Question for FilmTVLaw.com:
Saw your Q&A blog at www.filmtvlaw.com. I’ve got a concept for a reality television series and went out and bought the life story rights already. Now I am trying to wrap my head around how to get it made. Should I pitch it to production companies or go straight to the Networks? Another friend who is established in the industry said I need a pilot. Any help would be super.
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Thanks for contacting me about independent television production. It is a hot topic right now because so much great content is now finding a market on television and video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Whether to try to independently produce a television series depends a lot on the format of the series, financial resources, and ambitions for the series. Our firm has been helping a lot of clients get television distribution. I will explain how to make the decision whether to pitch to an established production company or produce a television series independently. In addition to this article, you can also look up our Q&A blog at http://filmtvlaw.com/entertainment-lawyer-qa/.
First, the format of the series is critical. If you want to develop a scripted one-hour drama or a half-hour sitcom, the odds of success will increase if you pursue the traditional route of television development. That means focusing on cast and the material. A solid, professionally written pilot teleplay, one or two A-list cast members, and network quality development materials are essential. A sizzle-reel can help, but only if it is broadcast quality. From there our firm can help to pitch to production companies who will work with you to produce a pilot and set up the series at a network.
Reality television, however, is wide open for independent production. But independent production does not mean Youtube.com or a web series. The problem with web series are two-fold. First, if a producer wants to approach a network about a web series, that web series must have over 100K, and preferably over 1M views before the networks will even start to take notice. If a producer puts the series or pilot onto a public video service like Youtube and it only acquires a few thousand views, then the producer is actually making a case for the project having no market.
Second, the Networks are fighting like crazy right now to stay relevant, and not to end up being considered just another Youtube channel themselves. That relevance means seeing fresh, unique content that is not available anywhere else. So network executives will run the other direction when you bring web content to them, unless of course the series has several million views.
However, independently producing a pilot for reality TV (broadcast quality, of course), can be a ticket to a network deal. Content is critical, and budget is also key. Make sure that the series does not cost millions of dollars per episode to produce, and also do not produce something that requires major tie-ins from other organizations or events. Keep it simple and really compelling. And make sure you know what Networks want before you start shooting. No reason to spend a few hundred-thousand on a pilot, only to realize the concept was last year’s trend for reality TV. We can help clients zero in on what is hot now at networks.
Children’s programming can also be produced independently. Both animated and live-action can work, but be sure that you are producing for the appropriate demographic, since children’s programming needs to fit certain criteria to find a place on the networks. Is there an educational component? What is the age range for the programming? Make sure you have a clear idea for the market before moving into production.
Choose Your Network
Second, consider what type of network distribution you want. The big four television networks are going to be the most challenging, and produce most content in-house, or with a few major studio production companies. Independent television production is not realistic for this category of networks.
Premium cable is another class where independent series are a long shot. Although you could certainly independently produce a film, or even a short mini-series for a premium cable network, full season scripted series are going to need to be developed in the more traditional way.
Cable television is certainly home to much independently produced content, from reality television to mini-series, movie-of-the-week, children’s programming and fully-sponsored content. This is the place where independent television production is taking off. However, every network has a very particular style. Our firm can help pin-point the market before a lot of money goes into production.
Video On Demand
Third, video-on-demand is huge right now and many viewers are abandoning the linear broadcast channel format altogether for exclusively paid and subscription VOD. However, even here there are two tracks. There is the content that is featured and/or produced in-house by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others, and then there is the vast thumbnail wasteland of acquired content. Our clients produce content that is promoted and watched, not just placed at the end of a scroll list.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex matters without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. At BLAKE & WANG P.A. I have been representing feature film projects, television series, and recording artists for more than 16 years. Please feel free to contact my office at www.filmtvlaw.com about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer