If you’re an aspiring television writer, trying to get staffed this season or perhaps (like me), you’ve got an original pilot (or two) you’re shopping, understanding the business cycles can be helpful in planning and executing your strategies.
2011 Staffing and Development Calendar
Feb. – May: Executives read scripts and take “staffing meetings” with agents and managers for network shows.
Late May: Upfronts (when networks show off their new shows to entice advertisers to commit to buy commercial airtime “up front”, months before the shows’ premieres), pilots are picked up to series, staff is put in place.
June: Most writer rooms begin.
July: Shows start shooting.
Development Time Line
June - Oct. Networks hear pitches (Cable hears pitches year around)
Aug. - Sept. Scripts are ordered
Nov Outlines are delivered
Dec Scripts are delivered
Jan - Feb. Pilots are ordered
Feb - March Pilots are shot
May Pilots picked up to series
Jen Grisanti, author of Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story and TV Writer's Tool Kit: How To Write A Script That Sells, is no stranger to all this activity. With over a dozen years as a studio executive, Jen has heard thousands of pitches and read as many scripts. She has a lot to offer the aspiring writers she mentors through her consulting firm as well as NBC’s Writer’s on the Verge and CBS’ Diversity Program.
First off, for a successful staffing season, Jen recommends that you have one current spec script (by current she means that it should not be older than 2 years) and two original pilots. She also says it's good to have plays and features in addition to two original pilots.
With staffing, Jen believes that you should make a list of the top three to five shows that you want to staff on. Then, make sure that your writing portfolio supports this goal.
When you're writing your pilot, Jen suggests studying the greats that have gone before you – and keeping up-to-date on your knowledge of the industry and marketplace. “Two nearly-perfect pilots in the past two years,” Jen recommends (that are great to study) “are White Collar and The Good Wife.”
The Tracking Board is a great resource for TV research and study and they are offering a 15% discount to readers of this blog: http://www.tracking-board.com/promo/?pppcode=15off.
Jen further advises that your logline should tell the Pitchee where you're going and ideally, you'll have some sort of personal connection or resonance with the character(s), world and story.
“For pilots, especially,” Jen suggests, “take us to a world we don’t know. Or, if it’s a world we do know, take us there in a new way or show us that world through a new angle or unique character’s point of view.”
The premise of your pilot script should present your Protagonist with a “rock and a hard place” dilemma. There’s his or her life before the inciting incident - and their life after. The drama comes out of the choice(s) he or she makes. The pilot, one of the toughest scripts to write - the answer to that powerful dilemma - is what earns the series.
“A lot of series now,” Jen continues, “intertwine the personal and the professional, paralleling these goals and storylines and raising the stakes simultaneously. The “All is Lost” moment is when the Protagonist is as far away as possible from his or her goal - but we must see that goal achieved.”
The value of irony and subtext cannot be under-estimated as powerful tools in the TV Writer’s arsenal. And the more you can capitalize on the trifecta tools of anticipation, expectation and surprise!
A terrific technique Jen suggests is reading your original pilot script from back to front to ensure that each preceding scene sets up the one that follows it.
That's great advice for being able to get your TV spec and pilot script in the strongest place possible, increasing your chances to staff and sell your pilot.