So you want to work in TV Development?
Where do all the ideas come from? How does an idea turn into a successful series? How are some people so great at getting their ideas turned into TV programmes? So many questions to make you think as to whether a career in TV development is for you? It can feel like an unknown part of the production process and can be perceived as the less glamourous alternative to running around the country with a camera, but without Development nothing would get made. It’s a tough place to be, but ultimately hugely creative and exciting. In fact the knowledge that you collate while working in Development will make you the envy of any opposing pub quiz team. Here are a few hints and tips for making a success of working in Development.
Anybody working in Development needs a thick skin, you will come up with ideas that will often be pulled apart or rejected immediately. Ideas may take a long time or may never be commissioned and you need to be resilient about this and not take things so personally. This can be a tough transition from just working on your own stuff at University. It can feel like a thankless task at times but you need to be strong. You need to think rationally and objectively about the ideas that you are attached to, as throwing your toys out of the pram, or telling an Exec they are wrong about your idea and you’ll prove them wrong, shows a level of immaturity that won’t help your career. It’s fine to disagree with decisions but you need to be logical with your responses rather than emotional and also respect decisions that have been made. If one commissioner turns something down, somewhere else might want that idea or it might just be that idea is dead and sometimes you have to accept that status quo. The quicker you can get used to having ideas rejected and move onto the next one without taking it personally, the more likely you are to have a long career in Development.
You need to be confident in your ideas and also confident in teams when pitching ideas. For some people this can come quite naturally whereas for others this can be absolutely terrifying. People can be discussing their ideas around you and you are desperate to chip in, but something inside you doubts your ideas and your opinions so you stay quiet. That can feel like a comfortable default mechanism for you. You don’t need to be the loudest person in the room but you do need to let your ideas be heard and not be intimidated. That’s easier said than done, I know, so take notes with you, try and start the conversation if you can. You could also have a chat with your boss to say could they facilitate it so you can speak first. Sometimes by dealing head first into it can work, what you don’t want to do is be in a situation where you leave a meeting and none of your ideas have been heard.
Plenty of ideas
Ideas are your currency in Development and you need to live and breathe ideas. Grab a newspaper on your way to work, scour it for ideas, see what TV trends are happening and come in every day with ideas. Watch loads of television and see what’s missing from the screens, what are people talking about, what trends are people interested in and what anniversaries are coming up.. Love watching TV as well and have a real passion about it, as that will come through in the ideas. Also when you are thinking about ideas think about why they are relevant now..? Is there an audience demand or interest for your programme right now? Even if you don’t think your ideas are that great they could be a gem of an idea that could really develop into something amazing.
To be good at Development it really helps if you are good at writing, you need to sell your ideas on paper not just verbally. If you can pitch an idea with a couple of sentences and it’s understood then you are definitely on the right path. You will probably be a great writer already but you need to learn to write about subjects that maybe you are not familiar with or tv programmes that you wouldn’t personally watch yourself. It’s about conveying enthusiasm and facts about the programme locking in the viewer to exactly what the programme is about and why it works. Also think what would be the synopsis for the show if it was in the Radio Times, how can you uniquely sell this?
Know the channels and their output
Each Channel has their own look and feel and although audiences merge, there is often in this Netflix era still channel loyalty. There are people that will have loyalty to the BBC or ITV or Channel 4 or Channel 5 and they tune into those channels as they know what to expect from them or they fit in with their ethos and way of life. You may have one idea that would work well across all channels but generally your ideas will need to be tweaked in order to appeal to a particular channels audience. To be a good Development researcher you need to know more about the audiences for particular Channels and also what the Commissioners want to target or appeal to. Often there is a big push to appeal to 18-34 year olds, so think about how you would attract that audience. Think about why an audience would want to watch your ideas and who they directly appeal to. When we are first starting out, we often look at what appeals directly to us and our own immediate circle. Try to think beyond that, try to think would appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds across the whole of the UK. What common themes in programming can attract a wide audience. You may not have all the answers to start off, but you will soon get a grasp of what works and what doesn’t work.
Ultimately working in Development is hugely rewarding and fun and super creative. There is nothing more exciting than seeing something that you created hitting the TV screens.