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How to Sell a TV Show to Netflix

How to Sell a TV Show to Netflix

READ MORE: 7 New Netflix Shows to Binge Watch in April 2015 (And the Best Episodes of Each)

While the spring of 2015 has been dominated by Netflix releasing high profile series after high profile series, “House of Cards,” “Bloodline” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” aren’t the only new shows available now for streaming.

Residue,” created by John Harrison, premiered yesterday on Netflix with three 45 minute-long episodes. The genre series, starring “Game of Thrones” notables Natalie Tena and Iwan Rheon, tracks the aftermath of a devastating explosion on the city of London and the government conspiracy that might be concealing the truth. (Netflix users might expect to see it as a recommended pick if they’ve watched a lot of “The X-Files” or other genre programming.)

Via both phone and email, Indiewire got a step-by-step breakdown of how “Residue’s” first season landed on the streaming giant, and what might happen next with the series.

Step 1: Think Up the Show

“Residue” began life as an idea in Harrison’s head. He then brought it to producer Charlotte Walls after a positive experience working with her on the horror film, “Clive Barker’s Book of Blood.”

“When [‘Book of Blood’] was finished and released, I went back to [Walls] and said, ‘Look, I have another idea that I really want to do and I’m bringing it to you first because I would love to work with you guys,'” he said. 

And Harrison had a huge amount of material for the idea. “The thing I had envisioned was quite a long story. The movie that I was pitching them was essentially the beginning of the mythology, and with success we would have the opportunity to do more, so television sounded really exciting to me, given how it has evolved over the past several years — the novelization of television. Also, many of the networks are really getting creatively engaged with genre material, which was not always true in the early 2000s and going back.”

Step 2: Finance the Show

The actual story covered by the first three episodes of “Residue” is very different from Harrison’s initial plan. After optioning and developing the material, producer Charlotte Walls came to Harrison with the idea — and more importantly, the money — for a project that would function, in Harrison’s words, as “a proof-of-concept pilot.”

“Whenever somebody says they have money for production, you have to take it!” he said. According to Walls, “Residue” found its funding via International Pictures Four, Screen Yorkshire and Green Screen Studios.

Because some of the money came from the UK, Harrison didn’t direct — they had to make sure a certain percentage of the crew was British. “We hired a very young talented British director [Alex Garcia Lopez], who I had a great collaborative relationship with,” he said.

“[Lopez] is so key to the project, which carries his signature style. He was the hook for Iwan Rheon, who he worked with on ‘Misfits,'” Walls said.  

“If we get to the next group and I’m able to write them all and get them written before we get to production,” Harrison said, “Then it would be easier for me to drop back into the director’s chair.”

Step 3: Make the Show

How do you bring on board known players like Tena and Rheon? Harrison attributed that to the script, as well as its unconventional nature. “I think the combination of the material and the creative team attracted all the talent. I think everybody knew that we had great ambitions for this as well, so they wanted to get on board.”

Those ambitions included an unconventional approach to the production, which led to a the project becoming both a TV show and a film. “When we got it into post-production our distributor, Content Media, took a look at it and said, ‘Let’s… go straight to television,'” Harrison said. “So I wrote some additional scenes so we could pull, into these first three episodes, some of the bigger conspiracy themes. We shot those and re-edited them into the three hours that are now airing on Netflix.”

“‘Residue’ is quite pioneering in that it is truly multi-format,” Walls said. “We scripted, shot and cut the project as a movie, which was released theatrically in the UK on March 20, 2015 on a limited release. Whilst we were in post-production, we reviewed the material and decided to create the three-parter as well, which was then sold to Netflix in this format specifically.”

Step 4: Get the Show to Netflix

How did that happen? Well, when “Residue” was completed in its newfound form as a television show, distributor Content Media brought the show to the October 2014 MIPCON, a trade show held in Cannes that serves as a marketplace for international television. They also made sure that Netflix got a chance to see it in advance.

“That really began the sales pitch,” Harrison said. “We had a number of entities who were interested in it, but Netflix wanted to take it off the table.”

The show is now available for streaming in English-language territories; a global launch will roll out over the course of the year. In the meantime…

Step 5: Make More of the Show(?)

 It’s really only the beginning of the story, according to Walls. “‘Residue’ Season 1 is really an extended pilot and should be thought of that way,” she said. “Netflix don’t necessarily do the Amazon-style pilot season. But ‘Residue’ is really more in that model where these first three chapters are live before the existence of a full season.”

Thus the plan is to work towards a 10-episode second season, and Netflix already has the exclusive option on it. Walls did clarify that because 10 episodes is a larger commitment, there would have to be adjustments. “Any full season would always be more traditional in its financing as the overall budget would be so much greater,” Walls said. “Netflix would be at the center of that finance plan from day one, hence the option.”

But independent financing has some advantages, and Harrison was happy with the experience: “It’s a terrific thing for someone like me, because creatively I’m answering to my partners as opposed having to deal with a normal network structure. We made this without any interference from studios or networks. We were with the studio! That, to me, was really great.”

“Residue” is now streaming on Netflix.

Note: This article has been updated after publication with additional quotes and clarifications. 

READ MORE: Big Surprise: Netflix Orders ‘Bloodline’ Season 2

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Thomas Mercer


Daniel Duerto

Does anyone know if festivals like Austin Film Festival, Hell Yes Fest, NYTVF, and LA Comedy Festival would be good places to enter independent pilots in hope an online platform such as netflix, hulu, or amazon sees it and expresses interest?

Feank MaSSa

tried. Even spoke with the CEO of Netflix in Los Angeles.. his reply.. "WE DONT BUY CANADIIAN SHOWS"

I Don’t blame him though, bc Canadian TV content has a stinky History !

Ohhh well at least my 1st Series creation was originally picked up by The Super Channel network in 2013 and now ‪#‎Hulu‬ is streaming it as of October 30, 2015

    Brian M.

    That’s not true, they do to buy Canadian shows!

Aaron Dennis

How exactly is this "indie as they come" when Harrison had an "in" from working on something as major as a Clive Barker piece?


"They also made sure that Netflix got a chance to see it in advance."

Um, how?

Mike Wells

Gives me a direction to go with our Paranormal Series called S.P,E.C.T.O.R Team we are shooting now…Kind of a Ghost adventures,Dead Files and some instructional twist to it…Ironic I had been thinking…How do I approach Netflix when we are done

Drew Carson

I like this approach a lot. I think it worked well for Residue (I would love to see a full-blown series) and for Ascension (wow, that would be a great full series). I think What Netflix has come up with is a level something between a pilot and a full series. It’s not unlike the things have worked in the comics industry, where Marvel might run a 4-issue book and see what happens. However, in comics the author can take feedback from fans and critics after each issue and then change direction. I doubt that extends to the extended pilot idea.

mary picciano

someone needs to hear / read my story .its true its my hihlites the events but if we spoke you would see the color and the events and the survival to get to where I am . my life was and still is a trip.


Jess, with all due respect, what are you on about? Do you only watch movies that are trilogies because one movie will be over too quick? Because that is the direct correlation to your statement and I hope you agree that worded that way, it makes no sense.


What made Misfuts successful was the humor mixed with the thrills. Residue is the most tedious, dour 3 hours I’ve ever sat through. The dialogue is trite and the motivations of the characters are opaque. You couldn’t pay me to sit through that again.


guys, I have a pilot for a series already shot, it’s just an idea since it’s low budget, it’s a 45 minute, anyone’s got any idea on how to go about showing the idea to netflix, a bit lost, many thanks, David Leonel


    David Leonel – did you ever find out how to get to Netflix to pitch your show?


@JESS we’re not really targeting viewers like you. Because making a full season up front costs so much, we like to put the concept out there to test the waters first. Viewers with comments like yours don’t help create good products.


it is mipcom, not mipcon


"Indie"? Really? When did the word lost its meaning? So the Secret to get a show on Netflix, is to get 2 big name stars currently in Game of Thrones, then using contacts from a career with over 18 directing credits (inside the world of TV) he gets a TV PRODUCER to bank the pilot and pay for it, then pay to take it to Cannes (Not cheap) and of course get Netflix attention.. Bravo.. lol It tustve been so difficult to get this done. So the title of the article "How to sell a TV show to Netflix" is basically "Have a ton of cash at hand and the TV contacts to make it work".. Very Indy Indywire..


    Agree with Jake…Indy my arse. There are many, many uber creatives out there that don’t get the light of day. Need to open it up folks.



Robert Brown

I have a finished eleven episode series about the voyage of the smallest powerboat to cross the Atlantic visiting 12 countries and into the Arctic. No cabin no escort

Michelle Spence

It’s disingenuous to call "Residue" a TV show. It was financed as a low budget, UK financed feature film, shot as feature, distributed as a feature with a VOD release on iTunes.

After the fact and releasing that its appeal would be low, it’s been repackaged as a three part show and purchased by Netflix.

House of Cards is really the model one should use to show how a show was pitched and developed for Netflix. The company with the rights to the original BBC series approached different networks including HBO, Showtime and AMC, but Netflix, hoping to launch its own original programming, outbid the other networks. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, looked at the data of Netflix users’ streaming habits and concluded that there was an audience for Fincher and Spacey.


Just watched the entirety. I’m in. Kept me hooked and engaged, Hope to binge ;) on this in the future.


I watched the 3 episodes in one sitting and loved it. I can’t wait for more.

Latasha Gilmore

I loved the mini series and am crushed it’s over just like that. SMH… All I need right now is to know when the rest of it premieres.

Neil S. Hester

I fell for this show instantly, and watched all three episodes non-stop the minute I discovered it. The only issue I had with it was that 3 EPs wasn’t enough… it was like a tease. The ending was good, as far as cliffhangers go, and left me itching for more. If it isn’t picked up for a 2nd season it would be a tragedy.


I want to see more! Being a GOT fan, had to watch this after seeing who the stars were and I’m hooked!


I loved this 3 episodes series, this is an excellent British show. Bring series 2 soon please, I love British shows, and most of the Sci- Fi British shows are brilliant !!!!


Money has always fueled the fire of art, as a trip to any decent museum or opera house should easily demonstrate. As to the three episodes, such flexibility should allow the presentation of riskier works, so I applaud it. I’m sure I will see some quite dreadful three episode pilots, but that is the cost of seeing one whose appeal is not immediately obvious to risk-averse executives.


So… your big advice for how to sell a show is to know someone with power and money? Revolutionary. Wow. Thanks so much.


when u think B&D show will come up


This is really interesting, and especially so as these guys are getting their product out there with the media giants very much from an indie perspective. The studio system will always win but what fun to discover and promote new voices as well, piped directly into people’s homes to see what speaks to the audience. I watched this show on Netflix and I think it has a lot of promise, I’d be interested to see what happens here next… they have set a lot of story up, but will they get to explore it over more episodes? Thank god for indie money as well as giant-created fare… I reckon this director has a long future ahead of him and I think some hard risk and a fresh approach in the creative industries should be applauded.

John E. Byrd

And as a mere, lowly screenwriter, how to rock ’em sock ’em?


So once again, the element lighting this fire was MONEY –


the problem is, I don’t watch shows that only have 3 episodes, or even just one season, because in this age of binge-watching, who wants to start on something that will be over in "a minute," and may not be continued? I wait until a show proves to be successful, THEN I watch all of it. So putting out 3 episodes, kind of like amazon’s "pilot season" thing, seems kinda pointless as far as a measure of whether or not people will like it. Make the whole show, or don’t. I realize that is too risky, financially, but then the risk becomes that the creators and networks don’t really know if a show will be popular bc they haven’t made enough of it for many people to bother watching…

cinee frank

I really enjoyed the show and the characters Please bring more of the show.

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can you put dance moms on netflix me and my 10 friends love that show i would like to see it on netflixs


I have a documentary that details my life and it’s also like the first episode of my show about my type of art work..I have complete funding,, and equipment. Reality tv show.


it seems one has to already have a contact within to be able to pitch.

David Widner

My name is David Widner and my two uncles John and Clarence Anglin escaped from Alcatraz in 1962. We have proof they were alive in 1975. We would like the world to know what the Feds have been hiding from the public for years now. One of my uncles was involved in the MK-Ultra project that was conducted by the CIA. If you would like to know more about this story please contact me by email at or by phone at (229)894-0657. Please see attached a show I did for the History channel called “ Alcatraz Search for the Truth”

Thank you for your time.
David Widner

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