Here’s what I posted on Facebook:
Pitching TV pilots is a bizarro living, not least because it’s weirdly solitary. I think alone; I write alone; and when I pitch, the couch is lined with producers and execs, but it’s just me who’s speaking (and sweating). Another lonely thing is that I’m often the only not-a-white-dude I see making the rounds.
But this year, in the network waiting room, the pitch before mine was by the hostess of a cooking show, and the one after by a female Olympic athlete. When I went to the restroom to do my science-says-confidence-boosting Wonder Woman pose, this (below) was the sign on the door. I stepped into the pitch room and looked around at my producers, studio and network execs, most of them women. And I pitched my show, starring a strong, smart woman of color from an immigrant family.
And they bought it. So here we go again. Fourth pilot’s the charm, right???#ItWasNeverADress
If you’d like to know about the process—wait. I should say my process, not the process, because I don’t know how it works for other people, or how much they sweat, if at all, on the pitch-room couch. Anyway, if you want to know about my lead-up to pitching a network pilot, and how much I sweat, I wrote about it last year in the New York Times.
Here’s what a pilot sale does NOT mean: that your pilot will air, let alone get made. No. Those odds remain loooong. What it does mean is that the studio will pay you to write the pilot script, which will then be considered by the network for production.
So here’s what happens after you sell a pilot pitch.
First, you cry with relief. I got the news while the guy from the car-rental place was driving me to the United terminal. I was heading home to New Jersey after pitching this year’s network try. It had not gone well. At least, that was my take. No one had bought in the room. Two of the networks had already passed. It came down to one final network, the one for which we’d thought the pitch best suited. And that network said yes.
After my producers told me, I got on the plane back to New Jersey. And as the plane took off, I started to think about the next step: the story area.
At least that’s what my network calls the first document due in the pilot-writing process. It’s basically a concise description of the story of your pilot, written out in five or six pages of prose. Like, okay, let’s take “Blind Spot,” the new drama from NBC. The story area or whatever that network calls this document would probably be about the case: how the FBI dude uses the duffel-bag chick’s tattoos to track down that Chinese guy who’s going to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Of course the bigger arc of the show is Jane Doe’s identity and what the fuck the tattoos are all about. But the A story of the pilot is that Chinese dude.
So it’s a tricky document, at least for me. You may not even remember the A story of your favorite network drama pilots. Can you recite the very first case Alicia tried in the very first episode of “The Good Wife”? Or Olivia Pope’s first client in “Scandal”? No, right? What you remember are the characters and their relationships, the world. That’s what drew you back for Episode 2. But the thing you don’t realize as you’re watching is that the A story, the case, is a vehicle to introduce the character to you. You knew from how Alicia and Olivia handled their cases that they were strong, smart, yet compassionate women. The story did that.
Another tricky thing is that everybody, and I mean everybody, has to approve. Your producers, your studio, your network—everybody signs off on this thing before you can even move on to the outline. Which is a whole ‘nother level of doozy.
Anyway. So that’s where I am. I feel a little bit like those climbers at the beginning of “Everest,” without the impending-death part. It’s exciting. It’s daunting. It’s a shitload of work, and I better get cracking.