Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

What are Your Chances of Getting from 1st Pitch to Series? / NEW: Profile of a ‘Super-Preferred Producer’

What is the chance that a pitch to a US network developer will make it from concept to series?

That question was an attention-grabber at our Westdoc Workshop.


  • It exposes the long odds of getting a series concept green lit.
  • It reveals the filtering processes practiced by networks.
  • And it raises our respect for producers and network development teams who succeed with the show ideas that they champion.

My Westdoc Workshop partner was Stephen Harris, the LA-based producer and veteran network development executive (A&E and TLC).

I asked Stephen to share his workflow as a network program developer and to estimate the ‘pitch survival rate’ at each stage of the assessment process.

Warning: Flyover!

  • This is a view from 30,000 feet.
  • It covers character-based series rather than single docs.
    • But those odds are at least as daunting!
  • Stephen cautions that workflows vary from developer to developer and across networks.


Pitches / Day

  • ‘I took an average of 5 pitches / day.
  • ‘Or around 25 / week.
  • ‘That’s 1,250+/- concepts / year
  • ‘These were a mix of office and phone meetings and email pitches.
  • ‘Some were single sentence ‘elevator pitches’.
  • ‘Show concepts came from hopefuls with their 1st projects.
  • The majority were pitched by super-producers and agents who earn every networks’ attention based on their successful track record.’

My Response

  • ‘I rejected some concepts out of hand.
  • ‘For others, I sent notes hoping that they would return with an improved pitch.
  • ‘A handful were ready enough so that I could advocate for them to my development colleagues.

Development Team Meetings

  • ‘I pitched an average of 4 projects to our weekly development team meetings.
  • ‘Allowing for holiday schedules and the like, that’s 160+/- year out of the 1,250 pitches that crossed my desk.’

Senior Development Team Meeting

  • ‘The development team approved 40+/- of these projects for presentation to the next level: the senior network development team.’

Development Approvals

  • ‘Of these 40+/- ideas, maybe one project a month is green lit for investment in development.
  • ‘That’s 10-12 a year
  • ‘The typical levels of investment are:
    • Character tape ($15,000+/-)
    • Sizzle tape ($25-50,000+/-)
    • Pilot (depends), or
    • Series.
  • ‘It is very rare that a concept goes straight to series.
  • ‘And if it does, it is likely to be for a pitch from a super-producer like Leftfield Pictures, Original Productions, Pilgrim Entertainment and a handful of others.’

Series Approval

  • ‘Of these 10/12 concepts that are funded for development, maybe 1-3 series earn a series green lit.
  • ‘The typical initial order is for 6-8 episodes.’


  • ‘Development executives are delighted if even one of their new series earns a Season 2 renewal.
  • ‘And remember: the producer has incurred significant development costs to bring a concept to production for Season 1.
  • ‘It’s in Season 2 that they may break into profit.’

The Secret Sauce of a Super-Producer

For a unique, detailed analysis of the phenomenal rise of super-producer Leftfield Pictures, you can purchase ($29:95) and instantly download our original Case Study here.  It covers each commission and every success factor: don’t miss our informative and inspirational new profile of today’s hottest nonfiction production company!

Recap: The Pitch Success Rate

(Network / Year / +/-)

  • Pitches: 1,250 (Remember: The majority of these are one line ‘elevator pitches’)
  • Presented to Development Teams: 160
  • Presented to Senior Development team: 40
  • Approved for development funding: 10
  • Green lit for Series: 1-3
  • Season 2 Renewal: 1 or less

Takeaways: There are Silver Linings!

  • Many series are thoroughly developed by networks which then pass on them.
  • Although they weren’t green lit, these projects will have been fleshed out by their advocates on the development teams.
  • They therefore  have increased their chance of being picked by other channels.
  • Remember: Its Reality Gold Rush time, and there are 100+ channels out there looking for well-developed series ideas.


  • Tom Jennings and Chris Hilton jumped into the discussion at our sizzling Workshop.
  • Both are producers with long-term, successful track records. They shared really valuable insights.
  • Watch out for their Takeaways from Westdoc in upcoming posts.
  • And thanks to the co-founders Chuck Braverman and Richard Propper for providing an event with more informative panels that I could attend as well as great access to important decision-makers.

Photo: Danna Kinsky


  • Stephen has kindly shared his practical experience elsewhere in
  • He will be a featured speaker at the Asia TV Forum and Market which will be held in Singapore from December 4-7.
    • is producing Stephen’s two sessions for ATF.
    • They are ‘How to Pitch’ and ‘How to Get Funding.’



International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2012
(Published for Hot Docs, 2012)

Which channels worldwide buy docs?

  • How many do they buy?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Who are the key contacts?
  • How do you reach them?
  • If we have the data, what do they pay?

The International Documentary Buyers’ Guide 2012 is an invaluable resource for producers who are working on strategies to pitch ideas or who are selling completed programs to channels.

  • 17 Countries
  • 40 Buyers

Based on original interviews with broadcasters, funders and senior producers conducted for the Hot Docs Forum 2012.

The Guide includes:

  • Executive Personnel
  • Current Strands & Slots
  • Recent Green Lights
  • Channel Profiles
  • Vital Links
  • Takeaways and Analysis

$79.95 Download now


The Future of History Panel: Richard Propper (Westdoc co-founder), James Moll (Filmmaker), Peter Hamilton, Jane Root (Nutopia), Bill Gardner (General Audience Programming, PBS), Harrison Engle (Director/Producer) and Chuck Braverman (Westdoc cofounder).  Click here for bios.

Photo: Danna Kinsky



  1. RE Peter’s WESTDOC analysis, what’s wrong with this development process? The same thing that’s wrong with feature film and network development (both of which have been analyzed more) in which it has been conclusively shown that the shows rejected would have often have been as successful or more successful than the ones that the high-priced filtering structure green lights. In other words it a clear case of executive job protection as opposed to crowd analysis which may someday supplant the outmoded top down “instinct” and/or focus group system. I love development executives, have spent lots of time with them and admittedly they have tough jobs to do but when will their bosses realize that their process does NOT bring the best material to the screen? In silicon valley the move is on to more efficient selection through meta analysis but Hollywood lags way behind but will certainbly have to change at some point……..until then…we rely on Peter Hamilton to keep us informed! KC Chapel Hill, NC

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