YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Unknowns pitch ideas for shows to pros

August 04, 2008|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

For more than 300 aspiring writers and producers, this -- a clanging cowbell, worn wooden tables and youthful TV programming executives at the House of Blues in West Hollywood -- was their chance to squeeze through the closed doors of Hollywood.

It was not "Entourage." And it is not how superstar TV producers like J.J. Abrams or Aaron Sorkin pitch programs to network brass in the office suites of Burbank. No, the House of Blues on Friday was the scene of the "Pitch Pit," the boisterous culmination of the National Assn. of Television Program Executives' second annual LA TV Festival, a three-day conference and "boot camp" for would-be entertainers.

Participants, young and old, came from across the country armed with hope, promotional handouts, business cards and their ideas for the Next Big TV Hit.

"It seems like these days everyone has a television show to pitch," said Andy McElfresh, a bespectacled writer for NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." He had cordoned off an area, set up a camera and was taping interviews with would-be producers for a future "Tonight Show" segment.

"The idea of pitching is like the American dream. It's living on your wits, and based on a good idea, you can make your fortune," McElfresh said.

More than 40 television companies were on hand, including CBS, NBC, Lifetime Networks, MTV, BET, Fox Reality Channel and the Outdoor Network, as well as major talent agencies, including Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency.

They all dispatched executives and agents to "catch" the ideas of the pitchers.

Holly Fisher McClean slid into a wooden booth and greeted two executives with Granada America, a TV production company behind such hits as Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," and "Nanny 911." She suggested a show that would involve split TV screens to provide a video game within the TV show that featured competition between gamers.

"It sounds expensive," said Colet Abedi, a Granada executive.

Daniel Prewitt came from Virginia with "a bold plan to boost ratings and market share." The title of his show, in which aliens come to America to help a cable channel develop programming, was "Kranium Kaos." He described the idea as the latest iteration of such outer-space comedies as "My Favorite Martian," "Mork and Mindy" and "3rd Rock From the Sun."

"This is like all of those shows on steroids," said the 43-year-old with a ponytail.

Whitney Timmons, a 27-year-old executive with Lionsgate Television, listened politely, then asked Prewitt, "Is every episode a one-off, or is there a serial aspect to the show?"

"Well," Prewitt said, "the aliens are abducting people and sucking them into their television content. There will be disembodied heads, and eventually the viewers will recognize the heads."

Rarely does a pitch instantly turn into a new television show, conceded Beth Braen, the "pit boss," who on normal days is NATPE's senior vice president for marketing.

"But does someone end up with an agent, or a production deal or just make some good contacts? Yes," Braen said. "The value is not only for the person pitching but for the industry too. They come here for free because they could spot that diamond in the rough."

NATPE is a trade association that promotes the development and distribution of TV programming. It also sponsors an international television market in Las Vegas in January. Participants paid $500 to $875 to attend the LA TV Festival, which included sessions such as "Developing Original Content for the Web" and "The Anatomy of a Hit."

Attendees were provided a list of dos and don'ts, including: "Be prepared! Practice! Know your pitch backwards, forwards and upside down and don't use notes. . . . Be brief! Condense your pitch into a short, concise presentation. Make it catchy and easy to "get". . . . Be passionate! (not too passionate -- don't forget that this is essentially a business meeting). . . . Don't stalk the catchers! Once your pitch is over and you've given them your contact info and one-sheet, move on."

Move on they did. Each hopeful had just 10 minutes to make his or her case to one of the television executives. A NATPE coordinator strode up and down the aisles, announcing, "Three minutes to go." At the end of each quarter-hour, someone would ring the cowbell, cuing the participants to leave.

Some of the ideas, and the people behind them, showed promise.

Elliott Jordan, 27, came from Houston with a show concept called "Breaking News." He described his vision to Lionsgate's Timmons, saying: "The show combines the quick wit of 'Laugh-In' with the edge of the 'Dave Chappell Show.' It would be part-'The Apprentice,' with TV writers competing within a TV writers' room, and part-sketch comedy.

Timmons gave Jordan her business card and invited him to follow up.

During an interview afterward, Jordan said he had recently left his job with an OfficeMax supply store.

"I have to be honest with you, they offered me store manager," he said. "But I knew that if I picked up a store, that would be it for me. I have to follow my passion. This is the rest of my life that I'm talking about."

So Jordan bought a black pinstriped suit, which seemed a size too big, and came to Hollywood, not knowing quite what to expect. He anticipated a different atmosphere.

"I was kind of expecting this big 'American Idol'-like stage with three or four judges sitting there listening to me," Jordan said. "I never thought it would be like speed dating."


Los Angeles Times Articles