The idea starts from you. You're watching TV, driving your car or just puttering around the house when it hits you. It could be a reality show idea, a game show, a sit-com, whatever. Once you have the idea, you need to "flesh it out."
This refers to thinking the idea all the way through. If it's a reality show, what's the whole concept? If it's a game show, how does it work? A scripted series? Who are the characters, what are some story areas, how do you see the series playing out?
Depending on the genre and type of show you've come up with will determine how you go about trying to sell your idea. Here's the good news -- most television executives are desperate for good ideas. They don't care who has them, as long as they are unique, fresh and something they've never heard.
Now here's the bad news -- they've probably heard the idea before. That said, there is still a chance your idea will be completely new, or a new take on an old idea that they might be willing to consider.
Now that you have an idea in hand and you've started to flesh it out a bit, you need to start coming up with your "pitch." The "pitch" refers to what you will tell a potential buyer about your project to make them interested enough to buy it.
Your pitch should be tight (10-15 minutes) and have enough information included so that you can clearly explain your idea while simultaneously getting your listener excited about the concept. You might also want to consider coming up with a shorter 2 minute "elevator pitch" version (which refers to the amount of time it might take you to pitch your idea if you found yourself in an elevator with the right person), just so you have it in case you need it.
You've got your fleshed out idea and a clear, concise pitch that excites your listeners; so now what? Again, depending on the type of idea (scripted, reality, game show, etc.), you will now have to figure out your best course of action.
No matter what type of show you've come up with, your first step toward selling your idea will be trying to get an agent to represent you (and your idea). Agents come in handy because they can lead you to the exact person you need to sit down with -- the person who has the power to purchase your idea. Additionally, they can narrow down the list of potential buyers by focusing on those people and companies that specialize in producing exactly the type of idea you've generated.
Agents aren't mandatory to the process, but they do make the process a little easier by being able to put you in touch with the right people. Also, most companies (and many agencies) don't accept "unsolicited submissions." Meaning, if they didn't ask you for it, they don't want it. So, if you just decided to type out your idea and send it off to a network or studio chances are it will either come back to you unopened, or with an "unsolicited submissions" form letter.
So, how do you get an agent? Network, network, network. If you ask enough people, there's a good chance that you're going to either know someone who knows someone who is an agent. It may be a distant "in" but any "in" is an "in" so take advantage of it when it shows itself. Since many agencies have an "unsolicited submissions" policy as well, it's important that you avoid sending random pieces of material out to everyone listed in the Hollywood Creative Directory.
Once you've lined up an agent, you will probably sit down with what's known as a Development executive. These folks are specialists in helping to find exactly what their studio or network is asking for -- and they usually are classified by the genre that they buy (comedy development, drama development, reality development, etc.). These people are the first ones who have the power to turn your idea into a check. But, you must first be able to sell them on your concept, and state it in such a way that they can reiterate it to their bosses and so on and so on until a purchase of your idea is made.
Selling your ideas for television shows is not an easy task. But it can be done if you're persistent enough, patient enough and most definitely, passionate enough to keep trudging ahead.