What They Want

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

In the television business, this is pitching season. This is the time when writers file into network offices, sit down on waiting-room sofas, flip through that day's trades, get asked "Can I get you guys anything?" and are then led into a large office with a bunch of young executives and a guy named Josh who has a yellow legal pad on his lap, make some small talk, chuckle appreciatively, endure a small, expectant silence, and then go into the pitch.

The pitch is supposed to be an opportunity to tell them what you want to write. What you want to cast and shoot and produce one hundred episodes of.

But what it often is, is a result of what you think -- or have heard, or have been told -- is what they want. Because they want something. They always want something.

I mean, you might go in there with a great idea for a fresh, funny, family show, but if they've just gotten a load of IM's from the boss and if Josh has a stack of memos all they're all saying the same thing -- stay away from family; build younger urban demographic -- then you've got your work cut out for you.

But, see, if you go in there with a fresh funny show that will effortlessly build their younger urban demographic -- what you were told they want -- you may sell the pitch, but be disappointed a few months later when the project doesn't get a production order because they're suddenly seeing some success with the last remaining family show they have on their schedule. So when it comes time to order pilots, they order a lot of those. Of course, that happens in January. When all of the pilots come in, around May, and they make decisions for the fall schedule, it very easily could have turned around again. What they want in October is not always what they want in January, and rarely what they still want in May.

The trick, then, is to pitch something that, when Josh has written up and distributed his notes to the rest of the team, can be spun any way you want: it's young, it's family, it's outside the box, it's taped up inside the box, it's single camera and it's multiple camera and it's web based and middle of the road edgy funny single people family kids without kids arc-driven freshly reworked past successful high-concept original material that's worked well before with a strong point of view and a very very fresh take.

Got it?

The problem here is that in October, it's really too early to tell what's working for them on the fall schedule, so it's impossible to tell what they want. Or what they think they want. Or what they need, which are three different things. But you have to go in and pitch in October because you need to be able to write the script so they can give out pilot orders in January, after they've found out that what they thought they wanted back in October isn't really what they need anymore. And you have to get a pilot order in January because you need three months to put together the pilot by May, when they suddenly realize that what they ordered isn't quite what they needed.

But you know what? Just go in and pitch the show you want to do. And if it isn't what they want, then congratulations! You've figured out what they need.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll talk about your melon. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long