We've Got Hollywood Covered

How to Sell a TV Show: Have Tricks Up Your Sleeve

Talk to people, hear ideas, don’t go off of network mandates, because a lot of the time they don’t know what they want until they see it

Selling a TV show isn’t that easy. Selling a show that centers on close-up magic and doesn’t star David Blaine is exponentially harder. Thankfully, I am not thwarted by a hard sale — or using the word thwarted in an opening paragraph.

I'm a TV and film executive, and was introduced to two close-up magicians through a friend of a friend. I end up meeting a lot of people this way, and my advice is to take meetings. At the very least you may have some interesting conversations, and at the very best you may walk away with a new contact and a potential lead.

Up until meeting the magicians I was not a fan of magic, nor had I ever even seen it performed live. Also, from a sales perspective, I was pretty certain that none of the cable networks were chomping at the bit to buy a close-up magic show.

Nonetheless, we met. And almost immediately I saw a quirky, unique dynamic between the two of them. They were young, they had never held normal jobs, they were best friends, and they had amazing skills. (At least I thought they did, as I had no basis for comparison.)

Refreshingly, they were also not cheesy, polyester suits, rabbit-out-of hat type guys either. Just normally dressed, hip guys you wouldn’t expect to be magicians.

We agreed to work together and I found myself with two moldable, egoless, interesting and talented characters to build a show around.

I developed a concept and crafted a written treatment for a show that was to be a non-scripted buddy-road-trip series where the guys roam through cities and towns performing magic and looking for local magicians along the way. A point worth noting: The development of this show cost me nothing but my time.

I set up pitch meetings at five cable networks and began the daunting task of selling a magic show with two unknowns. The odds were heavily stacked against me.

Sidebar: I want to make clear that in addition to this magic show, at that time, I had about five other projects in different stages of development. My advice is never, ever have just one project. A good way to beat the odds is to play multiple hands!

My pitch strategy was to forgo the typical presentation tape and rely on the power of a live performance. I was going to have these guys perform close-up magic, face-to-face with the buyer at the top of each pitch meeting. I did not utter a word.

Cut to a phone call I got from A&E that took me from my apartment to the hills of Tandil, Argentina, with a crew of 13 to shoot a special where we were tracking down an 80 year-old, one-armed close-up magician. Along with the special, they picked up eight standalone series episodes of the show, called "Mondo Magic." It debuted in 2004.

Take meetings. Talk to people. Hear ideas. Don’t go off of network mandates, because a lot of the time they don’t know what they want until they see it. And most of all, follow your gut and take risks.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll make magic happen, like I did.

Keith Fenimore is an award-winning creative executive who lives in New York and works for the King of All Media on original series and specials for Howard TV. He's also co-author of the book "Hire Me, Hollywood."

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