How I Sold My Show: Nine of TV's Hottest Producers Tell All

Ryan Berlanti Gordon Split - H 2012
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Ryan Berlanti Gordon Split - H 2012

From what to wear (a lucky shirt, a nice suit) to how to prepare (hit the gym, avoid coffee), words of wisdom from Betsy Beers, Shawn Ryan, Greg Berlanti, Howard Gordon and more as pitch season hits full swing.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Television's annual pitch season is in full swing. By December, hundreds of potential shows will  have been bought and put in development by networks and studios. To help the next Shonda Rhimes or Josh Schwartz, THR  reached out to nine of television's hottest producers -- many of whom  have sold multiple projects this development season -- for their advice on how to shill. Here are there tips:

SHAWN RYAN ABC's Last Resort

These networks are like dogs in that they can smell fear, so you’ve really got to walk in fearless and keep up the pace. But the biggest thing that I’ve learned is to pitch the series; don’t pitch the pilot. When we pitched Beverly Hills Cop [bought by CBS this season], I probably spent 10 seconds talking about the pilot and the rest on what the series would be on a weekly basis.

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JON STEINBERG Starz's Black Sails

Try to keep it to 12 to 14 minutes. I can't imagine anyone has ever sold a show in the 16th minute. You’re not helping yourself at that point. In crafting the pitch, you’re trying to answer all of their questions before they ask them. Where are these relationships that are going to drive this? Where is the unexpected element? And how is this a machine that is going to generate story going forward?

BETSY BEERS ABC's Grey's Anatomy

I try to go to the gym the day that I'm pitching so that I actually have more energy. It sounds bizarre, but it helps. And I stay away from too much coffee because between the gym and coffee, they'd probably have to carry me out in a straitjacket and nobody wants to pitch to that.

NOAH HAWLEY ABC's The Unusuals

Someone once told me, "You want to look expensive," so I'll often wear a suit and try to be stylish. I've had studio execs tell me they really appreciate that I bothered to dress up because they're going to entrust you, if you're lucky, with $60 million to $80 million a year, and they want you to at least seem like a professional.

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You can't be discouraged by a no. If you really believe this story that deserves to be a show, it will find the right home. It's very easy between pitch three and four to give up or pitch it without the same degree of enthusiasm, but you need to remember: You only need one yes. 


We like to pitch in the morning. The death slot is 3 p.m. You never want to be the first up after lunch because you know what's happened? They're in a food coma, and they don't want to hear what you're saying. They’re tired. So we try to get in first or second in the morning; or late in theafternoon, around 5, after they’ve had their coffee.

HOWARD GORDON Showtime's Homeland

I like to do a twist on the old "Think Jessica Alba" or "Think Matt Dillon" trick. I remember saying, "If Anne Hathaway from Love & Other Drugs and Anne Hathaway from The Dark Knight Rises had a sister, she'd be Amanda Flynn." So instead of just saying "Think Anne Hathaway," I was able to conjure vulnerable Anne from one film and kickass Anne from the other. Whenever possible, titles are good too.

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BRUCE HELFORD FX's Anger Management

I don't usually pitch titles because you don't want to throw anything in there that they could not like. Also, your first couple of pitches should be to the places that you’re least concerned with selling it to so that you give yourself a chance to work things out. f you can’t do that, pitch it to your studio a few times so that you can work out the bugs. Oh, and if you've got a lucky shirt, wear one. I've got a few.