What Is The Reality Of Selling A TV Show?

Michael Jamin here. So today I thought we would talk about the realities of being a professional writer, because many of you have ideas and you’ve been sitting on it for 30 years for a project or a screenplay that’s so personal you know, you’d love to get it on screen and you want to get it made. I don’t know what stopping it, like, have you written it? No. So you gotta learn, you gotta get over that hump. You gotta learn how to write and go for it. I definitely encourage you to do that. But the other thing you should probably know is that, as a working writer, 98% of what I sell is not something that’s been burning inside me for a hundred years. 98% of where I get my money is from either a bigger producer or a studio or a network saying this, they have a need, they have an idea for a show. 

They have an idea that something that they need, can I fulfill that? Can I give them something that they want? So then you kind of come up with that and you kind of hopefully sell it. So that’s the case. For example, with the current project I’m working on, my partner and I, sold a pilot to E. They want an animated show because during the pandemic animated shows are just much easier to produce and safer to produce. So they reached out actually to two friends of ours we worked with on a numerous number of occasions and two great talented writers. They created the show Silicon Valley. So these guys were really good and they said to them, Hey, can you create an animated show for us? And, and our friends, I think their plate was just too full. 

They had too much to do so they couldn’t devote attention. So, they called us up, Hey, do you want to do this? And I had just finished writing on a show called Tacoma FD, literally like it ended Friday, and then the call came on Monday and we were looking for work and they were like, Hey, uh, do you want to, are you interested in this? And we’re like, yeah, sure. We have nothing going on right now. And so he had an idea. They have a very specific kind of show. We can’t sell them something that they don’t want. They want something. So we came up with two different versions of what they were looking for and they liked one of them and great, they started paying us to write, this project for them. 

You know, I would never have said one day, I’m going to grow up and I’m going to write an animated show for E that’s, what I want to do. It didn’t even occur to me. But what happens is you develop a show and you fall in love with these characters. And so does it matter if this wasn’t something that was burning inside of me when I was eight years old? No, because we’ve created these characters and that’s what you love. And that’s where you take the pride. That’s where you find the enjoyable part of it.

By the way, when he or anybody else hires us, these are all multinational companies, right? Like gigantic companies. They’re always looking for ways to cut costs. If they could figure out how to do a show without paying a writer, they would do it in a heartbeat, because writers cost money, but they can’t. There are no computer programs that can do what we do, yet. Maybe one day. So what they’re doing when they’re hiring me and my partner to create a show, they’re paying for my skill set, not even paying for my talent, they’re paying for the skillset that I’ve acquired over all these years, how I create, how I take something and troubleshoot how I take a story and how I troubleshoot to make sure that a story has these certain moments that you need, so it feels satisfying. If a network could do it, like I said, if they could do it without writers, they would, there’s no love for us. 

So what I teach in the course basically is that skill set is this skill set that I use to sell shows, I don’t know why like they haven’t figured it out. They haven’t figured out how to do it without us, but they’re trying. So that’s what I would encourage you to do. If you have something burning inside of you, a story, I still say write it for sure. Use it as a calling card, as a way of showing, Hey, look, I can do this. And if you, if you’re passionate about it, it’ll come out in the work. That helps so much. If there’s some like, Hey, here’s some crappy idea. I’m just gonna, you know, then it’s going to show on your work. But if you have this burning thing then for sure, I would encourage you to write it. 

Maybe it will sell, or maybe it’ll just, you put it out there and maybe it’ll get you another project. And you’re like, but I don’t want to write that project, but sure you do because you’ll create it. And you’ll fall in love with those characters as well. It’s all good. It all works out for the best. So, the important thing of course is that the writing has to be good because they’re going to read a script.

One of the things that I hear a lot from students who take my class and this has been very gratifying to me is like, they all come back. Well, not all, but many of them come back and they say, I thought my script was good. I thought it was great until I took your course. And then I realized it’s missing all these things and it’s not as good as I thought it was, but I know how to fix it now. And so, yeah, that’s good. That’s exactly what the course is for because that’s drawing from my skillset. These are the things that I need to do. These are the things that one needs to do in order to tell a compelling story and how to put it into your writing so that you can create something like that as well. But again, it doesn’t have to be something that’s burning, burning, burning inside of you, because you’ll find a way to put that into your characters. You’ll find a way to steal from your own life, to put into your characters or steal from a loved one’s life and create a character on someone who that you love, or as a facet of them to this character. And that’s what makes it enjoyable. Okay. Hope that helps.

Author Details
For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.