I went to the inaugural Development Producers Meetup the other day where Nicola Lees spoke on “10 Reasons Your Idea Isn’t Being Commissioned”. I thought it was a good list and worth sharing, which Nicola has kindly okayed – here are my notes:

According to Nicola, you might not be getting that commission because:

1 The idea is cr*p

You must think about what your buyer – channel, commissioning executive wants. You might have the right idea for the wrong channel – watch the channel! And don’t pitch a game show if the channel doesn’t do game shows. Likewise, you may have the right channel but the wrong commissioner. Make sure they have the authority to commission too – always aim for the decision makers, generally the people at the top of the hierarchy

2 It’s misdirected

Know the right people, get facetime (meet them in person) It’s often the offhand comment at the end of the meeting that gets the commission – if you’re not meeting them, you don’t benefit from this. It takes a long time to build up your contacts so be patient and persistent.

3 Bad timing.

Don’t pitch too early, don’t pitch too late. This means don’t pitch what’s on at the moment – lead in times in television are eg 6-12 months

4 It’s Unformed

Don’t pitch research, pitch a story. Also don’t just cut and paste from wikipedia You need to let them know who the characters are, what the strapline is, how’re you going to film it Glossy presentation of ideas isn’t better, in fact it can alienate your buyer

5 False Promises

Pitching exclusive access – make sure it’s exclusive! Nicola related a story of a commissioner who, unbeknown to the producer, was pitched exclusive access to the same police force by three different companies. Not good.

6 No Reel

You haven’t made a pitch tape/ ‘sizzle reel’ Commissioners want to be hit between the eyes with a dramatic moment. Increasingly, they expect a reel.

7 Talent

You haven’t attached the right talent Have them attached to begin with – momentum is key with TV ideas and you lose momentum if you have to take a few weeks to get talent on board.

8 The Pitch

You might not be the right person to pitch the idea. You don’t have to be good at everything – it might be your idea or you might have written the proposal, but it doesn’t mean you have to pitch it. It’s hard to pitch and know what’s going on in the room at the same time, and Nicola suggested that working as a pair to cover these roles can be very helpful.

9 Unhelpful Colleagues

Your colleagues are undermining you in the pitch Nicola related a story about a junior producer pitching to Stuart Murphy while her senior colleagues rolled their eyes and told him he wouldn’t like the idea. Stuart behaved admirably apparently, hearing and liking the idea, though it didn’t lead to a greenlight on that occasion.

10 Great Idea, Wrong Production Company

If you want to make The Only Way Is Essex, but you work for a science documentary company…

Bonus reason!

11 Contact Details

…You didn’t put contact details on the proposal/ taster DVD/ Or you left the name of the commissioner at a different channel on the proposal…


In the Q & A, on the subject of formats, Nicola made the good point that there is a balance. You should be as specific as possible with a format proposal (this takes priority, as every detail in the format defines the format), whilst allowing the commissioner to have input. But know your boundaries, don’t compromise on elements which are integral to the idea, know when to say no (even if it means no commission).


I thoroughly recommend Nicola’s book, Greenlit which is packed with great tips and stories for anyone interested in developing television ideas. And of course, please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss your idea for the tellybox.

Posted via email from TdG

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One Response to 10 Reasons Your Idea Isn’t Being Commissioned

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicola Lees, Liz Newton, stuarthadley, Holly Blake, Tom de Grunwald and others. Tom de Grunwald said: "10 Reasons Your Idea Isn’t Being Commissioned" http://tdg.im/hILgxG Blog post from Development Producers' meetup @TVMole's talk #TV […]

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