The World of TV Development
By Katie O'Brien
I came out to LA with my heart set on a production internship but quickly came to realize that those are few and far between these days. Instead, I wound up with two development internships one at a big broadcast studio and the other at a television production and distribution company.
“Development” in television is the process of creating new ideas and formats for new shows. This sounds like it would be a wonderfully simple process of just creating new shows but it is significantly more complicated. Development is also about researching details, like finding the “rights” to a story or seeing what other formats that already exist are similar to your new idea or finding talent like an actor, director or writer to attach to the show to sell it.
Traditionally this process starts with what is known as “pilot season” which starts with writers pitching ideas to major networks and production companies, executives at networks hear about 500 pitches each summer. In the fall networks request about 70 of those pitches to be written and the following January they pick 20 to order. In May, if a pilot is “picked up” writers are hired, sets are built, deals are made and the show airs in the fall. But things are changing and recently Fox announced it was forgoing pilot season in favor of the cable network’s strategy of ordering pilots geared towards series. They hope this will lead to a greater success rate for shows staying on the air.
In my experience internships in development are a great way to get to know the industry and all the different pieces of a show going from an idea to production to the screen. During my internships I read lots of scripts and give notes to executives on what I liked or didn’t like, what the show was about and the overall potential for a show. I also call agents and check on actor, writer, director and show runner availabilities. I research different stories and international formats to see if they could be viable sources for a new show. I enjoy seeing what scripts and ideas people think will be successful and hearing why they think they will work. I occasionally get to sit in on development meetings, table reads and pitches too. I am enjoying my time here in LA and love learning more and more about the industry.