I have an idea!


So you have a great idea for a TV show and you want to pitch it to a broadcaster. You just know it’s going to be a smash hit, but how do you go about making a broadcaster think likewise? ANDY STEAD gives the low-down.

The first step to a great pitch is to write up a killer proposal in which you not only tell the story, but what you’ll do with it, how you’ll do it (without getting killed, arrested or eaten that is) and what access to the subject matter you can guarantee.
You need to cover the practicalities and logistics. Don’t throw names around unless they are on board with your project already. You’ll look a right twit if you promise footage, or people, that you can’t deliver.

At pitch stage you only really need a script if the show is a drama and probably only if the broadcaster asks for it. It helps to be prepared so it doesn’t hurt to have a script ready. However, you may need to perform the script – are you ready to do that and are you a good reader? Or will you need to take actors with you when you present the script?

You need to know upfront whether the broadcaster wants you to deliver the script in paper format. If your show isn’t a drama but does need to be scripted at some stage, that will happen as and when the broadcasters ask for it.


Before you carry on with the pitch you need to ask yourself – is the idea definitely original? There are hundreds and hundreds of broadcasters green-lighting new shows every day.

Find out which broadcasters are in the region you think your show is a good fit for – local or international. Check out all these broadcasters’ websites and see what they are airing at the moment and what they’ve green-lit in the last year. You need to see if you can find their “what we’re looking for’. If your idea fits in with that, great! If not – it’s back to the drawing board.

If you can afford it, produce a promo to go with your proposal but make sure you have the people you want in the final production in the promo. It may also be more profitable to do a killer casting reel of the characters you’d like to have in the show or whom the show is about.

Say you have an idea about a reality series on a family that owns a pawn shop – a great idea that will crash and burn if you can’t show the broadcaster the incredible characters in the real family at your pitch. If your show needs a host – can you get the person you want? Are they on board? If this person isn’t a well-known celebrity, get them on tape.

However, be prepared for the broadcaster to completely reject your choice and go with someone else.


“A budget is essential,’ says producer Elaine Dodge of Aquavision Television Productions, “but a very general one to start with. Don’t promise you can do a US$500 000 hour show for R75 000.

“You may want to prepare a full crew list with their biographies attached if the broadcaster doesn’t know you as a production company. Local broadcasters insist on this in the initial pitch document.

“They have very specific rules about how and when to pitch an idea. Public service broadcaster SABC has a Request For Proposal (RFP) intake, usually in November, on their website. Read their document carefully and abide by everything in it.

“If they say don’t bind your proposal they mean it. If you do, they will dump it in the bin and not even look at it. With international broadcasters you may be able to put the idea on their website for them to look at as a starting point.’

The personal touch

You may have to pitch in person. Go to the international trade shows like MIPTV, MIPCOM, Wildscreen, WildTalk Africa, Jackson Hole or Comic-Con. Find out which trade show is the best for your idea; find out who would be the best people to sell your idea to and make appointments with them in advance. Learn how to do a killer pitch before you get there.

Be prepared to see a form of your “rejected’ idea on screen. Some broadcasters will tell you upfront that you lose your idea once you pitch it and that you can’t prove they didn’t come up with it first.


If you get the go-ahead from a broadcaster the amount of money you receive from them depends on whether it’s a full commission or a co-production.

“A full commission means the broadcaster pays for everything and owns everything afterwards, including the idea. With a co-production you can negotiate the rights. Know what you want and what you can reasonably expect to get.

“Truly original, well-conceived ideas presented by passionate people who can pull them off are more likely to be winners in the end,’ concludes Dodge.

By Andy Stead

Screen Africa magazine – August 2012


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here