StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Westdoc Workshop 2012

What Do U.S. Networks Want? How Can You Get It?
A Network Insider’s Guide to Greenlighting Factual Programs

Stephen Harris, Producer, Workaholic Entertainment
Peter Hamilton,

Producing Stories
Length: 15:06

About Steve Harris

  • Former Development Executive at A&E in New York
  • Programs he worked on include: Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Monster-in-Laws, Celebrity Ghost Stories
  • Responsible for hundreds of hours of broadcast programs
  • Currently an independent producer in LA, founder of Workaholic Entertainment

o Just as much pressure, just a different type
o Previously had to produce programs that would fit the “TLC brand” or the “A&E filter”
o Now as an independent “development executive you’re always trying to look at what’s going to be the next big thing. It’s like playing the stock market.”

  • In the short time since leaving A&E, Steve has “successfully pitched a project to CW, and they responded by investing in a presentation tape.

Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus

  • Peter says: “For producers, the commissioning process seemed vertical…and mystical. But in reality, producers are part of a larger, circular commercial process.”
  • Steve adds: “Just because you have one contact in the network doesn’t mean you’re in.”
  • Peter: “Whenever you pitch a project into a commercial environment — and increasingly to PBS and public television – the team on the other side of the pitch table wants to know how you’re addressing their audience.”
  • “The scale of the network’s revenues drive the commissioning and acquisitions process.”
  • Peter: “It’s extremely competitive… Producers must have a handle on all the market dynamics.”

Stephen’s Four Filters

  • Big Characters
  • High Stakes
  • Unique Access
  • Resolution

‘The Sequence of Success’
1. Pitch with Sizzle Tape
2. ‘Proof of Concept’

  • Budgets range of $15-25,000
  • A halfway point between your sizzle tape and a pilot
  • Deliverables:

o Identify the characters, “make sure they pop”
o Format and Structure

3. Pilot
4. Series

  • “At first, the network may only place a 4-6 episode order”
  • Steve: “Your network executive is your collaborator and your business partner – they have just as much invested in the program as you.”

5. Franchise

  • “Programs reach “franchise status” only after your second, successful season.”


Length: 1:48


  • Steve: “I would take 25 pitches a week, and out of those 25…I would filter and present 3 to 4 to my development team.”
  • “I can only bring in 2 to 3 a week…The slate that I would keep in development would be anywhere from 5-7 projects at any given time. Their stage of development would range across series production supervision, pilot, presentation tape, sizzle, or casting tape.”
  • “Out of those…I was averaging one conversion a year to series.”


The Commissioning Process
Length: 1:39


  • A commission is a “work-for-hire project… that is the network’s property.”
  • “After your pitch, you are then given a budget to produce that show.”
  • “Your cut [of that budget] is anywhere between 10 and 15 percent, so you should use the other 85 to 90 percent to capture the greatest on screen value for your project.


The Sizzle Tape
Length: 0:33


  • “You can use any footage to create a sizzle reel: movie clips, any music you want. That footage will never see the light of day.”
  • “It’s your challenge to build the excitement and enthusiasm with the production company or network that you are pitching.”