How to Make Your Own TV Show
How to Make Your Own TV Show
Getting into the television industry is notoriously difficult, but the advent of cheap technology and internet distribution has made it easier than ever to get views. Almost anyone can get noticed, but it takes a lot of commitment and hard work.

Developing Your Idea

Come up with a compelling premise, or "what if?" idea. Your idea could be as simple as "what if a documentary crew filmed a small paper company" (The Office) to a big, complex idea like "what if a chemistry teacher started cooking meth?" (Breaking Bad). This is the backbone of your show, what will set it apart, and what will help it sell. A lot of "what ifs" are generated by mixing and matching existing shows. 30 Rock, for example, is the world of SNL mixed into the workplace humor of The Office or Cheers. Famed drama The Wire is a mix between crime shows and political thrillers. Think of shows you admire and might emulate-- what are their simple, one phrase "what if" ideas?

Choose the genre and format for your show. This is one of the most important decisions you'll make, as it affects everything that comes afterward. The genre is the mood and tone of the show -- is it a comedy, medical drama, or reality TV show? The format is the timing of the show, and there are a few options: Episodic: Each episode is a self-contained story. Comedies are usually episodic, half-hour shows, but some crime shows and murder mysteries are also episodic. Serial: Each episode builds on the story of the one before it. These shows generally tell season-long stories and lead to a big conclusion, like Breaking Bad, The West Wing, or Gravity Falls. They are almost always hour-long shows and are usually dramatic. Sketch: Sketch shows are made up of many smaller, self-contained stories. This is like Saturday Night Live, Key & Peele, or MadTV.

Develop your characters. List each character and give them a 2-3 sentence description. Avoid physical descriptions, instead trying to capture what makes each character unique: Good characters have flaws and strengths. They are round -- meaning that they have a personality beyond "the angry gardener" or "the loving mother." What are each character's motivations? What is the character afraid of? This drives each character's actions in the show. Reality shows still need to describe the characters. What makes your subjects interesting or compelling? Why would an audience want to hear their story?

Write up a treatment for the show. Treatments are somewhat like the blueprint for a show. They are used to show a development executive exactly what to expect from the show, should they make it themselves. To develop a treatment, you need a few things: The Title: A good title usually has two meanings. Look at Mad Men, for example, which promises the world of advertising agencies as well as the slipping sanity of Don Draper. The Logline: This is a punchy, 1-2 sentence recap of the show. It's the hook, based around the "what if" premise. For example, Community's logline might be, "A hotshot lawyer is forced to make a crazy new group of friends when his fake law degree forces him back to community college." The Synopsis: This is a brief, 1 page write up of the show idea. What is the setting, plot, and general focus of each episode? How can you capture the essence of the show in 3-4 sentences? If this is a serial show, outline the progression of the first season. Character Sheets: Take each main character and write 1-2 sentences about them, focusing on their personalities and goals more than their looks. Episode Guide: Write a short paragraph about the first 4-5 episodes you want to show, detailing the plots that will make up the bulk of your show.

Build some content around your idea. The best way to sell your show is to show someone the show in progress. Thanks to all of the cheap equipment these days, it is easier than ever to get pieces of your show on the web and in people's hands. The type of material you develop, however, will depend on your show. Scripts: It never hurts to have a script, and this is the most conventional and successful approach to making your own show, especially hour-long shows and dramas. Webisodes: The best way to get attention is to simply make your show yourself. Youtube has made it remarkably easy to shoot short 2-5-minute episodes involving your characters and share them with the world. This is how Broad City and Workaholics both got picked up. Storyboards and Sizzle Reels: Like a webisode but for longer projects, these are like test shots for your show. It could be an interview for a talk show, test shots for a reality TV episode, or storyboards and drawings for an animated show.

Writing a TV Script

Understand basic screenwriting formatting and conventions. Screenplays are specially formatted so that each page takes up roughly one minute of screen time. This format is the industry standard, and deviating from it will often end with your screenplay in the trash. The best way to avoid this is to use script software, such as Celtx, Writer Duets, or Final Draft. Television scripts are formatted differently than movies, because you need to make act breaks, or where the commercials would go. Make sure you're reading and studying TV scripts to learn these conventions. There are many examples of formatted scripts online, such as this lesson written in the form of a screenplay.

Read as many screenplays in your genre as you can. Go online and check out scripts from every show similar to yours — and from different shows as well! Watching TV is a great way to understand plotting, but if you're going to write scripts you need to understand the art of the script. Take notes as you read about style, plotting, and substance. Reading screenplays is a must in this business. You need to learn how to be funny, dramatic, thrilling, and engaging without any actors, cameras, or music to help you. Make notes of what works, what doesn't, and how the writer builds the world of the episode on the page.

Understand the needs of a good pilot. A pilot is the first episode of a TV series, and they are notoriously difficult to write well. Why? Because pilots require you to do many things at once with a short page count. You must: Introduce the characters: You don't need to go into the entire backstory, but the viewer needs to know enough about these characters to want to follow them. The very first time you see a character should show their basic personality. Introduce the world: This is about more than just the setting, it is the "rules" of the show. What are some of the main concerns for the characters? What kind of events happen regularly? This is the exploration of your "what if" premise. Show the general pattern of the show: Your pilot episode doesn't just have to introduce everything, it has to be a good show. You need to give people an idea of what they'll see each week. Arrested Development, considered one of the best pilots ever, does this perfectly -- it sets up the characters, shows the world (rich, corrupt socialites and hedge-fund managers), and shows the farcical, interlocking plot structure the show later became famous for.

Outline your plot using TV act structure. TV shows, despite their originality and diversity, have a pretty rigid structure. Because most TV comes with commercials, these little breaks are convenient places to end each Act. Think of an act as a collection of scenes that tells the mini story of an episode. Between each set of commercials, you have the progression of the story, ending in a big moment, change, or climax that excites the viewer to keep watching when the commercials end. Understanding this "grid" helps you plug your show into the formula: The Cold Open: Common on sitcoms, this is the brief, 2-3 minute scene right before the title credits. It can impact the plot or just be a quick joke or scene. In dramas it is often the instigating incident, like finding the dead body on Law & Order. The Acts: Hour-long shows have 5 acts, and half-hour shows have 3. You want each act to be somewhat self-contained: it has a beginning problem, a series of complications that prevent the characters from solving the problem, a climax, and a resolution. Act 1 introduces a problem, and the characters try and fix it but fail. In Act 2, the characters are in an even bigger mess, thanks to their failure, they make another attempt and things end up worse than before, or a new problem arises thanks to the old one. In Act 3 everything returns to normal, either by the characters crashing back down to earth or finally fixing the mess they got into. The Ending: Your last act brings the audience back around. For a pilot, you need to prove to the audience that they should come back next week. In dramas this usually occurs with a cliffhanger, or the promise of next week's adventure. In comedies the episode almost always ends where it started. Your characters don't change much and are ready for next week's hijinks. The status quo is returned. The Tag: Also known as the stinger, this is the small scene right before or after the credits. Usually, it is to continue a joke, show a little resolution, or hint at what happens next episode.

Do a table read after your first draft. Get some friends together and hand out copies of your script, then have them read out each part as if they were actors. You can narrate, but try not to play any of the characters. Instead, take notes on what sounds natural and what doesn't. Ask the guests afterward what they thought about the script: where were they confused, what did they enjoy, did their characters feel "real," and would they watch the show? You need to get outside input, and hearing your script out loud is the best way to find mistakes you might have missed while reading.

Write, write, and rewrite. Take a few days away from the script and approach it again with fresh eyes. You need your script to be as polished as it can be in order to make an impression because there are thousands of scripts competing for attention. Some things to look out for include: Spelling, grammar, and formatting. A typo on the first page is a good clue for someone to throw the whole thing away without reading. Pacing. Every single scene should move the plot forward. If it is not, the show automatically starts to drag. No scene should start in one place and stay there the entire time. Your characters or situation need to change each time, otherwise the scene is too slow. Dialog. Do your characters sound natural? You need to put the image of a character in your readers' mind with just dialog, so each character needs to talk in a unique, natural way, not just the way you need them to talk in the scene. Character is important, and you show character through speech.

Shorten your script as much as possible. Cut away unnecessary exposition, scene descriptions, and character traits. If it doesn't matter to the plot, it needs to go. All the other stuff, from an actor's looks to the color of the walls, will be decided by the director, not you. You want the script to read like a show, moving briskly along and sweeping up the reader in the story and characters. Shorter is always better because it means you cut away anything that wasn't amazing or essential. Hour long shows need to be between 45-70 pages. Half-hour programs are usually between 25-37 pages.

Getting Your Show On Air

Consider shooting the show yourself. If you've never had a Hollywood job before, the best way to get attention is to demand it. Getting someone to read your script is tough, but if you can develop a few thousand views on your video people will start to take notice. You don't necessarily need to shoot the entire show, either. Sites like Amazon Studios, for example, allow you to post clips that people vote up and down, giving great ideas visibility. Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example, was written and shot on a tiny budget, then sent to executives at FX. They were so impressed with what they saw they bought the show. Almost anyone can get a show on Public Access, and they often have equipment and training options available too.

Tap into industry representatives and resources. Shop for agents and producers who are open for submissions, and enter in contests and festivals for exposure. The best way to do this is through "the trades," such as or Variety. These sites are mandatory reads, as they talk about development deals, who is shopping for shows, and agents currently on the market. Whenever you see a show like yours or a writer/producer you admire finding work, make a note of their agency (like CAA or WME) and their collaborators. Check out their websites and send out query letters asking to meet. You can also post your idea on search sites, like The Blacklist, that allow agents to search for manuscripts that match their interests. They cost money, however, and you should always research "success stories" by checking out the projects online to see if the show actually got made.

Create a list of companies to approach that make shows like yours. Find the groups that are making shows like yours and send them a quick letter. Use their websites to get the names and emails of executives and workers in the "Development" department. The more you can tailor your search to specific people that would be interested in your script the better your odds of making a show. You wouldn't pitch a cheesy monster show to NBC, you'd send it to SyFy. Reality TV shows shouldn't be sent to the producers of The Sopranos. Think about what the studio is already making to pitch to the right people.

Keep on writing, filming, and working in the film/TV industry. Very few people make a TV show without starting on the bottom rung. You can always produce your own show, and you might take off. But 95% of all TV creators started as production assistants, writing assistants, camera operators, actors, etc. This is the best way to meet people who might help you out later on and opportunity and learn how TV is constructed. You should try and have 3-5 pilots scripts on hand or being worked on at any one time. You never know when an idea will be taken, when someone will like you but want a different story, or when someone wants to see more of your work. The people who get shows made keep working, writing and rewriting until something is on air.

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