Here's another post about pitching an animated series reposted for convenience. I should read through, make corrections and generally make myself seem more intelligent but if I had that kind of time tonight I'd be working on my new pitch. So take this as it with some of my favorite art by Ben Caldwell.
Characters and situation, that's what you need to sell a show. More precisely, you need characters that the audience ( the person you're pitching to and her boss) will warm to and a situation that suggests enough stories to fill several TV seasons.
Let's be clear: you have to be the one doing the suggesting. In theory, the person you face across the pitching table got his or her job because they have a talent for identifying ideas that fit the current taste of their network, know how to get the best from creative people and are willing to work fairly cheap, at least at first.
In reality, although the person you face across the table may have all those traits, they've also weathered hundreds of pitches. Most of those pitches didn't even come close to what their network's mandate is. Many of those pitches were one shot ideas that would never sustain a series and an unfortunate few were from relatives or friends of important people who pitched "a swell idea for a cartoon" at a party. Forgive them if their keen sense for potential entertainment has been worn down a bit. Therefore, you have to help them see the potential in your idea.
For now, I'm talking about what you need to be ready for a pitch, whether it's verbal or written. I'll talk more about your actual pitch meeting later. So back to the basics: When describing characters and situations do it with examples that suggest action sequences, storylines or the overall tone of your series. You want your exec visualizing your characters in a cartoon and not just hearing a row of descriptive adjectives.
"Harry is a angry guy with a ruthless outlook on life that comes from his years in the military." This tells me a lot about the guy. It even gives us a fuzzy mental picture of the guy. But it sounds like a character out of G.I. JOE and you are pitching a comedy.
"Harry sees each day as a battlefield to be taken. He doesn't walk down the city street so much as dodge, roll and leap from protective cover to key surveillance positions. The Iranian newstand clerk has long since accepted being grabbed from behind every morning, knife to his neck, as Harry takes his paper and disappears, gone before the change stops spinning. The clerk even manages a cheery, "Have a nice day" because this sort of thing passes as normal in Harry's neighborhood."
Now we know we're reading a comedy. We can visualize a character in action. The response of the clerk suggests a tone. Evidently Harry isn't gutting people on the street, he's harmless enough to allow for laughs. It's obvious how humor will come from the extreme character played against straight men. Beyond that, I get a hint that this is a prime time show that may have a bit of an edge because the clerk is identified as Iranian and Harry's actions aren't exactly PC. The series may have social commentary included. That's a lot of info packed into just a single trait of Harry. Another trait is a chance to pack in more information.
If Harry is also a Mama's Boy, his description should show why every visit to his Mother will be a source of humor. Included could be the suggestion that she's always asking him to run errands for him that go outrageously wrong due to Harry's personality. That would not only flesh out Harry, it shows that these errands will be a source of gags and storylines.
Relate your characters to each other. A second character description is a chance to expand the world and cement the tone of your show. Mama's description should not only show how she'll add humor to the show but should also include something about her relationship with Harry. Maybe Mama is the sweetest looking old lady in the world, a tiny little thing that is disappointed with her son because he's such a mamby pamby. Like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown, Mama repeatedly lures Harry closer "for cuddles" so she can whack him upside the head with her Louisville Slugger. She only feigns helplessness with Harry to guilt him into frequent visits and to work on her "line drive." He doesn't have a clue about her secret life as a "repo man."
Once again, action, a running gag and a secondary source of stories have been used to define a character and the tone of the comedy. By the time you've described four or five main characters, your execs will have several scenes of your series already playing in their heads. Now how to describe the series situation? More on that the next time. -- Tad
PS: The lovely lady is an example from of an earlier pitch for Thundarr the Barbarian drawn by Ben Caldwell. It's possibly a little more detailed than usual because I wasn't selling the characters but my interpretation of the characters in a reboot. Download ThundarrShortPitch It's an "okay" pitch but would have benefited from the techniques outlined about.