Who doesn’t love a good TV show? You know, on rainy days, in your bed, cozying up inside your blanket and binging your favorite TV has got to be the best feeling in the world.
FRIENDS, Modern Family, The Office, The Vampire Diaries – the list goes on and on. While some people like comedy, some are addicted to thrill and horror. And television shows cater to each of these categories.
The happiness of finding the perfect show that brings you comfort is no less than winning the lottery. I remember the day when I found mine. It was Modern Family. Three episodes down, and I knew that I belonged there.
Every single moment of the show was a piece of art. I laughed, I cried, and I enjoyed every bit of it like it was my own family. The day I finished the last episode, I felt empty. It felt like I had lost something so precious that no one could ever replace it.
This is precisely what a good television show does to you.
It makes you attached in a way that you can never ever let go of. I have matched multiple shows after and before, but there is something about Modern Family that connects with me on a very personal level. And I find that beautiful.
But, have you ever thought about how this entire thing happens? How do people create a TV show that people connect to on a personal level?
Well, the process is not easy. What we watch on the screens is only the mere product of the inhumane pressure and work that every single individual associated with the show has to go through.
It is their effort and talent that brings us comfort every time we take a look at our television screens.
Steps To Create A TV Show
Creating a movie is a lot more different and easier than creating a television show. While a film lasts for two hours, three at max, television shows have hundreds of hours of runtime.
We will be discussing the differences between a movie and a television show later in this article, but for now, let us understand that creating a television show is a lot more different than making a Hollywood film.
If you want to know how to create a TV show, stay with us till the end and you shall find the answers you are looking for.
The six steps that are rightly associated to create a TV show are:
- Develop a pitch that captivates the mind
- Write the script for the pilot
- Put together all your creative elements
- Produce the pilot
- Get the series order
Now, let us go “lights, camera and action!”
Develop A Pitch That Captivates The Mind
Before you create a TV series, you have to develop a pilot.
Before you develop a pilot, you have to write a script.
And before you write a script, you have to go through a pitch.
Before you jump from the pitch to the script, you need a studio to say YES to your idea. They have to say, “Yes, we liked your idea and we want you to create a TV show out of it.”
To get that approval, anyone from your team – an agent, lawyer, or manager will first schedule a meeting between the studio or the network and you.
This is where you have to take the lead. You have to pitch the idea in such a way that the producers can not even think about rejecting it. You have to pitch your vision so that it convinces everyone in the room that this idea is capable enough to be on television and grab the attention of millions.
Creating a television show means creating a world of your own, and that is not an easy task.
It requires a lot of passion, effort, and research.
Here is a personal experience from an individual named Chris, who says, “When prepping for an HBO pitch, I lived at the Santa Monica library. I spent weeks there, researching the history of psychotherapy and asylums in the United States. For a pitch at Showtime, I spent one week just researching native fauna in Hawaii.”
To make your pitch beautiful, you need to know the world you make inside out.
After pitching, you may give the studio executives a treatment. Treatment is the same pitch but in a written format and can extend anywhere from just a single page to fifty pages.
A treatment is an overview of the world that you wish to explore and the narrative arcs it follows throughout the first season and beyond.
If the executives like your idea, they will invest in your pitch.
If it goes right, you may move to the next step.
Write A Script For The Pilot
The pitch was only a mere sketch of the idea you conceived.
The script is the entire painting: complete brush strokes, fully colored, and all prepared to frame and mount.
However, there are a few table stakes that are related to writing the script:
Correct format and structure: For instance, if it is a single-camera drama, there is a teaser and four or five acts. It is a multi-camera sitcom with a cold opening and two acts.
The right tone: Your show will be airing on a particular network, and each network has a brand of its own. You must keep in mind that your show matches the tone of the network’s brand. A script that you deliver to Netflix will have huge differences compared to a script that you deliver to Comedy Central.
Introduce the point of view of the world: All of the extraordinary elements that you talked about in the pitch need to become alive in the script you write. That is what the network is paying for. Keep up with the promise you made.
If you are still confused, there are multiple books available that can teach you the best techniques to write the perfect pilot. Go through those books, work on the script, and deliver it to the studio.
Now the actual work to create a TV show begins.
This is a harrowing process. There is a reason why the industry refers to it as the “development hell.”
Well, while you were still pitching, the executives did not have any such inputs on your television show. It was entirely yours. You will have to deal with critics from not just the creative perspective but also the business perspective.
Notes usually focus on things like:
- Is the script they imagined when they invested in the pitch?
- Does it go in line with their mandate?
- Does it fit right with their network brand?
- Will it be fitting their budget?
Next, you will be delivering the rewrites while incorporating these notes and, at the same time, balancing your creative integrity. Counteracting this is indeed tricky.
After the rewrites are done, everyone will agree that the script is prepared. You will send the script to the network’s top executives for reading. Then all you can do is sit and pray to get the green light.
When the green light comes, it is time to celebrate.
Put Together All Your Creative Elements
Let me just give you a quick reminder about what you have at stake here:
For every television enterprise, the pilot is the tip of the knife. For any show, be it a half an hour comedy like Seinfeld, an hour-long drama like The Walking Dead, or an animation series like The Bojack Horseman, the pilot or the first episode will decide if the show would run for five consecutive seasons or if it will fade away right after its third episode.
There are millions of dollars, hundreds of careers, and thousands of jobs that are put on the line.
That is the reason why an excessive amount of time, money, and energy is put into making the pilot of any television show.
The next in line is putting together your own team. This includes getting a director, showrunner, casting director, etc. Once you do that, you may begin casting.
Produce The Pilot
Once you have put together a team and a cast that the network has approved, it is finally time to produce the plot. This is the most crucial and yet emotional moment among all the other steps to create a TV show.
It is a race to complete the:
- The table reading.
- A run-through for the whole cast and the team.
- A second-run through dedicated for the network.
- A separate day for the director to set up the shots.
- The actual shoot.
While a lot of you may think that shooting the pilot is considerably easy, that is not the case. There is a lot that goes on behind shooting just the pilot of a television show. Here are some of the queries that you may have regarding the pilot of a TV series.
How Long Can It Take To Shoot The Pilot?
Well, it depends from one show to another. Multi-camera comedy-themed pilots may take only a few days, while shooting a single-camera pilot may take many weeks or even more.
For example, the enormous 2 hours long pilot for Lost took 2.5 months to shoot.
Meanwhile, the notes still keep coming in. The studio, network, and, many times, the cast will also offer you notes. This means you will be continuing to work on the script of the pilot even during its production.
How Much Can A Pilot Cost?
On average, a comedy pilot that runs for only 30 minutes may cost something around $2 million. Meanwhile, hour-long pilots cost something around $5.5 million.
There were only the averages. There are pilots that cost even more than this:
- The pilot for Lost costs approximately between $10 to $14 million.
- Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire cost climbed up to $18 million.
- The pilot for Fox’s Terra Nova costs $10 to $20 million.
Networks and studios make use of cast contingencies due to the high costs of pilot episodes. And most of the shows do not recover this cost to create a TV show.
At this stage, the studio may also take a few measures to lower their downside if they are not confident enough with the product. Hence, they would rather shoot the pilot on a low budget or a “proof of concept” presentation. In this presentation, you will work off a shortened pilot script. You will only film the essential scenes, which may sometimes happen in a borrowed set.
This gives the network an idea of what the pilot may look like, and that too at a much lower cost.
Once shooting the pilot is over, it goes for the editing process. The pilot goes through several cuts by the director, studio, and showrunners before it is finally turned to the network.
The network will then run the pilot through multiple screenings and market tests. Based on the data, they will be cutting the script once again if it is needed.
Get The Series Order
Once the network gets the pilot in its hands, it will decide if it wants to order it into a series. This is known as series pick-up. Meanwhile, all you can do is count the hours.
Series orders are mostly based on the following queries:
- Which shows will be drawing the most massive audience?
- What shows can fill selective programming blocks?
- What shows will be critically important?
- What shows will be meeting the mandate of the network?
- What shows will be meeting the brand of the network?
Only very selective pilots receive a series order. The rest are all dead pilots.
If you are lucky to get their series order, it is time for celebrations. You have very successfully created your own television show.
Now it is time to get more staff. You can’t be the only one to write the scripts. You will need more writers who will help you write all the episodes for the whole season.
How Is It Different To Create A TV Show Than Creating A Movie?
I am definitely not saying that creating a movie is easy. It is not.
Making a film requires a lot of passion, time, and money.
However, there are key few differences that set the two creative parallels apart from each other. The very initial difference is the way of storytelling. While a movie follows a very compact storytelling technique, a television series is way more expanded and elongated.
One of the main reasons is the time.
While movies get only two to three hours to tell the entire story, a television show gets at least 10 to 15 episodes per season. That is a lot of time to get in-depth into the plot and expand your storyline to its core.
Also, you get the freedom of a pilot when it comes to a television series. The pilot will help you decide how to make changes throughout the show, while for a movie that is not the case. There is no trial-and-error testing. Once it is out to the public, you cannot make changes to it. You do not get a pilot episode to evaluate the data over the market responses.
In a television series, you get time to change the script throughout the season. You can even modify parts based on what the audience is anticipating. However, this freedom is eliminated in the case of a movie. There is no way that you can make a change once it hits the big screens.
To compare the budget would be impartial as that factor varies. While some movies have extremely low budgets, some shows could easily cover the cost of making five movies with the budget they set for themselves.
A television show can never go out of fashion. They always bring comfort and ease into our lives. Nobody would ever put a pause to create a TV show that will have the world wrapped around its fingers.
From FRIENDS to Modern Family, these shows are irreplaceable. They ended years back, and yet we find comfort in them.
These shows give people the enthusiasm to create a TV show that can provide fair competition to those giants.
While they are irreplaceable, we can never refuse some of the most breathtaking TV shows that have captured our minds and hearts for the longest time.
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