Bad Robot TV Boss: Many British Writers Would Fail at U.S.-Style Pitch

BBC Ben Stephenson - H 2013

BBC Ben Stephenson - H 2013

Ben Stephenson moved from the BBC to Bad Robot in early 2015.

Less than 18 months after making the leap across the Atlantic from the head of BBC Drama to helm the TV arm of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, Ben Stephenson has already noticed one major difference between the U.S. and U.K. TV industries.

British writers, he claims, simply don't understand the U.S. pitch process.

"In the U.K., you say hello; you talk about the fact that Polly [Hill] has moved to ITV; you talk about the weather; you talk about shoes; you talk about anything else and then say, 'Well, I do have an idea, but I don't think you'll like it. I'll send you an email later,'" he said during a panel discussion at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

"Whereas in the U.S., the pitch is the deal; it is the formal process. They often sell straight-to-series shows purely on the pitch."

U.S. writers, he notes, are "schooled" in the pitch, talking for up to an hour and often about a whole show "without being f—ing boring."

"It is such an art. I think that many British writers would fail at that, which I think is not their own personal failings but the system. It's not better or worse; it's just how it's done."

Another difference, he says, is use of the phone.

"In the U.K., we don't phone people at all. We have long conversations about stuff, but we don't do short calls. Whereas in the U.S., it's all about phone calls," Stephenson said, adding that he now has around 10 missed calls after each lunch break.

"And you have to phone them back that day, and it is a massive cultural difference, and it's why Americans in Britain get so frustrated. In the U.S., they're deeply insulted."

Stephenson spent 11 years at the BBC and is credited with overseeing a revival of drama and commissioning shows such as Peaky Blinders, Line of Duty, Happy Valley, The Missing and Luther.