As I learned in the fourth grade when my first crush told me oh-so eloquently to "Get lost, creepo!," not everything you go after in life will work out as planned. Now, at the ripe, old age of 28, nothing has reminded me of that schoolyard lesson more than when I recently pitched my first show to a TV network.
After working in TV and film for the past seven years, from an intern to a production assistant to the writers' office, I decided to move from New York to Los Angeles. I'd been out here eight months when, during a meeting, I ran an off-the-cuff show idea by development executives. "We'll get in touch," they said, which in Hollywood translates to "You'll never hear from us again." But then they did something strange. They got in touch.
"We want you to come in and pitch it." Hold up. This was just an idea I had. Not even an idea — a seed of an idea! And now they wanted me to come in with a fully grown flower? In less than a week.
Less than a week? I'd never pitched a show before. My only preconceived notion of pitching a show was when they did it on "Seinfeld," but I doubted modeling myself after George Costanza would help me through this.
Normally, only 10% of the writing process is actual writing. The other 90% is a subtle mix of procrastination and self-doubt. But there was no time for any of that. I had to outline the premise. Figure out plot points. Who are my characters? I don't know!
What are their relationships? Beats me! Future episodes? I've got none!
And that was only half of it. Because I also needed to figure out how to stand in front of these executives and actually sell the show. As a writer, you're conditioned to communicate behind the comfort of a laptop and a large bowl of Cookie Crisp.
Needing advice on how to sell, I turned to my pal Scott, a car salesman. "Smile, make eye contact, and exude confidence," he said. "Make them want you more than you want them."
I then drove to my co-worker Frank's house, in my just-purchased only slightly used 1994 Chevy Silverado (what can I say? Scott's a good salesman). There, Frank said, "Just know what you're talking about." I thought it was sound advice, until I realized perhaps this was his way of telling me I usually don't know what I'm talking about.
Lastly, I was told to "practice over and over while looking in the mirror." That's easy — I spend a majority of my time in front of the mirror anyway. This was going to be a piece of cake!
CUT TO: Pitch day. I walked into the network with my support system intact (my manager, my agent and my fingers crossed). We sat down with the handsome, well-dressed, intelligent TV executives (Yes, I'm brown-nosing, but hey, they might be reading this).
I began the pitch. Their excitement built as I talked, in turn getting me excited. I fielded their questions. Made them laugh. My fly wasn't open. This was going well.
Then came the waiting game. I was prepared for the worst. After all, most pitches don't get sold.
Five days later I got the call — they're buying it!
They asked if I'd be willing to write it as a multi-camera traditional sitcom as opposed to the single camera comedy I originally proposed. Are they kidding? I'd write it in German subtitles if they wanted me to. I was elated. I've made it! I'm going to start wearing expensive sunglasses indoors and eating caviar omelets at every meal.
CUT TO: 68 days and 11 hours later (but who's counting?)
A newly hired executive came into the network. Made some changes. And by changes, I don't mean switching the sweetener in the office kitchen from Splenda to Sweet'n Low. No, the change was putting an end to scripted development at the network, to focus on reality TV.
And as a result … my pilot wasn't going forward.
But hey, this happens all the time. Many writers make a living off selling pitches that never get produced. Despite all this, TV writers remain an optimistic bunch. "Sure, his pilot didn't get picked up, but that won't happen to my show." The only people who say "it won't happen to me" more than TV writers are sitting nervously in health clinics, having lost count of their one-night stands. Except unlike them, penicillin can't cure the writer's pain of having a pilot deal firmly in place, only to have it taken away 68 days and 11 hours later (but seriously, who's counting?).
So after my first experience pitching, selling, and losing my own show … do I still love this business?
Absolutely. And, it turns out, the fourth grade did one helluva job preparing me for it.