Selling a Pilot
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Step 5: “We love what you wrote – now change it”

by Dave Addison

Hey people, Dave Addison back. Remember me? The guy (who doesn’t use his real name) that happily sold his pilot to Pickaschmodeon (not its real name either) in hopes of bettering the world of children’s television with his brilliant writing? Well, guess what? That naïve ship has sailed. Aloha, bon voyage, send a post card.

Apparently, the network now wants me to scrap my story (but not the concept) that I originally pitched and come up with a totally different pilot story. Make that five different stories. So they can choose what they like. Like the guy in the ice cream store who asks to taste five different flavors before he’ll commit to an actual cone. I don’t know about you but – I hate that guy.

Welcome to the finicky world of television writing. Well, the writing isn’t finicky but the people who buy it are. With more and more reality shows on the air, producing an actual written pilot has become a rarity. Hence, the hoops we writers have always jumped through have become that much bigger. It’s starting to feel like one of those Japanese game shows where people slip and slide through an insane obstacle track that inevitably lands them in water or a large puddle of mud.

Which reminds me of another Hollywood story. About a television legend – Norman Lear. (I don’t mind using his real name because I am extremely proud to have worked with him.) He and I pitched a show together to NBC. When I first met Norman, I nervously sat in his office and he warmly shook my hand and made me feel like a million bucks.

Norman would recall how in his heyday following the success of All in the Family and Maude (to name a few), he would merely have to make a call to the heads of the network and say, “I have an idea for a show I want to do” and they would buy it unconditionally over the friggin’ phone. Now that’s power.

So it was understandable that Norman was a bit put off that we actually had to make an appearance and pitch in person. We had worked many hours together perfecting the characters and honing the pitch which I would present – Norman would merely be there for support. So the day came and I was, of course, a nervous wreck. As NBC execs slowly gathered into a large office, I paced the hallway reading my pitch pages and marking the jokes with a yellow highlighter. Like an actor auditioning for the role of a lifetime. Norman soon found me and saw on my face that I was scared. He assured me that I would be great and I had nothing to worry about. And I said to him, “Norman, I’m not worried about them – I’m worried about you. I want to make you proud.”

He smiled and led me inside the room and calmly took a seat next to me and squeezed my hand. I then spent almost a half hour “performing” the pitch in front of fifteen NBC execs that were all excited to be in a room with Norman Lear. They laughed at every highlighted joke and I had them in the palm of my hand. And when I finished, the great Norman Lear stood up and faced them and said, “I don’t care if you buy this show or not – that was the best pitch I have ever heard.”

They didn’t buy the show. I never worked with Norman again. But he gave me more confidence that day than I had ever known. He was my mentor (if only in my mind) and I will always be grateful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some new stories to pitch.

Later. Dave.

Dave Addison

About Dave Addison

Dave Addison is a working writer in Hollywood. And that's all I want to say about that.

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