Netflix 2024: What You Need To Know Now!

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

The Pitch Process for Reality Series and Your Odds of Success (#2)

Lots of readers responded to our revealing interview with producer Stephen Harris about his commissioning practices at A&E and TLC.

They asked for more detail.

Following is a recap of his initial filtering process, with additional breakdowns:


Who Gets in the Door?

Stephen reminded us that his door was relatively open to pitches:

  • “You never know when a hit idea is going to cross your desk!”
  • “But other commissioners and networks may only accept pitches from agents and super-producers.”

Pitches / Day

  • “I took an average of 5 pitches / day.
  • “Or around 25 / week.
  • “That’s 1,250+/- concepts / year.”
How Pitched?
  • Office / Personal Meetings: 60%
  • Phone Calls / Email: 40%
Pitch Format
  • Elevator Pitches / Print:  40%
  • Sizzle Tape / Character Tape: 60%
  • “The more developed the pitch, the more likely it will make it through to the next round.
  • “That’s when I developed the concept to the point where it was ready to be presented to a team meeting.”
The Pitcher
  • Newbies / 1st Timers: 5%
  • (“Often after my speaking engagements at an industry conferences.”)
  • “Producers with whom I have a personal relationship and who are giving me a 1st look”: 60%
  • Agents / Super-producers who are pitching to multiple networks: 35%+/-
  • “They are often on  a tour of channels with a strategy of sparking a bidding war for a hot property”:


  • Producers alone: 60%
  • With agents: 40%

We will continue to update Stephen’s really helpful insider observations on the pitch process.

The Good News

Although the odds are tough at each individual channel, the good news is that there are lots of potential buyers.

  • We are experiencing a Reality Boom.
  • There are dozens and dozens of US channels who are taking pitches for character-based series.
  • When we surveyed the 2012 Upfronts, we counted 3,600+ episodes and more than 1,000 program concepts commissioned by the leading factual channels. There were dozens of channels that we didn’t count!
  • Here’s a partial list: Its from our quarterly’Who’s Hot?‘ assessment of nonfiction channels


A friend who once headed up program development at one of the Discovery US channels responded:

  • Remember, your numbers are from only one member of the development team, not the entire network!
  • I had  5-6 Senior Development execs taking pitches
  • And this didn’t include the more Junior team, myself, and the Production team that also took pitches in



  • I’m just back from Tokyo where I was honored to participate in the Somusho Workshop.
  • It was a full-day presentation on industry fundamentals and trends for Japanese producers and executives.
  • The seminar was a very well-organized event arranged by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs & Communications, advertising giant Dentsu and Bang Productions Singapore. Many thanks!
  • My co-presenter was Rights.TV business affairs expert Sam Knowles.
  • The ‘Great Eastern Earthquake’ and its twin catastrophes of tsunamis and Fukushima have deeply challenged Japan’s tendency to insularity.
  • Japan’s nonfiction producers and networks are eager to join the currents that are shaping our industry worldwide.
  • Watch out for future posts about Japan and Asia’s fast-evolving documentary and non-fiction market.
  • And if you’re following the rapid evolution of the Asian video market, don’t miss our monthly posts on
  • Or our Weibo page.


The Rise of a Super-Producer
Leftfield Pictures and the #1 Cable Hit Pawn Stars 

From 1 hour produced in 1997 to 230+ hours in 2012: For a unique, detailed analysis of the phenomenal rise of Leftfield Pictures, creator of the #1 hit Pawn Stars, 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 information-packed and inspirational new profile of today’s hottest nonfiction production company!


At the other Cannes Market