The world of television can be contentious and cutthroat, especially for young, new creatives looking to get their voices heard. Luckily, the New York Television Festival is trying to throw as much support behind new ideas as possible.
The NYTVF is entering its twelfth year with this year’s Independent Pilot Competition. The festival runs October 24-29, but things are off to a roaring start with Tuesday night’s Meet The Buyers panel, where executives from Comedy Central, IFC, truTV and Seeso were speaking. Anyone is open to submit their pilots for festival consideration, but before you do, you should read these great tips given at the panel.
1. Know the network you’re pitching to.
Knowledge will get you far, especially when pitching TV pilots to networks that cater to specific niche audiences. “We try to champion the shows that best represent the network sensibility,” said Maura Madden of IFC. “[The shows] we are the most passionate about.”
During the panel, Madden reiterated this point again and tried to get people to avoid a simple mistake: “Know what is on the channel now. Don’t base your pitch off what was on the network two or three years ago.”
2. Let your creative voice shine through.
The point that was hammered home the most during the hour-long conversation was the need for creative and unique voices. The No. 1 thing these networks are looking for is an original perspective on things — one that can carry a program.
“No. 1, we are looking for strong talent with a strong point of view, ” truTV’s Angel Annussek said. “No. 2, we want them to have an inventive, creative way.”
Ari Pearce from Comedy Central gave a looser piece of advice, saying that creators should “just make stuff that you like and makes you laugh. No subject matter is off limits.”
An important part of allowing your voice to breath is the world you create. “‘Portlandia’ has created a really strong, iconic world,” Madden said. “Someone will be reading Bon Appetite and be like, ‘This is a “Portlandia” recipe!’ It’s everywhere.”
3. Be passionate and prepared…
“You have to be passionate,” exuded Dan Kerstetter, of the new comedy streaming service Seeso. “It’s obvious when someone comes in with an idea they think someone will buy.”
Passion is a driving factor when pitching. You need to not only know what exactly you’re pitching, but why you love it and why you think audiences will feel the same. Passion will get you far, but you need to be able to answer the right question when the time comes.
Madden gave out one specific example: “Why is this a series and not a feature? Know the answer!”
4. …but not overly so.
You have your whole life to come up with that first pitch. Yet, despite that, you want it to sound as fresh as possible. Despite the importance of being prepared, an overly rehearsed pitch can completely kill a conversation. A pitch is a conversation. Execs are looking for people who can sell their idea but do so in a way where it feels like it’s really coming from the heart.
“You know the saying you have your whole life to make your first album?” Kerstetter asked the crowd. “It’s a lot like that.”
5. “Compliment the fuck out of people.”
“Seriously, compliment people. Compliment the fuck out of people,” Madden said, only half-jokingly. “It’s always a good way to break the ice.”
It is half a joke, but nonetheless a quick compliment early on can go a long way. Something as simple as “I like your necklace” can set the tone of the conversation in your favor. No one on this Earth doesn’t love a good compliment.
6. Create characters that we will want to be with for a long time.
More so than film, television thrives on characters we love. Execs want to see that the characters in the show you are pitching are unique and have staying power. Characters don’t always have to exist in the traditional sense either.
“Ten years ago, who knew that news programs would be a leading source for comedy?” Pearce pondered, in reference to Comedy Central’s success with “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”
Meanwhile, at truTV, Annussek and her team are looking for comedic reality TV. “Funny people doing funny things with a real world.”
7. Hand out papers at the end of the pitch.
It’s a small thing, but an important one: “Do not hand out paper at the beginning of the pitch,” Madden implored. “All humans like to read if something is in front of them and they will not pay attention.”
So, if you are going to hand out papers, please, for the love of God, do it at the end.
The New York Television Festival is now accepting submissions for 2016.