Think you’re the next Shonda Rhimes? Or Tina Fey? Maybe Darren Star? The first step in turning your bright ideas into a television series is developing an elevator pitch. Unlike some of the other elevator pitch types, which are meant to be short, the TV show version is often referred to as the ‘bible’ and contains various important sections.
The hope is that you strike a chord with the reader and that your explanation of why this is a story that needs to be told captures their attention. There are masterclasses from some of the world’s top television writers that are recommended to take but also, you can get started putting together your elevator pitch by working through a few key elements.
- A personal connection. Think of this as your ‘hook’ or ‘lede’ in journalism. Why are you interested in this idea? Why does it matter to you? What’s your passion here?
- The background of the idea. They all come from somewhere, so why did you decide this would make a great television series? This also speaks to your personal background and history, and could be a place where you share your career experience.
- The 101 of the pilot. What happens? Who are the characters? Why is the viewer glued to the tube (or computer screen, these days)?
- The summary of season one. You don’t have to go into extreme detail about all episodes but some experts recommend at least three. Your elevator pitch should include an outline of all episodes, by name and a few sentences.
- The ‘why’ this will last for a long time. No one wants to make a TV series that fizzles after one season. This section is where you convince the reader that it has staying power for many years to come.
3 TV show elevator pitch examples
Trust us, these are long, long pitches but we did our best to condense them down. These examples are all from real TV shows, some of which you’ll recognize from your own Netflix or Hulu queue:
1. ‘Breaking Bad’:
“Vince Gilligan was talking to a friend when he was on ‘The X-Files.’ He was recently unemployed and thinking about leaving writing. He began joking around about cooking meth in an RV to make ends meet. And Vince knew it was a great idea from the start. ‘Have you ever had trouble providing for your family? Do you wonder if they’d be taken care of when you die? If you’d be remembered for anything besides your failures?’
Walter White is in the same boat. He’s the high school chemistry teacher that no one respects. A few weeks ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The guy doesn’t even smoke. His wife’s pregnant. His son has cerebral palsy, and they can barely make ends meet with him alive.
When we meet him, he’s standing in the middle of the Arizona desert in his underwear. Two dead bodies behind him. A gun in his hand, and a portable meth lab parked close by. Sirens are blasting. Is this the end for Walter White? No. It’s just the beginning of our story.
Walter wants more than his short life has offered with him. That’s why he’s decided to Break Bad. He’s about to learn what it takes to become the best meth dealer in town, launder money, and let his newfound ego go to his head.
This is all while hiding his dirty little secret from his family and his DEA Agent brother-in-law. You’ll see him make new friends, dangerous enemies, and perform the single greatest train robbery in history. Walter’s journey is from hero to villain. They say money is the root of all evil. In this series, we’ll plant the seed in the pilot and watch it grow. At the end, the dust settles as a legend is born and a man dies. This is ‘Breaking Bad.’”
Why it works: It covers all of the bases, while also painting a very clear picture of the story and the scenery. The opening is also something we can all relate to: who hasn’t wondered about the progress of their life and where it’s taking them?
2. ‘New Girl’:
“The working title of the show is ‘Chicks and D–ks.’ But obviously this isn’t France, so we’ll have to change it. This is a modern Battle of the Sexes, an Anti Sex and the City, a reverse Three’s Company. It’s the story of a clueless single girl moving into an apartment with three single guys.
But what does the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ look like right now? We live in a time when guys act like girls and girls act like guys- tight jeans, crying in public, dieting aka becoming a vegan, these all used to be our thing. Now a lot of girls I know are dirty, hairy beasts who never want to have kids. A lot has changed.
But also nothing has changed. Women are still emotional wrecks who can’t park and men are still horny bastards who are really good at opening jars.
I want to take the idea behind ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ without the ending. Can men and women just be friends?” Yeah. Sure. Slate magazine reported last week that 1 out of 10 people ages 25 to 34 said that they have a best friend — not just a friend, a best friend of the opposite sex. Cool. But what does that look like?
I’m writing this show for my guy friends Matteo, Jeff, and Jay who read all the text messages, Facebook messages, and phone messages from the men in my life. What does it mean if a guy is blank? The answer lies somewhere between ‘He’s Trying to Have Sex with You’ and ‘Stop Calling Him. It’s Getting Weird.’ I’m incapable of saying the right thing. A guy once told me that he thought I was hot until I opened my mouth and spoke. Talking to men is like going to another country where you don’t speak the language and using a basic phrasebook to try and find eternal happiness. Without my guy friends translating, I’d just keep saying “How are you?” until someone robbed me.
And I’m there when my guy friends need me — I’m the date to parties and weddings and events. I introduce them to my friends and run interference when they try and fail to date girls I know.
And when Jeff told me his new girlfriend still sleeps with a stuffed animal named Brownie, I told him that wasn’t a normal “girl thing” and he needed to break up with that crazy b—h immediately. They’re now living together. Which reminded me why I have the cardinal rule of male/female friendship — always, no matter what, make nice with the girlfriend.
There’s a give and take with all my guy friends — we need each other’s help. The New York Times recently wrote that Twenty-Somethings have been so slow to complete basic life milestones — like becoming financially independent, getting married, and having children — that scientists are now creating a new stage of life somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, called “Emerging Adulthood.” Now you can’t accuse us of not accomplishing anything —we’re setting record lows for emotional maturity.
We aren’t Harry and Sally, we’re idiot twenty-somethings making our way in a world that refuses to give us loans. We are the generation of Craigslist sublets and partial employment. We don’t fake our orgasms, we tape them and put them on the internet. We’re weird, and we deserve to be made fun of.
The tone of the show is edgy humor surrounded with love — Ledgy. It’s me guest-starring on ‘Entourage.’ It’s ‘Bridget Jones’ forced to live inside a Judd Apatow movie. It’s Jonah Hill wearing spanks.”
Why it works: Nearly every single heterosexual girl out there would relate to this story — and it instantly grabs your attention from the snarky voice from the get-go.
3. ‘Freaks & Geeks’:
“Did any of us really know people like that in high school? Did any of us ever look like that in high school? Did any of us ever have those problems in high school?
For most of us, high school was about trying to get through each day without getting beaten up or humiliated. It was about constantly being faced with evidence that contradicted the way our parents and churches told us the world was supposed to work. Life wasn’t fair. People weren’t that nice. Things didn’t always work out for the best. And, unlike the kids on TV, we rarely if ever confided in our parents or came to them for help. We never even really bothered to confront them if we were mad at something they’d done. We just tried to get through life as best we could, usually in the face of overwhelming adult, parent and peer pressure.
This isn’t a show so much about what teenagers do but about the way they think, perceive and deal with the world around them. It’s about confronting the first real obstacles that life throws at you outside the safety of your home and parents. It’s about the gradual loss of innocence. For some teenagers, this entails a fight to keep that innocence at all costs and for others, it’s about the desperation to get rid of that innocence as quickly and as harshly as possible.
A lot of high school shows deal mainly with dating and the drama that surrounds that. But my experience was that even though dating was something you thought about back then, it was something you rarely had the nerve to do because it entailed actually having to interact with and expose part of your psyche to the opposite sex. And who had the time or nerve to do that? High school was really much simpler than that when you got right down to it.
High school was about survival. And it still is.
It’s about avoiding getting beaten up or humiliated or in trouble or even drawing attention to yourself if you can help it. Because for most of us, attention only brought persecution.
In its simplest form, high school broke down to:
- a) who you liked,
- b) who you didn’t like,
- c) who you were attracted to (strictly on a physical level) and
- d) who you were afraid of.
It was about what group you became part of — because no high school student doesn’t belong to one group or another (because even if you weren’t in a group, you were in a group that was comprised of other people who decided to not be part of a group — ergo, you were in a group). And the interaction within the groups and the interaction between groups was and continues to be the politics of high school and adolescence.
For most kids, high school represents one thing — something they’re simply trying to get through. Unfortunately, there’s no TV show that tells kids that what they’re going through day to day, all the little obstacles and aggression that seem so terrible and epic at the moment they’re happening, are just the way it’s always been and always will be when you stick a group of young to mid-teens together in a large cinder block building and hope that they’ll socialize.
That is, there wasn’t a show like that until now …
‘Freaks and Geeks’ is a weekly one hour comedy/drama about high school that follows the parallel stories of a brother and sister — Sam and Lindsay Weir. Each belongs to a different group in the high school caste system — the two groups that seem to dwell farthest outside of the rest of the school: The ‘freaks” and the “geeks.’”
Why it works: When pitching anything, you want to relate to the biggest audience you can. And since most people went to high school, this one nails it — and then some.