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MTV Veteran: “My Pitching Secrets. The Top 5 Mistakes Producers Make. And How to Avoid Them!”

2013 June 10
by Peter Hamilton

The Do’s and Don’ts of pitching are covered in a popular post from our guest writer, veteran programmer Sohini Das.

Her evergreen Takeaways apply across the programming spectrum, from individual docs to reality series.

And when it comes to figuring out “Who should I pitch to? And how?” don’t miss out on the 100+ buyers, contacts and strands covered in our new International Buyers’ Guide 2013.

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By Sohini Das

I developed programs as an MTV exec for 10+ years.

I saw producers repeat the same mistakes over and over when they pitched their ideas for series.

  • Here are their Top 5 Mistakes.
  • And how to remedy them.

1. They don’t listen!

Your goal in the pitch meeting is NOT, as you might assume, to sell your show.

  • If you sell your show, that’s a cherry-on-top bonus.
  • But the chances of that happening are extremely slim.

Instead, you should focus your attention on LISTENING to what the network executives tell you about what they are looking for, their current challenges, recent productions which have either succeeded or not, and so on.

Your goals from the first pitch meeting are:

  • Have the network executives LIKE you – as a person and as a producer.
  • LISTEN and understand what the execs are currently looking for.
  • Demonstrate that you are a competent, professional producer.
  • Receive an invitation to pitch again in the near future.

2.   They don’t do their homework!

You would be surprised how many producers walk in the development exec’s door with little to no understanding of the audience that the channel is targeting.

What are your compulsory homework assignments?

  • Meticulously scour the channel’s website.
  • Obsessively watch their shows, noting WHAT is airing WHEN. (If you have a basic understanding of television programming, you can glean a lot from studying what shows are airing in which time slots, what shows have on air support, etc.)
  • Ask around and network. Any glimpses which you pick up will give you a head start on what are the networks’ current initiatives.

Finally, do your homework on the people you are meeting with.

  • Google them, Facebook them, LinkedIn them…
  • Become a cyber-stalker!
  • KNOW exactly who you are meeting with before you walk into the room!!

3. They don’t research their idea!

Even if you think your show has never been done before: research, research, research, research to make sure that you’re right!

Find out if there has ever been a show which was similar to yours in terms of format, talent, concept, etc.

Trust me: the network executive will listen to your idea and will immediately connect it to any show which has been on the air in the past 20 years and that has ANY similarity at all.

That’s not a bad thing. It just means that YOU need to be better-versed in the competitive space than they are.

You need to know:

  • Whether the shows that are similar to yours did well
  • Where and when they aired
  • How many seasons were produced?
  • Who produced them?
  • And most importantly: you must know what makes your show different and unique.

Which brings me to Number 4…

4. They can’t answer the question, “WHAT’S THE SHOW?”

Having great talent is not enough! Knowing what the first episode looks like is not enough.

You need to have a full understanding of potential for a season and series arc:

  • What happens in the course of an episode?
  • What are the story beats?
  • What are the A, B and C storylines?
  • What about the season finale?
  • Season 3 premiere?
  • What are the stakes?

Know your show inside and out!

5. They don’t take “No!” for an answer

If you are lucky enough (and this is lucky, believe it or not!) to get an answer in the room, it’s likely that the response will be something along the lines of “It’s not right for us right now.”

If that’s what you’re told, take it as an opportunity to ASK QUESTIONS!!

  • It’s your chance to learn more about who you are pitching to. And what the network is looking for.

Do not, under any circumstances, continue to pursue your idea and try to convince the execs that they are making a mistake by passing.

  • This will guarantee that this meeting is your last!

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About Sohini Das

Our guest writer Sohini Das is a highly respected New York-based consultant who specializes in program development. She worked for 10+ years at Viacom’s MTV Networks where she helped develop and manage numerous scripted and unscripted series including multiple seasons of She’s Got the Look and High School Reunion, as well as 2010′s runaway breakout cable hit, Hot in Cleveland. Read more about Sohini at her website, Making Good Ideas Happen.

Sohini’s Takeaways were first published in DocumentaryTelevision.com on November 27, 2011, and is one of our most popular posts.

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International Documentary Buyers’ Guide, 2013

  • 95 Channels and Slots.
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  • The slots. The deciders. Their filters.

Read More
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3 Responses Post a comment
  1. November 28, 2011

    GREAT stuff. For most of us that are new to this process we are more likely to shoot ourselves in the foot,, if not the mouth.
    As a huge fan of Peter’s, now adding Sohini to my list, I have come to read and reread all of his posts.
    Thanks for these important words of wisdom.
    Take care and see you on the road.

  2. November 28, 2011

    Great article! I love what you wrote about the goals for the first pitch meeting in #1. So true. The goal should be to make a connection with the people in the room and make them feel like they could work with you at some point in the future. Look beyond the pitch meeting.

  3. December 5, 2011

    Peter! Great information…since meeting you back in May at Michelle DeLong’s conference, we have retained an entertainment attorney and made in-roads with eight major networks. Yes, still shy of our first sale, but as a production company I have burned the boat behind me and have no other course than to succeed.

    I would be happy to share the inside information I’m collecting, through hard work and persistence, as I move forward. Thanks to you my job is a more focused proposition. When budget warrants would love to retain you.

    Tom

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