The Anatomy of a Drama Pilot Sale

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 20122012-11-14T11:23:11Zl, F jS, Y at 3:23 am2012-11-14T11:23:11Zg:i a

Here is a guest blog by my friend, the lovely and talented Lisa Cullen, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. Lisa befriended me in the terrible days just after my brother’s death. Just Effing, until then, had been a rousing and vital blog, but one day it just went dark. Black. I ceased posting because I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I wrote about what had happened and I got an email from Lisa with an incredible gesture. Would I like her to blog for me on Just Effing, for just a little while, until I felt better? I couldn’t believe her generosity. Lisa stepped in and gave me the time I needed to recover from the shock. Not too long afterward, I had the opportunity to meet Lisa in person and while in Manhattan, we shared our mutual enthusiasm for good writing and strong martinis. Lisa has been a friend ever since.

Recently, Lisa had some amazing news. She sold a drama pilot to CBS. I can honestly say it couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving and talented writer. Here is her account of just how that went down.

I sold a drama pilot to CBS.

Although this happened in early September, it didn’t seem totally real until this past week, when I was out in L.A. and people shook my hand.

Here’s how it happened.

A year ago, I pitched an idea. That was all it was at the time: an idea. And lest you think that’s totally bizarre, this is how it works in Hollywood. Every September, writers troop into network executives’ offices, and they spin a tale they think could maybe work on TV. Then the network executives buy it, or don’t. I know. It’s an insane business model.

Anyway, I failed. I completely failed to sell my idea. So I went home to New Jersey, cried, drank, and finished my novel. My book agent sold said novel in February. So this spring I found myself with some time.

“Just write the pitch up as a spec,” said my TV manager.

Let me try to explain what those words mean to a writer. It’s how I came to write my novel, which began as a magazine article, then morphed into a TV pitch, which met a horrible, harakiri ending. My book agent told me to just write it as a novel. Even though I’d daydreamed of such a project, it meant everything hearing it seconded by someone who really understood my idea and, moreover, its chances on the market. It’s the equivalent of: “I believe in you.” When someone says that, you begin to believe yourself.

And so I did. I wrote my damn pitch into a TV pilot script. If you’re in the business, this is where you laugh. Because you know it’s near impossible to sell a spec. “Spec” is short for speculative. As in, a speculative script written on the speculation that someone somewhere may want it. What I didn’t know is that the chances of a spec pilot selling are about near that of Karl Rove winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like I said, I did not know that. So I spent the spring shaping and writing my script. My manager weighed in with note after note. We eventually had a script we rather liked. Now we had to shop it.

Last season, we’d shopped my pitch with a whole entourage. But the producer we’d worked with on the pitch declined to partner with us this time, “given how hard it is to sell a spec,” she said. That was my first hint. Oh. Maybe all this had been a total waste of time.
But my manager believed in the project. So he sent it out. CBS Studios responded immediately. After a phone meeting, they made an offer. Swiftly after that, they announced CBS, their sister network, was in.

The best part? I’ll make the Guild minimum and keep my family’s health insurance. I dream big, see.

To learn more about Lisa and follow her very entertaining journey, check out her blog!

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