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The Anatomy of a Television Show

Updated on May 12, 2011

What  are your chances, real chances, of turning your flawless script into something that resembles success? By success, I mean, maybe you win the screenwriting contest, get an agent, they get your script to a reader in the production firm that is interested, then, approved and receive an offer of $25,000?


You often hear about how an oscar winning script took only a week of long hours to create, then months of rewrites, then how it was rejected, sat on the shelf for years, rediscovered, and so on. There are tons of screenwriting classes around, all claiming that you can be the next hit wonder, you can make your one-liner pitch to prominent movie execs.

The whole process begins in May-June, when writers with agents pitch their one liner ideas to execs. Literally, it takes less than a few minutes. CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX each take 500 pitches ( loglines). Of those, 70 are selected by each network to further pursue and writers get busy creating the draft submission in Sept. This is where the whole premise, story, characters are created to show how it develops. Of the 70, by January, each network selects 20 of them to actually begin creating a pilot show, a test run. The ones that are selected now race to find the actors, directors etc. The pilot must be done before May of the following year, for that is when the networks will then select between 4-8 of them to be "new" TV shows that will air in September or October. Of those, only 1 or 2 will survive ratings enough for more than one season!

The whole thing is a product of hunches. Many shows make all the way through, yet, are cancelled after only two episodes because of bad ratings (My Generation, is one of them). others last a little longer, like the Undercovers, which made four episodes., CBS' "Chaos" had three episodes and Fox's "Lonestar" had two. The shows get the ax mainly because of viewers, after all, a show that is watched receives higher ad revenues, one's that are not, get dumped. What is critical for a new show is the first 15 minutes. Viewers interested tune in, check it out and if the viewer drops in the last 15 minutes, that is a bad omen.

The odds are most will fail because the networks do not want to give them much time to adjust the show's problems because competition is stiff. The same applies to movies, where development time can be years, and then the movie is shelved and may or may not be released. In the case with movies, the movie stars can easily propel the movie through the process quicker but ultimately, it is the studios decision. Many times, financial backers, back out, dooming it, or, actors are not available for the shoot.


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