Creativity and ideas are the lifeblood of television – just as they are for any other kind of media. What you will undoubtedly find is that many ‘brilliant new ideas’ are in fact quite old ideas. It can be discouraging to start your first media job and eagerly share your ideas only to be told that ‘it’s already been done’.
A lot of new television programmes are actually quite old ideas with a brand new twist. Finding a new angle, developing an entertaining new format, finding a unique perspective from which to present a documentary is more likely to be your challenge.
A subject area is not an idea. It is not enough to say, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s do a programme on cookery”. How is your show on cookery going to be different from the myriad cookery shows already on screen? The difference, and the selling point, may simply be the new cook or chef you have found to front it.
Many successful shows are derivative. They have borrowed elements from an existing programme and simply added a slight twist. The ‘big’ ideas aren’t necessarily the ones that get commissioned. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering proposal to win approval.
How do you protect your idea?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to copyright ideas. The more formatted and detailed your idea the more chance you have of copyrighting it. Quiz shows with a clear format, dramas with an existing script stand a chance, most factual and lifestyle programmes don’t. Copyright is a whole different subject to cover and if you are serious about it then you’d need to find professional advice.
One simple tip I picked up was to post a sealed copy of your proposal to yourself by registered post ensuring there is a date on it. You can at least prove you had a particular idea at a particular time by producing it when necessary.
HOWEVER, ideas are best shared freely in my opinion. Creative people rarely have just one good idea and if you are trying to get a job or move on in television production you need to show your ability to have or spot good ideas.
If an idea sits hidden in your desk drawer because you don’t trust anyone to see it then it’s not going to go anywhere and you’ll be kicking yourself when you see the same idea appear on your screen made by someone else.
Many people have similar ideas around the same time – often because they have all experienced the same cue. They’ve read something in a newspaper or magazine, heard something on the radio, spotted a growing trend on YouTube and it’s made them think of an idea.
Don’t assume someone has stolen your idea if you see something similar. Be aware that you are one of many picking up clues and looking for trends. You need to get in there quickly and present your idea as best you can to compete.
Don’t be afraid to offer ideas and be open to having them pulled apart! That can be scary especially in a new job but all feedback is useful and it should help you learn what works and what doesn’t. And if someone gives you a bad time because they didn’t like your idea comfort yourself with the knowledge this makes them a rubbish manager of creative people! Ideas should be encouraged, coaxed and viewed from all angles before rejecting. Also remember that many highly successful shows have been rejected before making the screen. ITV’s popular quiz show, ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ was turned down several times before the boss at ITV finally saw its potential.
And if your idea is a big one and not simply a one-off feature for a news or magazine programme and you really believe in it, then be prepared for the long haul. I once interviewed an author of a book on sex differences in the brains of men and women for a Battle of the Sexes strand. She told me she had spent ten years getting the idea for the book accepted!
How to Present Your Idea?
Best ideas can be summed up in a paragraph or even one sentence. Be clear, concise and include any spin-offs, interactive elements and other revenue streams.
How you present your idea may well depend on the nature and genre but as a general rule expect to offer the following:
- Introduction/overview: a very brief outline of the concept.
- Treatment: a bit more detail on the concept and the content. Also include any evidence you have that there is a market for such an idea (do some research on the subject matter first). Sometimes it is worth referencing established shows in the same vein. Everyone would like “the next Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”!
- Format: this needs to explain exactly how the programme would look. If it’s a quiz or game show then you need to give details of every round, and other key elements such as the scoring system.
- Presenters: commissioning editors love choosing presenters and talent but you should offer your suggestions. If it’s a big name or someone crucial to the concept (ie a celebrity chef) then make sure you have a chance of acquiring that person. You can always approach via their agent and ask if they would be willing in principle to put their name to it. No point suggesting Ant and Dec for a low-budget game show unless they have already indicated they’d be up for it!
- Development Potential: if there is any. But do include any thoughts you have on how the programme may use interactive elements, whether there is a premium line telephone service include, any commercial spin-offs that may apply and so on.
There is a new page now on the site for Sample Documents. On there you’ll find a copy of a proposal written for a style series based on a popular ‘This Morning’ strand (scroll down past the sample press release). It may be useful if you’ve never written a proposal before to see how someone else has done it. (And no, it didn’t get commissioned – but obviously it should have been!!). http://wanttoworkintelevision.wordpress.com/useful-sample-documents/
Who to send your proposal to is another blog post for another day!
Lots more to come on this subject so subscribe to the blog to be sure you don’t miss any of it.