Screenwriting : Developing each episode of a TV series project, yay or nay? by Melissa Papel

Melissa Papel

Developing each episode of a TV series project, yay or nay?

Hi everyone and happy holidays!

I have a question. I have been developing a TV series for a while, and I wrote the pilot as well as a Pitch Deck. The deck includes the Arc of the first season, the themes and tone, the world, the character descriptions, as well as a rough idea of what could potentially happen in seasons 2 and 3.

A producer, (who loved the pilot but who is still quite green), told me that in order to pitch it to Netflix or Amazon, I would need to do a 1 page breakdown of each episode of seasons 1 and 2, meaning about a page per episode, describing a beginning, middle and end for each episode. He said that things have changed and because there's so much demand for content these days, they only look at projects that are ready to go entirely because they have lots of money to invest but little time to develop.

However, I remember taking a webinar here in which it was said that one should not be so detailed about each episode because it would be like getting into a marriage with someone and telling them exactly what's gonna happen between them, how many fights, how many kids, the colour of the child's hair, their names etc, and that Networks preferred to develop a project with you instead of having something already so detailed and pre-packaged.

I remember another webinar where the host was saying that a Bible/Pitch Deck shouldn't really exceed 5 pages at first, and when the deal was signed, a much more detailed Bible was developed with the Network/Producers, according to their wishes and ideas of where the story could be taken and how it could evolve.

I also thought that Netflix had their own writers, with whom one develops each episode once a deal is signed, and I've read so many stories about writers having to write the following week's episode in a very short amount of time etc.

So I'm very confused and not sure if I should work on that or not (it's a ton of extra work and I've already been on this project for 2 years. I don't want to get into all this if it's not necessary or not a requirement, or in other words, if it's a useless effort!).

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on this! Thanks in advance for your help, and my apologies for the length of this post!

Melissa

Bill Albert

When I get into a pitch session I make sure I tell them I'm hoping to get them interested in a story, not just an idea. The overwhelming response has been positive that I have more to tell them including a synopsis of 26 episodes so they know from the start what they will need to tell this story. It can't hurt you to have it ready just in case they ask you for it.

Christiane Lange

I have a brief outline of each episode in season 1, plus a set-up for season 2.

Barry John Terblanche

Melissa. You raise good questions in your post. Questions I myself am seeking answers to. As I too am busy writing a T.V series. Now, I hear what you saying in that everyone says a different thing with respect to your "how best to put it out there" And here, you'll most likely get even more... You may well be even more confused after the next ten post below mine.

So, I'm with you in that maybe we can get some constructive answers from the pro's ?

Noel Thompson

I think it depends on the series and how obvious the episodes seem to be. I've seen both ways and as this is a creative business there's never a hard-and-fast rule.

If you pitch say Lost, you're basically setting up the world which isn't what it appears to be and this group of characters who don't always appear to be who they are, each episode following a group of characters and an island mystery - I wouldn't think you would need an episode breakdown.

For a series like Law and Order (like back in the day it would have been pitched) I get the world - basic cop procedural, so I would want to know if each episode has an interesting hook and some through-line through episodes to keep me hooked.

It can't hurt to write what YOU would want the first episodes to be if you were given carte-blanche to write them, but maybe just stick to a few sentences versus pages. If someone asks for long episode summaries, you can then build off of that...

and as with all screenwriting before the check comes in...it's good practice...and you might see a flaw in your story or a minor character who maybe should become major...

Congrats on your progress! Keep going!

John Ellis

I don't know who the host is of that second webinar, that stated the 5-page pitch deck, but I took the Jay and Raquelle TV Dev Class, and they said EXACTLY the same thing.

Producers and Execs will want the freedom to dev the story their own ways.

Also, both Jay and Raquelle expressed that a green producer has almost no chance of pitching to Netflix or Amazon. Both those places are almost exclusively only working with showrunners they already know.

Lindbergh E Hollingsworth

Give them - Netflix, Amazon - what they want. Bibles are whatever length they need to be (it doesn't mean give someone a 40 page Bible). It's very true that companies no longer have time, or want to spend time, developing material. They want to do the minimum required. You will still have notes from the execs and director / talent notes. Break a leg, Melissa!

David C. Velasco

Don't think I can add anymore than already stated. But want to wish you the best of luck.!

Dan MaxXx

Not to hijack your thread but wouldn't you want to learn how to write television first - write on a staff - before you try to make your idea into a TV series? Netflix, Amazon, ABC Network - they are all corporations. Need to bring more to the pitch table than pages/bible.

Rookie TV Creators who've done it with 0 Television experience - Mickey Fisher, Steven Canals, Issa Rae, Evan Romansky - they all partnered with known folks before they approach television Buyers.

Doug Nelson

Good hijack Dan. Put some time in as a staff writer to get a feel for how it all works first before you try to reinvent it.

Kacee DeMasi

Hi Melissa - Since the producer who is asking for more information is green as you put it, maybe pitch your series to another producer (first researching them to make sure they have a list of credits) to see what they may say about your upcoming series. In addition, I am not sure who said TV Show Bibles should be 5 pages max this would be incorrect as most TV series bibles are over 10 pages. "STRANGER THINGS" Bible was 23 pages, "GREYS ANATOMY" was 22 pages, FARGO was 12, TRUE DETECTIVE was 15. If you pitch your series to another producer or take advantage of script services to have a producer of your choice read your script and they ask for the same thing, then you are probably going to want to do it. If they ask for something else then go with a veteran producer's suggestion. In addition, just because the green producer mentioned Netflix and Amazon do you even know which station or channel your series will be best suited for as some channels are looking for certain criteria for new shows. I would suggest keep moving forward and always have another series available for the producer who asks 'What else Do you Have?" Best of Luck

Craig D Griffiths

So Dan and Doug, you don’t know? Is that what I am to guess?

Bill Albert

Dan MaxXx You wanted to high jack it with negativity and you know it. You always take that route. Melissa, go with your instinct and talent. Push your dreams and ignore the negatives like Dan MaxXx.

Steve Mallinson

I don't know if there's a definitive answer to your question, but I had a similar issue. I partnered with a well-known producer on the strength of my TV series Ep1 and his advice was to write the whole thing, because, as you said, networks want fully-baked projects, ready to go. I balked at the idea but concluded that he knows more about the industry that I am ever likely to, so agreed and over the course of nine months wrote the remaining seven episodes. It was hard work and I felt utterly uninspired so many times, but in the end I was able to go from outline to first draft of a script in around 3.5 weeks, working most days and evenings. Lockdown helped. I felt I learned a lot just by forcing myself to do it, and the sense of obligation drove me on. It turns out my producer was pleased with the results and he's pitching it now around the networks. Of course, there are no guarantees and it may not go anywhere, but at least there is an asset to sell, rather than just an idea. And that may be the clinching argument - that assets speak louder than ideas - but others may disagree. Whatever you decide, good luck to you - come back and tell us how it goes!

Claude Gagne

I wrote a pilot for a series. Now my understanding of what a bible comprises of is ten episodic instructive single pages to be rendered with the pilot. If the producer likes the start of the series with the pilot, he/she may request a bit more to get a drift of where it's going. This is what I've been led to believe. Good luck with your series.

Every episode will be written according to what you tell the producer by another writer. Maybe you can throw an episode in once in a while to keep it on track. If you do get something going on the series, please let us know what to expect. Just as confused as you are!

John Ellis

Mickey Fisher wrote the pilot for Extant as a spec, and a 6 page "series overview."

Issa Rae had a VERY successful web series before Insecure.

Romansky wrote a spec pilot of Ratched as a writing exercise in film school. He pitched it at a pitch event, picked up a manager, who coincidentally was on a plane with Michael Douglas (the IP rights holder); other connections led to Ryan Murphy.

I show this to say there are as many paths to TV writing success as there are writers. But also look at this: 3 writers out of THOUSANDS have become successful. The odds aren't in our favor, guys. :) That doesn't mean stop - it means listen to the pros (or any of us on S32) as guides to your own path, not as dictators.

Bill Albert, ignore Dan MaxXx at your peril. He has decades of experience. And he's not negative, he's a realist.

As usual, just my two cents' worth.

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Hi Melissa Papel, so the short is no you don't need to develop every episode of your series. Just the pilot, and maybe some episode samples in the bible, though the season arcs/ideas are more important. Dan MaxXx is correct here, though I know some people often read his curt answers as negativity, but new writers don't sell shows. It's just not really how the industry works. HOWEVER what your pilot and bible can do is get you staffed, potentially. They're samples right now, and down the line you may get to make that show, but if you're an untested writer your goal needs to be getting in a room, either as an assistant or a staff writer, then working your way up. That's why your pilot should be your focus point and a bible is secondary in my book, though I hear some execs prefer the bible before the pilot. TV is growing exponentially but that newbie bubble hasn't been broken yet, as all the showrunners are people who've been in the industry a while, and a lot move from film to TV. Don't worry about selling your show right now, worry about making the best sample you can.

Melissa Papel

Wow, I’m just seeing all these answers and I thank you all for your help and advice. Perhaps I should have also emphasized that my goal is not to be a staff writer. I’m actually an actress and would love my show to see the light and have a “created by” credit, and be an EP on it. Every detail of the concept is ready, including the characters’ arcs, and the first 2 seasons’ overall arcs. It is a sci-fi concept set in 2091 and the premise allows for a million different possibilities in terms of story line and how each episode could be developed. I just thought that seasoned staff writers would do a better job than me when it comes to developing each episode but I’m pretty happy with my pilot and that was already quite a mountain to climb! I interviewed biologists and scientists and did a ton of research to make my whole concept credible. I just never thought I would have to get into a detailed breakdown of each episode, and my bible is already 20 pages, but I guess I’ll have to write at least a paragraph for each episode, to show that there is potential to develop this story so much!

Thanks again everyone for your support, and good luck to you all with your projects as well!

Happy holidays!

Melissa

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Hi Patronica Clark, I'm not following. What are you asking here?

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Melissa Papel in that case I think you'd need to partner with someone who's going to take the reigns, and you outlining multiple episodes isn't necessary. I don't know a lot about that as I've never really seen that happen or know of an example, but it sounds like you need a Jon Favreau to attach himself. Networking and acting would therefore be your path there, not so much the writing.

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Patronica Clark I'm talking about the TV space. Untested writers don't really get their shows made. In TV you have to work your way up. Your email reads like you're paying someone to help you package and maybe shoot the pilot itself, which doesn't guarantee a sale or it being picked up by a network. But attachments can help in that process. That's an entirely different route, basically a gamble, and if you're paying this guy I would be concerned though I wish you the best there.

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Patronica Clark we're talking about two different things here. And you don't need to pay for everything on this site, just the education and script services resources, which are there to give you feedback to help you improve your writing and pitching, and to learn.

The thing about packaging is just because you hired someone doesn't mean your script is ready or that it will sell. Please don't read this as negative, this is just simply how that works. Some people successfully package and projects are made as a result of it, but many don't as well. So it's a route I would recommend people only take when they know their script is in the shape to sell. Which you may know, and be ready for, so all the more power to you. I hope you succeed. Me personally, I've always looked at it as too much as a gamble simply because I can't afford those fees.

But to tell a first time writer that they can sell their show no problem is just irresponsible. It's not how the industry works. Sure, lightning may strike for some people, but you dig into to most of their stories and they had something that made them blow up or a connection that got them in the door.

For example, CHEWING GUM was a successful play she wrote, produced, and starred in first. It was tested already. I'm talking about untested writers.

Claude Gagne

It's like fishing. You throw the bait out and hope someone bites. You get a nibble here, a nibble there. BUT, you never know the big one will come along and snatch your minnow away. Not! I'm joking. Good luck, Patronica .

Lyter Daniel

Nick - You are absolutely spot on! People will sell you what you want to hear then ask you if they may keep the change. This biz is full of people making false or misleading promises just to make a quick buck. Sounds like someone is just very new to the business and won’t listen to Professionals who know what they’re speaking about! Love Stage 32! Opened my eyes to a very difficult biz to conquer.

Claude Gagne

Conquer is a big word. Maybe, tame a little!

Lyter Daniel

Claude - Think big ... Tame is lame!

Lyter Daniel

Ms. Papel — Sounds like you’re well on your way! Congratulations! Great Topic!

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Hi Patronica Clark that's great and all, but 9/10 new writers think a producer and a network could make a killing off their series and I don't say this to hold you back at all, just to add some perspective, because I really absolutely am rooting for you, but nobody wants to work with the people who tell them that, and there are people out there who will try to take money off of those writers.

Real producers don't want to hear about the money side from writers, they just want a good story. They don't want to be told how to do their job, essentially. I've been at this hustle for a long time and have seen the people on all sides of the spectrum here, from hopeful newbies to jaded old timers, and I'm always still learning even though I've been at it for a decade and change. I love that you believe in yourself, never lose that, but make sure you just understand what someone is selling you.

The email you shared reads to me as, "He said he'll read it but even if he does and he likes it, he's going to need X, X, and X from you." It's very easy to get excited about this kind of stuff. It's the nature of being a writer. We all do, but don't put the cart before the horse, you know? If you're paying someone to pitch for you, you're holding yourself back from learning one of the most important skills in a writers arsenal outside of the craft: the pitch itself. And just because someone may read something, it doesn't mean they'll buy it. Trust me, I fantasize about a sale every night. I have a meeting tomorrow morning and it's taking all of my energy to convince myself it's not a sure thing, because it's easy to get excited and I've been down this road two dozen times before. I know it can always lead to a sale, but I know that it consistently hasn't. This industry is a numbers game for sure, the more people you get yourself out to, the better odds you have at success.

So understanding how people break in is important. Hollywood will always give inexperienced people a shot if they believe they'll make money off of them from prior proof, in the case of Michaela it was her play. For a lot of people it's their short films, YouTube series, maybe a spec script that went viral online. But if you don't have that proof, they have no reason to put up the money and not much you can say will convince them unless they are bad at their job. It's a catch-22 of breaking in and newer writers will often run full speed ahead and then learn the hard way, and nothing we can say will stop them from that.

So I'm not debating here, I'm saying all this in trying to help you. I've seen a lot of your posts lately and your passion is awesome, but you're also deflecting a lot of genuine information coming your way (mostly because it reads as condescending I'm sure, which is a fault of communicating over text and internet I wish society would somehow learn to evolve a fix for haha). Anyway, sorry for the long rant, I just really try to be clear which makes me wordier and then often reads as more obnoxious :)

Lyter Daniel

Nick - Very interesting ... great take!

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator

Patronica Clark that is totally fair. And like I said, it can work out. Good luck!

Aray Brown

Lyter Daniel lol tame is lame

Lyter Daniel

Clark - No - Better yet - Why not be a more responsible, respectful, engaging Stage 32 member? We are all here to learn from the vast experiences the members have to offer. I don’t know you nor do I want to - so the “obsession” idea must be another delusion you’ve cooked up ...

So stop with the messages ...

John Ellis

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator, buddy, I admire your patience!

Melissa Papel, I want to apologize for the community for the hijacking of your post. I hope there were enough constructive comments scattered in the thread to be of use to you.

Good luck!

Tully Archer

I would do it. Shows get picked up a lot of ways. It'll only help you continue to develop your idea to do the pages requested, which will strengthen all your future pitches if you have to move forward from this one. Yes, some places will want to develop themselves, but they can decide how much of your one-pagers to run with or ignore, it won't really affect things if that's where it ends up. I see no drawbacks - not even the time it will take, because again, it will strengthen your own understanding of the story. Best of luck!

Susan Smith

If you get any open door like this, work your ass off to get it done and walk through...this is a good sign and the door will close fairly quickly if they don't see you heading that way. Congratulations, you are supposed to do this if you already got a positive response, so get started

Christiane Lange

Nick Assunto - Stage 32 Script Services Coordinator Yep on the IP, and it makes sense. Which is why I am turning my pilot into a comic in parallel with pitching.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

AH! This is so exciting! LOL I do miss the heated debates that occur in someone's unsuspecting thread on this lounge! What a lovely way to avoid writing! In any case, dear Melissa, both Nick and Patronica are actually right. I haven't read their debate threads in total detail, but I get the gist of what they're saying, and they're both right. No two creatives come to the table with the same gifts, and no two pathways to creative success are even remotely similar. Add to that that the industry is on evolution hyper-drive, and nothing is 'right'. So yeah, I think both you and I should read Nick and Patronica's debate in detail. This is good weaponry for battling through today's marketplace!

In any case, am I right in sensing that you sort of want to write more episodes? Follow your creative instinct. That's the only way to muddle through this insanity with true integrity. If your imagination is bugging you to do that work, if scenes from episode six are coming to you at midnight, then yes, write them down! Have a huge folder with everything from this project just waiting for that next request. When an idea comes, write it. When they ask, you'll have it. Whatever happens, Just Keep Writing (and in your case also acting and producing). We're so lucky to even be having these conversations! Yay for 2021!

André Frauenstein

Hi Melissa, I am a producer in South Africa and interested in a series, have you anything that you can send my way?

Sherry L. Peterson

Hi Melissa, I only represent myself as a writer, that has to write. I too, have written multiple episodes on projects, and have been told no one usually looks at all of that. I don't ever believe there's a set way to get things done, or that it's a waste of time if you feel you need to do it. It's about doing the work, being prepared, and being true to your vision. That doesn't take away from what might be expected if someone is truly interested in it. I agree that shows get picked up in a lot of different ways. You did get a positive response, and for that I say congratualtions, keep writing, and way to go!

Neal Howard

The rules are different depending on who you are and how your project will come to their attention. What Netflix requires from an unknown writer being pitched by a green producer is very different from what they expect from a name writer with influential representation or other credibility/bankability factors. How they view and consider the project is also dependent on those things. Ultimately, you'll have to figure out how realistic/serious the opportunity is and how much work you're willing to do without concrete interest in either you or your script.

JJ Hillard

Melissa, I had read that advice you wrote as well: "...when the deal was signed, a much more detailed Bible was developed with the Network/Producers, according to their wishes and ideas of where the story could be taken and how it could evolve." Also I had heard that at an early stage an entertainment attorney should be involved to establish what new input belongs to the writer versus what is the property of the Network/Producers. If they back out of the deal at some future point, you all need to know what is yours and what is theirs on each page. It has the potential to get complicated and reminds us that this is, after all, a business!

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