So – Where Do Ideas Come From?

Ideas are the lifeblood of television. Ideas are consumed at a great rate and those who commission new programmes are constantly on the lookout for the next Big Idea. If you want to get into and get on in television, it certainly helps if you have ideas, or at least know where to find them.

You may well find that that every idea you eagerly present to a potential employer has already been done. Most ideas have indeed been covered in some way or another but there is always more than one way to present an idea. Often the way you format an idea is more important than the subject matter itself. Cookery has been a topic in television programme for ever but producers constantly manage to come up with new ways to format it – from Master Chef-style competitions to entertaining Ready, Steady, Cook-style challenges; from back-to-basics Delia Smith demonstrations to living-off-the-land with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

There is no point simply suggesting a cookery show. It’s been done a million times, but it is worth suggesting a novel way of doing cookery. That’s your challenge – how you can take a popular subject and devise an original style of presentation for the screen?

Talent plays an important role. This is a subject all of its own and one we shall return to. But staying on the cookery theme, discovering a new on-screen chef, someone who offers something different – a big personality – can be enough to sell a new cookery series.

But where to find new ideas, if they are not naturally popping into your head at 3am?  Here are some of the obvious places:

  • Newspapers and magazines – many a new show has come about after someone has spotted a story in print and recognised its potential for the screen.
  • Experience and ideas from experts – people who work intensively in one particular subject area are often the best people to quiz about ideas. Even asking your local vet what he thinks is missing in existing programmes about animals could produce food for thought.
  • Your own issues, lifestyle and questions – humans have a lot in common. If you find your friends are all absorbed by internet dating, or your parents obsessed with growing old or your grandparents outraged by care home costs, then consider if there may be a programme in that.
  • Spot trends – bit like the above but do some research to see just how much interest there is in a topic. You can often spot the trends in the print media, or even amongst your own social life – when certain topics keep coming up then there’s your trend.
  • Real-life stories – one person’s story can be so compelling, moving, inspirational that it makes a documentary or a series all of its own. Be interested in people, especially those who battle against the odds or do amazing things in life.
  • Books – goes without saying that some of the best drama and films have come from the screenplay of a book but check out the popular factual titles. Is there a new book that lends itself to a factual TV series? Maybe the authors turn out to be ideal television presenters or experts.
  • The Internet – of course!  Clever YouTube clips could spin off an idea – check out the story of make-up demonstrator, Lauren Luke, for example; a novel blog may lead to some interesting content; a game, a forum, an auction site – in fact anything can spin off an idea. Just keep your eyes and your mind open!

Basically ideas are all around you. You just need to spot them, research them and work them into something original, entertaining and informative.

If you are heading for a job interview that is in any way creative – even as a runner or work experience, don’t go without ideas. At least plough through recent newspapers and magazines and tear out any that you think could lead to a new idea. You could grab some friends and family before the interview for a brainstorm – throwing ideas around in a group is always more fun and generally more productive than doing it on your own.  And if no-one asks you at the interview for your ideas then volunteer them or email them to the relevant person afterwards.

There is so much to say about ideas in television so we’ll come back to the subject soon and include advice on how to present them, protect them (hard!) and develop them.


© Siubhan Richmond March 2011


1 comment

  • The Production, The Presenter and The Press « So You Want to Work in Television? says:

    […] your idea might not be the most original – good chance it won’t be original at all (see, but you get full marks for giving it a go. With Britain’s Got Talent heading back to the small […]

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