Shasha Seminar Part IV: Pitching a Pilot is Really Hard

Photo Credit: Nammer on Flickr

Photo Credit: Nammer on Flickr

Last time on the blog: My take on the panels at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University. Today, a look at how hard it is to convince people to make your show.

The Pitches

After the panel, everyone broke into either a TV session or a film session. I can’t speak to the film session, as I joined the TV group. Our goal, over the course of a couple hours, was to come up with a pitch that we would take back to be evaluated. In our group, Liz Garcia, David Kendall and Dan Shotz helped us develop a pitch, and Evan Katz (executive producer, 24) and Jeffrey Lane (producer, Mad About You), evaluated.

After a lot of shouting and giddy note-taking and several attempts by the group to create a procedural – only to realize we were coming up with the pitch for Cold Case – we came up with a comedy and a drama. The drama centered around a town on the Mexico border, where a disgraced DEA agent would struggle to keep his town safe while wrestling with moral dilemmas around drug trafficking and immigration. “Bordertown” was well received by our evaluators, who said that several shows around this theme were being discussed in Hollywood right now. The key component, all the professionals agreed, was coming up with a compelling character who would be able to carry the story through from episode to episode.

Our comedy pitch was, well, not as successful. We came up with a premise based around two actors we had in our brainstorming session – twin comedians Stone and Stone. The Stones would star in “Under Cover Models” – a half-hour comedy about hotshot romance novel cover models who, by night, fight crime. Desperate to win their mother’s affection and live up to the rep of their hard-boiled, but deceased, detective dad, the cover models solve cases that no one else can: Counterfeit couture, the theft of the mayor’s dog. They use their modeling “skills” to crack the case, stumbling onto the right answer in the vein of Get Smart and Zoolander.

The premise that we found uproariously funny in our brainstorming session didn’t translate well in front of Evan Katz and Jeffrey Lane. Both said they didn’t “get” it – why would cover models fight crime? Lane thought we had two different ideas that didn’t go together, but that perhaps it just wasn’t his taste in humor. Lane said that he could have made Mad About You about a city couple that ends up on a farm – but instead he just made a show about a city couple, and made it as realistic as possible. Evan Katz didn’t say as much, but I’m guessing he’s accustomed to hearing pitches for things that involve more guns and less hair gel. An idea that we thought had a lot of weight as we were coming up with it didn’t hold together when we had to explain it to people who were deciding whether or not to buy it. It explains why it’s hard to get deep genre pieces on the air – someone has to “get” what the writer is trying to create. And the writer probably needs more than two hours to invent a story that is rich enough to draw in a skeptical executive.

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  1. Pingback: Joss Whedon and Mark Harris: Getting art and commerce to finally hook up | Still Indie

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