The Man Who Greenlit ‘Portlandia’ Tells You How to Pitch

Pivot president Evan Shapiro gives it to you straight at the New York Television Festival

Pivot president Evan Shapiro kicked off the 9th annual New York Television Festival this week by telling aspiring TV producers how to pitch.

When he was president of IFC, he developed and greenlit “Portlandia” — so the more than 200 people in attendance took note. The festival is designed to bring independent writers and producers together with executives, like Shapiro, who can get their shows on the air.

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Pivot, which debuted over the summer, is home to such shows as “Raising McCain” and “Jersey Strong.” Many of Shapiro’s tips are straightforward — don’t be late — but Shapiro also explained why pitching is kind of like dating.

Here are his tips, condensed from his keynote address:

1. Be on time — in fact, be early

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2. Do your homework — know the brand, its audience and what a buyer is looking for is half the battle.

3. Go in with an open mind — be willing to “pivot” in terms of your concept

4. Be comfortable

5. Even though it may sound cliché, be able to boil your idea down into an elevator pitch — get to the heart of your art.

6. Send something brief in advance if you can, in order to set the table for your meeting.

7. Know that nearly all programming executives have a rare form of ADHD — TVAD. Since you can’t always know that something you send will be read, make sure to bring/use visuals when you can.

8. Your goal should be to have an intriguing enough “first date” that leads to a second one. Leave the executive believing that you are someone they want to work with. If your pitch is good enough, you can often get someone to pay you to develop it further.

9. Places like the New York Television Festival are great ways to get in front of industry execs, but know that they are pitched everywhere they go. (Every time I go to a bar mitzvah, I get 12 pitches… including “this bar mitzvah is a TV show!”) So make sure to use your time wisely, and consider getting an agent who has the right relationships.

10. Don’t be afraid to break from convention; anything is possible with the right idea and the right story.  Figure out your true voice and what you do better and differently than anyone else, and go hard at that.