unfortunately, we had the title Cook Your Way Into Her Pants all over the set. We had to go back in post and digitally remove it. It was a nightmare.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was driving into work one day. I was listening to Kevin & Bean on the radio and they were interviewing Ted Taylor, the author of Cook Your Way Into Her Pants.
It wasn’t really a cookbook for guys, it was more of a “how to get laid” guide for guys using food. It had all of these sneaky tips and tricks in it. Part of Ted’s angle is that girls like to feel needed and appreciated.
What are some of the tips?
One of his tips is when you’re cooking, give her a job, give her some carrots to chop, doesn’t matter if you don’t need them.
Another was that women like to feel like they (and you) are eating healthy. They like to open the fridge and see that you are using soymilk.
But Ted says to fill the soymilk carton with whole milk–because soymilk tastes like shit.
I was engaged to be married at the time, but I was thinking, “Oh my God. Where was this book when I was single? This is the book I needed all my life. If I had these tips and tricks at my fingertips, I think I would have gotten luckier way more.”
How To Sell A TV Show – Act II
So how did you develop the pitch?
I went into the Littlefield Company. We tracked down a copy of the book, liked it, met with Ted, the author, and acquired the material.
Then, in developing the pitch, Warren said to me, “Begin the pitch with the story of you listening to the radio and discovering this book for the first time.”
The reason we would begin the pitch that way was because it was personal.
Look, at the time I discovered the book, I was basically the exact right target. I was young, I’d just been single, trying to date, meet girls, all of that. It sounds corny, but it spoke to me.
This particular story put the audience (the executives) in my shoes, and let them hear it the way a young, single guy hears it.
So they say, “Ah yes, I get what this show is, I get who it is speaking to, I get why it’s important and valuable.” And it clicks for them.
Even though it’s a comedy reality dating cooking show, the success of the pitch was contingent on pitching it from this intensely personal place. We didn’t say, “Here’s our demographic and here’s why this will speak to young males.” We made it very personal.
Who were you pitching?
We pitched it to Spike, Comedy Central, Food Network. We ended up selling it to Style.
One of the things that helped was the fact that Warren Littlefield (a pretty big fish) was in the room. Because Warren was there, when we would go into these networks to pitch, we were often pitching to the President of the network and one or two lower-level executives.
If Warren Littlefield had not been there, we would not have been pitching to the network presidents. We would have been pitching to VPs, Directors, or Managers.
The big guns would come out because Warren was there.
At Style network specifically, Ted Harbert, President of E! and Style was in the room. Lisa Berger, his second in command, and a third executive was there too.
Warren and Ted had worked together and known each other for years. Ted had worked under Warren when Warren ran NBC Network and Ted was running NBC Studios.
They’d known each other and been pals for a long time. So that made the water there very, very warm.
How To Sell A TV Show – Act III
Can you walk me through the pitch meetings?
For all the pitch meetings, after we’d walk in, catch up a little bit, do some small talk, Warren would say, “Here’s what we’re very excited to bring you today.” I would go into the pitch.
At Style, I remember finishing the pitch and handing Ted Harbert a copy of the book. Ted sort of flipped through it a little bit and laughed.
He just said, “I love it. Let’s do it.” He just bought it right there in the room.
That rarely happens. The biggest factor in letting that happen… look, it had to be a project that was right for the network, which at that time it was, and that guyish sensibility was something that was right up Ted’s alley.
But a huge factor is that it was coming from his old colleague Warren Littlefield. That’s what slam-dunked it more than anything.
. . . . . . . .
If you want to know more about how to sell a TV show, I highly recommend Chad’s book, Small Screen, Big Picture. In my opinion, it is the best book about how the TV industry works and a great read as well.