Sunday, October 17, 2010

Adventures in pitching pilots

This is the time of the year when writers are pitching pilot ideas to networks.  Sometimes we sell; sometimes we don't.  But we all have stories.  Here are a few of ours:

We had to pitch a pilot the day after 9-11. The VP cried. (We sold it)

We pitched ABC (years and many executives ago) and started with a joke. We said we had an idea that was tailor made for their network. We called in “Tuesday Night Football”. The girl with the pad was writing it down as if we were serious. (We didn’t sell the idea.. or TNF that day.)

Our PA on CHEERS who used to get us lunch became the VP of comedy at a major network. We had to pitch our PA. (No sale. But we were offered drinks.)

We hooked up once with a non-writing producer (big mistake) who had an idea that somehow involved food.  This was three years ago and already I've forgotten it.  Anyway, we go into Fox and he gets the bright idea to bring snacks.   You know the producer really trusts the idea when he feels the need to provide buckets of chicken, pies, a couple gallons of cole slaw, and candy.  Overkill by a thousand.  The Fox execs were horrified.  The producer starts opening the buckets and offering plates and the execs stopped him.  They had eleven more meetings, there was no time for a fucking picnic at 10 in the morning.  Not only did we not sell this one, the next time we went in (sans this producer) to pitch something else they informed us that they had ants as a result of the stunt.  No sale that day either.

A few years ago, in the Jeff Zucker era, NBC announced in the trades that they were discontinuing all scripted shows for the 8:00 hour.   That afternoon we pitched NBC an 8:00 family comedy.  We finished the pitch, they said they really liked it, and I said, "Thank you.  We've got no shot with this thing do we?"  The V.P.  shook her head sadly and said, "No.  Not really.  But it really is good."  

The comedy VP (who later became the president of that network) once asked us “What is the opening episode of the seventh season?” Huh??? How the fuck do you answer that? We said “the clip show, featuring all the highlights of the many Emmy winning episodes.” (No sale)

This happened several times: The VP hears our pitch then says they bought something just like it only yesterday. But if it’s any consolation ours is better. Oh yeah. Tremendous consolation. That’s like “if I hadn’t met your brother first I would have slept with you.”

We were overseeing two young writers. The studio rep began the meeting by introducing all of us to the network people by saying, “So with Ken & David we have the old with the new.” Jesus! Why not just say, “we went over to the broadcast museum and dug up the guys who wrote MR. PEEPERS”?

We had a great pitch once. The VP called to say it’s not final but we were on “the one yard line”. Turns out we hit a tough goal line stance. And the clock ran out.

We pitched a show that took place between midnight and six. The network said, “We LOVE it. We’ll buy it. Only one small alternation. Can it not take place between midnight and six?” Uh, then what are you buying? They weren’t sure but they liked the area. (No sale there but we did sell it elsewhere.)

Easiest pitch we ever had -- David Isaacs, Robin Schiff, and I went into CBS to pitch ALMOST PERFECT. We said, “a young woman – on the day she gets the job of her life meets the guy of her life. How does she juggle the two?” SOLD. Just like that.

And finally, how original do the ideas have to be? In 1976 we sold our first pilot to NBC. It was called BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY. The premise was a behind-the-scenes look at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Considering they had two shows on the air a few years ago with that exact same premise I’d say just pick up our show instead. Unfortunately, 30 ROCK is better than our show, and half of our cast is now dead.


Dodgier said...

Our PA on CHEERS who used to get us lunch became the VP of comedy at a major network. We had to pitch our PA. (No sale. But we were offered drinks.)

That's a pilot right there. Because of a dearth of quality shows (think NBC post Silverman) two hapless comedy writers get hired to write a show for the vengeful PA they'd bossed around and teased mercilessly a couple years before. Comedy ensues.

No need to credit me.

Mike said...

Ok, I gotta ask: What was the pilot that took place between midnight and 6 a.m.? Did it make it to series?

Simon H. said...

The ascent of Richard Sakai was one of my favorite stories in television. He started out as a lowly assistant to Stan Daniels in the first season in Taxi, and slowly worked his way up the ladder until the final season of the show where he became one of the lead producers. Now he's President of Gracie Films, which I heard has had a hit or two in their time....

te said...

The writers of "Mr. Peepers," per IMDB:

David Swift (also creator)
Jim Fritzell
Everett Greenbaum
Robet Alan Aurthur
Harold Rodman

Unknown said...

...“What is the opening episode of the seventh season?” ... We said “the clip show, featuring all the highlights of the many Emmy winning episodes.” (No sale)

Holy crap, if you really said that, that is amazing presence of mind. What a great answer...

Anonymous said...

“What is the opening episode of the seventh season?”

"Well, it starts with a close-up... of me doing your wife. And she's like REALLY into it..."

Brian said...

I like the food story - I'll try bringing fried chicken to my next job interview.

Simon H. said...

I knew a guy who brought his own mother with him to an interview for a job at an Indianapolis TV station. Three guesses how he did, and the first two don't count.

kent said...

When the man said you were on "the one yard line" he should have specified which end of the field.

Rashad Khan said...

There are no such things as "original ideas." Just sayin'.