You go home for a Thanksgiving dinner, and:

  • The ladies' man in apartment 2B keeps showing up.
  • Your mother won't stop hounding you about your table manners.
  • The dog eats Aunt Gloria's famous turkey spread.
  • Your cousin keeps hitting on you (ew!).

That's when you think, "This is ridiculous! It's like I'm living a bad TV show!" Well, why not turn your life into a TV show? It worked for Truman.

Whether it's a comedy, a drama, or a rip-off of The Real World, every new television show started as an idea in someone's head. But to turn that precious gem of an idea into 'destination viewing,' you'll need to sell that idea to someone (or as they say in Hollywood, you have to "pitch" your idea). This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. To successfully pitch a TV show, you have to have a great idea, convince powerful people that it's good, and get a production company to buy it. It involves a lot of careful research, networking, and ass-kissing. So take a meeting with SoYouWanna.com for the inside scoop.

1. GET AN IDEA OR CONCEPT

Sounds easy, don't it? Here are the requirements for coming up with a pitch-able idea:

  • Have a unique story.
  • Be passionate about it.
  • Make sure it's yours and yours alone.

These sound obvious, but it's amazing how often people forget about things like "unique" and "passion." Those are what sell ideas.

Your idea can be based on something that's true, it can be about made-up characters and events, or it can be a combination of the two. Stories that are true are called non-fiction. Stories that are created from scratch are called fiction. For example, The Real World is considered to be non-fiction, while sitcoms are fiction.

Non-fiction

If you or someone you know has done something remarkable-like walking across your state to raise awareness for a cause-that's non-fiction. Beware, though: if something is already in the press and it's interesting, then someone, somewhere, is probably already onto it. You might also be expected to "option," or purchase the rights to the story, as it "belongs" to someone else.

Fiction

Sitcoms and dramas like The Honeymooners or E.R. are fiction - they feature original characters and situations. If you have an idea for a fictional program, be inventive! Create characters that viewers will want to visit over and over again. Again, if you get your general idea from a book, movie, or person, you must find out if you need to option the rights to the story. There are plenty of lawyers out there who can help you figure that out.

Whether your idea is fiction or non-fiction, you must find out as much as possible about your subject. The creators of E.R. learned all they could about how real emergency rooms operate, and the creators of Seinfeld used their knowledge of New York.

What kind of ideas work? Well, it's always changing. After Friends premiered, tons of knockoffs popped up the next season. You want to come up with something different and original, but that people would want to watch. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Location: Work? Home? School? Jail? Some combination?

  • Social structure: One star (e.g., The Drew Carey Show), two stars (e.g., Will & Grace), six stars (e.g., Friends)?

  • Personalities: A rich, snotty society matron? A struggling wise-ass student? You need to create a fine balance of having people that are realistic enough for the audience to identify with, yet are different enough from each other to allow for interesting dramatic encounters.

  • Situations: What kind of things do the characters go through? Seinfeld dealt with minutiae, The X-Files deals with the supernatural, and The Simpsons goes for pure laughs.