Over the years I’ve been pitched hundreds of ideas from people not in the business. I was handling funeral arrangements for my grandmother's passing and the mortician pitched me a movie. Small sample size, but so far there’s not one pitch I’ve sparked to. Most of the pitches go like this:
“I work at __________
and you wouldn’t believe how funny it is there? I mean, the things
that go on, I could tell you stories, you could write a GREAT sitcom
If I’m lucky they’ll leave it there but
most times they add one or two of those hilarious incidents. They’re
usually on a caliber of “we got a guy
who never puts sugar in his coffee and one time when he wasn’t looking
some slipped in some sugar and then when he drank he went, “Eeeeeuu!
Did someone put sugar in my coffee?” At this point the
storyteller is usually convulsing with laughter just recalling this
classic event. I’m praying for a meteor.
“Tonight, on a very special episode of LAMP SALESMAN, someone slips sugar in Dan’s coffee.”Just
because you sell lamps, or work in a real estate office, or a Costco,
or in a barbershop, or at a train station and there are co-workers who
are a little quirky, this does not mean you have the premise for a
sitcom. You have the premise for a work location. And chances are,
even with those zany “nuts” you work with, your situation is no funnier
than any of the others.
Here’s what nobody ever pitches me: a show about a relationship.
THE OFFICE is funny because of the relationship between Michael and
his employees. It is funnier still because of the relationships among
the employees. What they actually manufacture is completely
Start with the characters first.
the dynamics between them are interesting, fresh, and could sustain
stories week after week? And then, what is the best setting to put
them in? One that hasn’t been seen before is a plus but not
imperative. How many shows and plays and radio series have been set in
That said, there are some areas that are tougher sales than others. Madcap terrorist cells probably won’t fly.
the next time you come up to me, assuming it’s not in a funeral parlor
(and his movie idea was just friggin’ awful), and you have a great idea
for a series, start with who are they are, not what they do. And if
they truly are interesting you won’t even need those hilarious
This is a re-post from five years ago.