How To Sell A TV Show: A Case Study

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?

Gervich: It was called Foody Call – based on a cookbook called Cook Your Way Into Her Pants! How to pitch a TV Show

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.

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Discussion About How To Sell A TV Show: A Case Study

  1. djrelight

    moral of the story: get to know Warren Littlefield or any other major tv producer who has sold numerous show already.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, I agree. Chad’s story demonstrates just how important the credibility of the people behind a show is to whether a pitch is purchased or not.

  2. Jonathan Walker

    I am in the process of writing a pilot for a TV reality series and wanted to know if I could get a few pointers on who I could talk to. I have been thinking about this concept for many years and never thought I would actually do it. However, last years audition for the X-Factor made me look at my life and the direction it was going. I knew that at my age not too many producers are interested in older song writers but I never give up on my dream…I just open a different door. If I could become friends with a network president that would be great but how far fetched is that? I am shooting a promo commercial for the pilot but really I just want to go straight in and shoot the pilot. Any suggestions?

    The Johnny Walker Experience

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Jonathan,

      I’m sorry I missed your comment when you posted it. I recommend you check out the TV Writer’s Vault. There is an excellent series of interviews on the site and lots of info specific to reality TV pitching.

  3. Steve

    Don’t put anything on the Writer’s Vault site. Total waste of money, and no reputable producers will search a website for ideas of any kind. Research production companies and start sending out queries, or try pitching over the phone.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Steve.

    • Sandy

      I have a great idea for a TV series, a comedy/drama. Do you recommend cold calls to production companies?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Hi Sandy – I would recommend against cold calling production companies. Most have a policy not to accept unsolicited ideas/material. If you are interested in learning who you could reach out to with your idea and how to develop your idea, please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.

  4. Jane

    Totally false, I work for a reality television development company and they are trolling websites for their ideas. Seriously

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Jane. I appreciate it.

    • Ray

      Hi Jane,

      What company do you work for. I have 4 different TV show pitches I that I would like to pitch to the President of the company, and or any executives. My email is rfdarr@yahoo.com rfdart(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. Amber

    What about up front fees of$500 to $800 to submit your TV reality idea? Are the website submission fees worth it. Will I be paying for what I will receive?

  6. Alex

    Hi, I am new to this whole thing… I have a small business that is growing everyday.. we do a lot of custom work, all made in USA by hand.. Ive been told that it would be an awesome I dea for a reality TV show and it go me thinking… i would describe the kind of show it would be like a mox between cake boss and Miami Ink… only more kid friendly… I would love to talk to a producer about it. it would be fantastic for Discovery Kids.. can anyone give me an idea what o do next..

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Alex. Congrats on your business! The first step would be to shoot some footage and have it edited into a 3-5 minute “proof of concept” reel. As an exercise, think about what a 3-5 reel of Cake Boss and Miami Ink would cover so you could get a sense of the show, the main characters, the dynamic of what happens in each episode. Then, I would research all of the Discovery Kids shows that are most like your show and contact the producers of those shows to have them look at your reel. Good luck!

  7. John Jackson

    This whole thing sounds all you are concerned about is selling a book. Than to give advice to people in how get in contact with people that thinks you have a good idea and use someone to pitch your idea for you than a book to teach you. REALLY ?
    This is what im looking for, I know idea is good. No one has ever done it or tried it.

  8. andy crough

    would a show about a poor guy that made it to the top. Got a divorce and cancer and lost everything and trying to make a come back would it sell

  9. Sean

    The most important part is missing, HOW DID YOU MAKE THE APPOINTMENT WITH THE NETWORKS?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Chad got the appointments because Warren Littlefield was producing and is a well-established producer. It is very hard, if not impossible, to get pitch meetings without having someone on your team who has established credits. I share how to do this in my course: https://goodinaroom.com/htbapw4/

  10. martins m dot

    Hi sheri ? Nice work am a big fan, am a film marker , I have short films I wanna sale , but I don’t know how to get a agent to help me sale it, can u help me out? Plz

  11. Keith Hammond

    Stephanie,
    (1) How do I hire you?
    (2) I have four shows: Intro reels done, pilot episodes done.
    (3) I’m the author of numerous books.
    (4) Dozens of my Podcasts are on iTunes and via RSS feed.
    (5) Dozens of my Videos are on YouTube.
    (6) I have a small but growable budget.
    (7) I’m a former news reporter so I have a handful of celeb contacts.

  12. scott

    i have a show that id like the world to see …..

    im sure some network would love this ….

    how do i get it in the right hands ?

    been sitting in this for some time now …. ducks in a row and ready to get going
    i need someones help …..

    • Stephanie Palmer

      The best way to increase the chances of selling your show is to partner with someone who has expertise and credits in the same genre as your show. If you’d like more information about how to do this, you can check out my course: How To Be A Professional Writer which covers how to sell shows in more detail.

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  16. marie akaya

    I have a tv talk show i just started on youtube. It comes on every Wednesday on my youtube channel. I need help. I am on episode 4, Pls can someone give me advice on what to do or help me out on how to get sponsor and to be on ABC, or many more stations.
    Thanks

  17. Hayley Lokey

    I have so many ideas for movies and tv shows, but I’m not sure how to get them out there. I have people in mind who I want to be in the films, too. I also want to be an actress and want to be in some of the movies that I have ideas for, so if I get them made into movies I want to be a part of them. What do I do?

  18. Stevii

    Hi my name is stevii Campbell writer and producer of a new TV series called 4play. I have independently filmed my TV series and hope to have my project launched on television, my project is based is very similar to channels 4 black lesbian handbook but different in the sense that it isn’t a documentary but a urban lesbian series going to be 30mins a piece. Me and my team have almost finished filming episode one and we are looking for a film production company to help is launch on TV.
    I hope to hear from you with maybe suggestions or even support.

    Thank you for reading it email

  19. John Bryce

    I have a great new quiz show idea , please help me get it on tv Regards John. ps you will love it.

    • John Bryce

      Pleasehelp.

  20. Berke Zane

    Please Stephanie. Can you use examples from now on how hard working writers actually sell stuff and NOT executives at Warren Littlefield? It’s like 50th time over the past few years you suckered me with click-bait to hear some whiny insider try to make his strife interesting.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      First, Berke, I take issue with your use of the term click-bait. That aside, this example is one of the tried-and-true ways that hard-working writers actually sell stuff. In Hollywood, writers don’t succeed alone – and this belief, that the writer alone will make it happen, or that the work will sell itself, is one of the biggest myths in Hollywood. Writers who succeed often get into the industry, find a job of one sort or another, build relationships over time, and bring powerful people on board who help them sell their work. Here’s another example of writer Ashleigh Powell who got her break and how she did it.

  21. Jessica Jennings

    I am a current non-fiction teenage writer. I am writing a book about: my difficult childhood, some facts on religion, deep facts about race (including police brutality), and I will also be discussing the roots of our society and the reason it is the way it currently is. I am also seeking Literary Agents who can help me reach one of my major roles as becoming a writer.Thank you for your time and patience.

    If you agents have any questions for me, you could contact me at jessicaj5312002@gmail.com or 929-462-6717.

  22. Danna Micoletti

    I think what everyone is missing is that there’s so much “content” out there , scripts, shorts films, and film makers that want their screenplay, short film, bought, that Hollywood Execs just are going to go with whom they know . Been that way since the early days & still is that way today. That’s not to say its unless to try, rather if one is looking for quick “big break”, not going to happen. Going to be rejected, often.

  23. Christina gabriel

    Hello my name is Christina. I am looking around to see how to go about getting an agent for a plastic surgery reality show. I am assistant to one of the top plastic surgeon in nyc and we would like to launch a tv show.
    Thank you in advance.

    Christina Gabriel

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Christina – Thanks for your comment! Please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.

  24. Efe baker

    I have a good script but the problem is I don’t no how to market it online

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Efe, Please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance on marketing your script.