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How to turn your TV pilot script into a TV show

Every TV writer dreams of seeing their words up on the "small screen." This is every TV writers goal, whether they're a newcomer or a seasoned vet.





Because, the truth is, it's very rare to see your words up on screen. Even writers who sell something rarely get to see their script come to fruition.


Why? Surely the networks buy scripts and make them and put them on TV?


Sort of...


When a network buys a pilot script from somebody, that's when development starts. And development could take ages. Lots of projects die in development and those TV shows never see the light of day.


For staff writers writing on a TV show, the script you turn in for your episode is just a first draft. So, even then, when the show is already on the air, you'll probably be re-written so much that what you originally wrote looks totally different.


I say this at the start of this post because...


You need to enjoy the process of writing


If all you want out of writing for TV is to see the end product on the TV screen, then you are in the wrong business.


Some very skilled, very successful writers have never seen their shows on the air. And that doesn't mean they've done anything wrong. Many continue to have great careers. It's just the nature of the business.


So, now that we've weeded out those who don't enjoy the process, let's get down to figuring out how to turn your TV pilot script into a TV show.


First Step: Network with people in the industry


The TV business is about who you know. And a great script is only as good as who you can show it to.


So, how do you start networking?


My first piece of advice is to move to LA. Merely by being here, you're able to meet tons of people in the industry.


I live in LA and I can name ten people just out of my neighbors alone who are involved in entertainment, a few of whom are writers as well.


Getting a job as a PA or assistant in some capacity is another way to start growing your networking circle.


Of course, you may not live in a city with a TV or film production industry. That's okay.


Look to the internet.


Start an online writers' group. Start reaching out to people on screenwriting TikTok or Reddit. Go to a student film screening in your town. There are people around you or online who are trying to do the same things you are.





And having those connections is a huge step. Because if even one of them starts to make some strides in the industry, look how powerful your group just got.


Get into the TV writers' room


Caveat right at the top -- this is not easy. And there's not one direct route to get inside.


I first got my taste of a TV writers' room by being an assistant. I was a production assistant first, then became a writers' assistant where I was the one taking notes in the writers' room.


But there are other ways to make it in there as well. Your networking could provide fruitful and get you connected to somebody who's hiring.


You could submit your work to a competition, which, if you win, could provide great connections as well. These often lead to attention from managers or agents, who can get you into the right rooms to meet the right people.


(Are you seeing a theme here? At every stage, it all comes down to networking.)


The goal here is to become a staffed writer on a TV show. Having some credits on big shows under your belt allows you to become a name in the industry and have an easier time getting meetings.

And in order to get your TV pilot script onto TV, you're going to take a lot of meetings.



So, let's say you become a staff writer on a TV show. You will have a much easier time meeting the executives of the network or streamer your show is on just by being close to them. And you can ask for a meeting.



Or one of your other connections might come in handy and you get a meeting at another network.


Basically, you are looking for a pitch meeting. And you won't be showing them your pilot script. Instead you'll have to...


Develop a pitch for your TV show


Executives don't necessarily want to see that you've written a pilot. In fact, you're banking on the fact that they want to pay you for your pilot. So, instead, you make a pitch.


A pitch is a 15-20 minute presentation, in which you have slides and you describe the world of your show, the characters, the story, and basically you try to convince them that they should buy your show.


This is a whole other skill outside of writing that writers have to develop. In fact, it's far more in line with acting than writing. Regardless, selling is part of the job.


So, let's say they say yes to the pitch. Does that mean your show is going to be on the air?


No. Well, not yet anyway.


You've now entered...


Studio/Network Development


When the execs say yes to your TV show, there are a few possibilities...


They may want to team you with a higher-level writer to develop the idea further.


They may pay you to write the TV pilot. (Which will be great because you've already written it. However, if you've gotten to this stage, through the pitching process it may have changed so much that you have to start relatively fresh anyway.)


They may create a mini-room and gather a group of writers to write all the episodes and then decide if they want to make it.


Or they might greenlight the series and start making it right away.


Seeing your TV pilot script on screen


Other than the final option, every other "yes" has many steps along the way before you see your show on TV.


But even if the show ends up getting stuck in "development purgatory" and nothing ever comes of it, you've still had a huge success. You've made it to a stage most writers don't.


This is a big win and it will make it easier for you to get meetings and develop your next project.


Remember when I said you have to like the process? This is the reason for it. If you like the writing and the story creation, then it will all have been worth it.


The stages I've outlined take years


This is a breezy post because I want to succinctly explain the process behind how writers get their own material on TV.


But starting from knowing nobody, to developing a network, to getting staffed on a show, to getting meetings, all the way to selling a show takes years. Sometimes decades.


My goal here is to demystify the process by showing how these careers progress.


If you're looking to get your career started, you can take some inspiration from my story here.


For writing advice, check out how the professionals craft episodes of TV here.


And you can sign up below to see the seven ways my friends and colleagues and I have gotten our first jobs in entertainment.

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Hello!

I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.

 

You can pre-order Breaking Into TV Writing here:

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