How To Pitch An Animated TV Series

BY MICHAEL VOGEL

Long before I was an animation executive, I was just an animation dork with a ton of ideas and a vague idea of the types of shows I would like to create one day. Like most people who make their way out to the West Coast, I started putting the ideas together and planning my eventual takeover of the whole animation industry. Recently, I went back through some boxes and found some of my old pitches… and was truly horrified. NOT because the concepts were silly, NOT because the art was bad and NOT because nobody in a million years would ever go for a project like the ones in the box marked “Ideas.”

Pitching by Greg Franklin
illustration by Greg Franklin

No, I was horrified because I clearly had NO IDEA what I was doing or how to put together a solid pitch.

After sitting on the other side of the desk for a few years and hearing A LOT of pitches, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what makes a solid pitch and what makes a pitch… well, NOT so solid. Now let’s be clear here: I’m not talking about what makes a great idea. We could all argue for hours about character, story structure and what we classify as “good,” (I spent a few hours recently arguing with a friend about why Goonies is a modern day classic – how is that even a debate?!!?) But outside of the subjective world of taste, there are certain things that you can do to hone your pitching skills so that, regardless of the perceived “quality of your concept,” you have done everything in your power to make your pitch show off all the best aspects of your idea while making YOU look like a total animation badass who is on top of his or her game.

So without further ado, here we go. A list of concrete things you should definitely be aware of when prepping an animated pitch:

CHARACTER! CHARACTER! CHARACTER!


This is probably the single BIGGEST thing that everyone claims to “get” but very rarely gets expressed when pitching. The focal point of your entire pitch should be built around your main character. Who he or she is, how do they see the world, what do they want/need. There seems to be a tendency, ESPECIALLY in the no boundaries world of animation, to lay out the entire universe right off the bat. But the truth is, that it doesn’t matter how many galactic armies there are, or what the history of the royal family is, or how the zombies managed to become the dominant species on the planet if there isn’t a main character to latch on to first. Start your pitch with the character, introduce them, talk about the way they see the world, and let the world naturally be explained from there.

ARTWORK


One of the questions I regularly field is “Do I need to have artwork?” The simple answer is this: if the artwork is world-class, then go for it, if not, PLEASE don’t. The bottom line is that a great story is a great story. You don’t NEED artwork to sell it. But if you happen to be a great character designer, or know a great artist then it’s definitely going to help you. Conversely, artwork that doesn’t look professional, or artwork that isn’t exactly what you want the show to look like, can actually hurt a great pitch. Here’s a way to test your artwork – looking at potential designs, can you see those, exactly as they are, on television? If so, they’re probably good enough. If not, I would consider losing them. What IS a good idea is to be able to articulate how you see the show. Is it traditional animation? CG? Flash? What shows out there have a look and style that fit what you are envisioning? If you, as the creator, can articulate the art of your show, that’s the thing that will really help you.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT


It’s usually a good sign when an executive asks how you see your role on the show. It means they like the idea enough to start entertaining the possibility of working with you and want to get a sense of what they’re in for. The worst thing you can say is that you want to “do a little of everything.” That job doesn’t exist. So know your strengths, and know how you fit into the production hierarchy. Are you an artist? Do you want to design the characters? Are you a writer? Do you want to story edit? Or are you just an idea factory? Maybe you’re a producer who wants to be teamed with a kick ass writer and a director? Do the homework, know the positions that fit your personal skill set and be ready to say exactly where you see yourself on the show.

LENGTH OF THE PITCH/WHAT TO COVER


I had a teacher in middle school who, whenever asked how long a paper should be, would respond, “As long as a dress. It just needs to cover all the important parts.” That pretty much sums it up. There is no standard rule for what you need to cover, and depending on how big your idea is, there may be lots of stuff to discuss. But I would work hard on honing your pitch and knowing exactly what needs to be told and when. Practice it. Pitch it to your friends. Get their thoughts. It can be painful or feel weird, but it works. You don’t want to be stumbling over stuff and then bust out with the dreaded “Oh! One thing I forgot to say earlier was…”

You are the storyteller and the executives are your captive audience. You want to make sure that your performance is a winner. As I said before, you want to start with the main character, but then it’s up to you. Does that lead into the other characters and then a description of the world? Or do you go into the world and meet the rest of your cast along the way? Is there a pilot or premise story that needs to be covered? Or is it a new and random adventure each week? Regardless, the thing you want to end with is…

EPISODE IDEAS


Every TV executive wants a show that is going to run 100 episodes or more, so it’s up to you to explain what the characters are gonna do each week. I personally recommend having two fairly fleshed out stories. With this plan – we get to see all of the main characters in action and how they react to certain situations. In the end, the executive across the table will get a general sense of the world. But make sure you pick story ideas that really underscore everything you just said about your characters. If the main character wants to be famous, then that’s what he or she should be trying to do.

That said, I’d also come equipped with maybe six back-up stories – episodes that aren’t as fleshed out but illustrate all of the different ideas the show can explore. These shouldn’t be more than a few sentences and each should give just a taste of what can happen.

BE AN EXPERT


I have a friend who is a successful working actress. But there was a time when should couldn’t book a single job. Then she started watching all the shows she wanted to be on and studied how the characters were dressed. She started wearing similar outfits to auditions and BAM – she’s all over TV. Same goes for animation. If you are pitching the NEXT big animated show you had better know what the CURRENT big animated shows are. Know what is working and what isn’t, but more importantly know what you like and what you don’t and be ready to talk about it. You would be amazed at how an intelligent and informed discussion about the current state of animation can wow an audience into thinking you are the next big thing in the biz.

CONFIDENCE IS KEY


This may sound like the cheesy, rah-rah “you can do it” part, but it is actually one of the most essential parts of your pitch – if you walk into an office looking like you don’t absolutely know that you belong there, you’ve already started to lose the room. If you are giving off the vibe that you are wasting everyone’s time and that you aren’t sure if your idea is any good, every other person in the room is going to pick up on that. However, if you walk in knowing that you LOVE your idea, regardless of what anyone else thinks, people will be more than willing to listen. Here are the two big secrets to remember: A) Every executive WANTS every pitch to rock and we WANT to be amazed, and B) none of us have any special ability that makes us any more of an expert on story than you. So if someone doesn’t like your idea – so what. If you love it, then sell the hell out of it and find someone who agrees!

Michael Vogel is currently the Director of Animated Programming for Sony Pictures Television, but has been a geek all of his life. He grew up watching cartoons and reading comic books and just never really stopped. Now he gets to do it for a living and couldn’t be happier.

36 Comments

  1. Geoffrey March 25, 2009

    After I read your article I was like, WOW! This has given me a lot a great information. Well, I’m Geoffrey and I’m 14. I have a awesome idea for an animated show, and have been working on it since 2006. I’m almost done with my pitch bible too. I’m just unsure on how I would pitch an idea for an animation at such a young age. What should I do?
    -Geoffrey

  2. McPhearson March 31, 2009

    Thanks very much for writing this article. It really helped me get a feel for the entire pitching scenario, moreso than most articles I have read recently. Much obliged.

  3. This is a great help…but I’m curious, what if someone wanted to pitch a fresh spin on an old hat? Would studios be interested in that?

  4. Elmer Medina December 1, 2009

    thanks man I am a fan of animation and my idea for a show is awesome i now know what to do when i finally pitch my cartoon

  5. I have written a musical which i would dearly love to get the opportunity to pitch to a number of animation studio’s.The storyline is complete ,the main character’s developed and the music has been composed and recorded professionally but i have no idea who to, or how to ,send this work for review.
    I am an Irish guy with some creative talent i hope . I truly feel the story and music is very very special and would love to get the chance to showcase it but i just dont Know how .Please Help!

  6. Shawn M. Jones December 8, 2009

    This is great info, but I’m wondering how would one’ go-about getting in contact, with an executive of the animation studio of interest?

    What’s the best way to make contact, with someone who can get your idea into a producers hands; would I need an agent?

    “It seems to be a lot of barriors, when trying to into media!”

    At-least comic book publishers, allow you to send in art submissions, scrips or an idea for review; in some cases, you can even talk to the publisher directly.

  7. Cyberweasel89 April 8, 2010

    Okay… But how do I set up the pitch meeting when I don’t have any experience in show business?

  8. Christian Davis July 20, 2010

    I completely agree with what you said. I’m currently trying to get my series on TV. It’s a sci-fi human-alien war themed story with giant mechs and weird powers. I don’t really want to get into detail for the sake of not gstting my ideas stolen (not that I’m saying you will). I need help getting in touch with companies though. If you like, comtact me. Any info or assistance would be appreciated.

  9. Can some one give me some feed back on what they think of the characters,synopsis and mini bio

    http://www.fappyshow.com/about.html

    Thanks

  10. KristianJL October 17, 2010

    I had the great pleasure of pitching to Michael a few years back when he first took the helm at Sony. Great guy – respectful of creators. He listened and responded enthusiastically and then threw me a few questions that rocked me back on my heels (and that I handled pretty well, I thought!). Really glad he is still there because, God knows, there is a lot of turnover in this business.

  11. Great article… It is definitely a dog eat dog world out there in the industry it seems, but hopefully perseverance will pay off with my project Hector The Friendly Collector!… Time will tell :)

    http://hectorthefriendlycollector.blogspot.com/

  12. I have always loved animes and thought i would make one but your article inspired me to actually do it sure it’s not the best thing but I’m just a kid anyway. So after i made it i showed it to some of my class mates and they liked it so I’ve just been adding more an more until finally when i realized it i had a whole book with just one anime and none of my classmates haven’t stopped reading them i just want to say thanks.

  13. Lauren Lorenzo January 5, 2011

    This was the best article I’ve ever read about pitching an animated show!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll pass it around. One day I will pitch my beloved show Kate & Kit to Nickelodeon and I will keep this all in mind :) !!!

    Lauren Lorenzo

  14. Matt Cinnamon February 17, 2011

    I have an idea for a show about six regular people who are on this show like SNL. I live in a small town in California and NO experience of cartoons. I don’t know what channel for it, but Cartoon Network is my vote. :) Matt Cinnamon

  15. gerard mclane October 25, 2011

    thank you very much because i have the next big thing to hit the animation market coming soon………

  16. Awesome article! I have several ideas and have always wanted to pitch them, but never really sure how…. How do I even get a meeting with executives?
    Do I copyright my stuff?

  17. Would you happen to know what kind of place Character Designers have in an animation studio?
    Like, are there jobs for Character Design and Storyboarding only, or do they also mix in animation?

  18. My best friends and I watch that stupid show Adventure Time on Cartoon Network, and are always saying, “if something that stupid can be on there, why can’t we get a show?” I mean, I think we’re creative enough since we all got into the S.P.A.C.E program when we were in elementary school, and get fairly decent grades to know stuff. We’re young, we are crazy, we are the future! I love to draw,and I do good enough. I can do a variety of voices,and I love to make up things on the spot. My friend is very good at improvising too, we want a cartoon show badly. I am wanting a show on Cartoon Network, but I dont know where to start!

  19. Thank you so much for writing this article. I truly feel empowered to keep in pursuit of my cartoon idea. Do you have any advice on how to contact the executives from the networks?I am currently working with a great artist and have several episodes written. My characters are highly marketable and the subject will appeal to children all over the world.

  20. @Hannah

    Cartoonetwork only accepts there employes pitches they no longer take in outsiders

  21. Selorm Xatse February 3, 2012

    Really admire the tactful approach in outlining the needed hows, who, and wheres for a pitch. personally think this is a very resourceful article and will continue to be of use in my animation knowledge base.

  22. This is a great article. I am an artist with several of ideas, hopefully I will be able to pitch one of them to network and have it animated.

  23. Trey Tanner February 15, 2012

    how do I set up a meeting to pitch my idea

  24. to pitch a cartoon series first off you need 3 copies of everything 1st copy for yourself 2nd copy for U.S Copyright Office and a 3rd copy for the tv network i am good and ready to pitch my cartoon idea and thanks for posting this article was helpful

  25. Zachary June 30, 2012

    thanks, that really helped alot becuz ihave a cartoon idea and had no idea how to pitch

  26. tre tucker July 12, 2012

    hi.anybody got an idea on how i could contact someone to pitch my ideas to? i got some amazing stuff :)

  27. Shoshana March 5, 2013

    Hello I am 14 years old with a bunch of ideas for an animated television show, I was wondering would you be interested in hearing theme? And giving me some feedback, or at least 1 of theme? If so please respond to this. And is there anyway a 14 year old can pitch a TV show?

  28. ameer sorrell March 18, 2013

    This was the best article I’ve ever read about pitching an animated show!!! Thank you. I had hired an Entertainment Lawry before to help shop around my idea to networks, but he was a big big big big SCAM!. I’m still looking for representation and this article help alot.it’s very frustrating at times.I sent my work to many studios, like 9story, Guru Studio and many others. And they all said. (Thank you so much for sending along your idea. We have reviewed Little Inventor and regretfully it is a pass from us. Although the concept sounds really fun we can’t it fitting with our current slate of shows). I need help and I need it soon. thank you

    if any agent or other’s want to know more about my show LITTLE INVENTOR, PLEASE EMAIL (ameer.sorrell@yahoo.com it is copyrighted to me

  29. Jason June 2, 2013

    Thanks so much for your help and advice.

  30. I’m also 14 and in 2008 I’ve started an awesome idea that I’m currently still really working on and rapidly progressing along with 3 other ideas I came up with since then. Hope to see your work someday Shoshana!

  31. Andrew Gold November 16, 2013

    I have an idea but i already have a show bible and all but i would like to know who are some companies a newbie like me can potentially pitch to. I am prepared to fai and try again but I would like more information about who i can pitch to not how to pitch.

  32. Zeno Chivalry March 30, 2014

    What’s it called when you want to create the show itself and be in charge of the characters and their personalities? When you also want to have an impact on the story but not full control? Is that the directors job, or is everything up to the creator themselves?

  33. That’s not uncommon, and you’d be more of an executive producer/show creator in that situation. A ‘show runner’ (a very experienced writer) would write and/or lead the writing team, and you would probably help ‘break out’ stories with that person.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] How To Pitch An Animated TV Series : This is real helpful for those with a great idea but no connections. Hopefully this will jump-start your initiative to start making those connections. [...]

  2. [...] How to create a “pitch” for your animation: http://lineboil.com/2009/03/how-to-pitch-an-animated-tv-series/ [...]

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