Christian Media

Would Major TV Networks Be Interested In My Faith Based Show Idea?

With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:

1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program.  For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?

2) Think ahead.  My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?

3) Develop funding sources now, so they’ll be ready for when an opportunity happens.  Sure TV networks pay for ideas they acquire, but it never hurts to have funding in place to develop the concept.  (Not to mention, money takes you to the head of the line.)   And once the timing is right, it will take too long to find investors, so look for them now so you’ll have that element already in place. I believe Christians should think of themselves as “Patrons of the Arts” and always be thinking about how we can invest in original and groundbreaking ideas – and be ready to do it.

4) Know how network TV works.  Too many Christians are pitching ideas without the slightest concept of how the TV industry actually operates. Learn the business. What role do agents play? How do networks get pitched? What’s a “show runner?” Do your homework.

5) Understand personal branding and learn how to pitch.  Dress like where you’re going, not where you’ve been. And while I’m at it, be professional in your email and social media – and stop using emoticons in business communications! Learn people skills. Know how to read a room. Without that kind of knowledge, even if you get a meeting, you’ll be flying blind.

6) Meet people.  Before a network or studio invests a ton of money in your concept, they want to know you. If you just fly in from Cleveland with your idea, you won’t get far without an inside advocate. Go to media conferences, read the trades, get involved in the industry, and network. People are more likely to work with people they know, so a lack of personal relationships is a major obstacle to getting your idea heard by the right people.

7) Finally, lead with your idea, not with your faith.  In Hollywood, nobody cares that you’re a Christian. They’re more interested in your ability to actually produce a popular television program. So upfront, hold the personal testimony and lead with your ability. Once you’ve proven yourself, they’re much more interested in hearing your story and you’ll have credibility. Without that credibility, sharing your faith won’t get much traction.

Don’t get me wrong. Even with all these elements in place, it’s still tough.  But the important thing is to realize that Hollywood isn’t opposed to faith-driven programming. They just need to be convinced that you have an idea that people will watch.

Any Hollywood professionals out there who’d add any other steps to my list?

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  1. The most important of all is to Write Compelling Stories that people will actually be interested in viewing. The stories have to be uplifting, while at the same time they have to have conflict that engages the viewer. Characters need to be fully dimensional, even if they are utterly flawed, they should be redeemed by their innate goodness, the relationships to the other characters, and to God within the context of the script. Subtle, nuanced and intricate story lines succeed more often than in your face preaching of a sanctimous message. And that’s true of of secular, as well as religious scripts.

    When you think of an award winning performance, it’s the investment made by the viewer in the characters that lift that story from the mundane to the compelling. When a viewer is lost in the story so completely that they walk out of the theater immersed in the experience and while watching they enter the film as the other person in the room, then you have something audiences will pay to see. Then, we will see award winning, money making films produced by top Hollywood studios.

  2. Thank you Phil for your wonderful advice. As a former TV development executive and now an indie producer with a few “faith friendly” projects set up, it is great to have you outline some of the key areas that people fail at in trying to crack the system. It is exponentially more difficult to get a faith based program on the major network and cable outlets because there are so many more steps and stages that have to be successful in order to make it happen. Failing in one or two of these areas that you have listed can quickly result in a fast “No, thanks”. It’s a business ultimately and even though many of the greatly talented development executives out there are looking for projects of faith to meet that growing market, they also need to program shows that bring an audience every week, for 12 to 24 weeks a year. If they don’t see that kind of success after 2 episodes on air, any show typically gets pulled and replaced by something that can hold the numbers for the advertisers. So go back a year (typically) when that show is being pitched and understand that those execs need to KNOW that what they are choosing must hold up to that standard. There is no foreign market for unsuccessful TV shows that were yanked after 2 airings, there is no DVD deal and very little VOD opportunities, let alone online options unlike feature films. Once yanked, those shows go in the dumpster with no hope of an ROI so the risk is much higher! There are instances where this is not true but that is the norm. Two things I would say is 1. As an audience WATCH THE SHOWS OF FAITH AND SUPPORT THEM! Blue Bloods on CBS is a GREAT cop procedural with a solid faith and moral message in every episode and shows tha cop family breaking bread around the table in every episode but is the show discussed in the Faith circles? Not that I have seen. And there are others. 2. As Creatives, be excellent! It’s what we are called to so why would you not want to do that when it is the bar He raised for us. Thx Phil!

    1. Excellent points all around. Thanks for adding your ideas to the mix, these are great suggestions. (And sounds like I better start paying more attention to “Blue Bloods”…

    2. Our company has 45 completed episodes of a faith based children/family program. Parables HD has done an awesome job of distribution world wide. We are not exclusive with them. Could you direct me to other agents/distributors who might be interested in the Emmy nominated still in production series? Steve Treague / producer / / /

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