Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The TV Pitch

When we started this blog I thought I'd be writing about books every week. I thought since I've had a few books published and I've been with four different publishers in two countries I'd have somethihng to say about writing or about the business.

But I've also been working in television this past year and I do have a couple of imdb credits (that Shakespeare one is actually a pretty cool movie, shows up on Bravo! once in a while) and I once wrote and directed a super low-budget movie about a couple getting married at a sci fi convention, so I guess I've got some things to say about the fringe of the movie-TV business, too.

The past few weeks I've been making the rounds of production companies pitching a couple of TV shows. The way it works is you put together a "pitch document" which is usually a one page overview of the show, a paragraph or two about five or six main characters and then five or six brief episode descriptions. Everyone involved understands that all of these details are likely to change during development.

I've seen a couple of pitch documents floating around the internet - there's a .pdf file of a 79-page document setting up The Wire with more detail than you can imagine - and almost all of it ended up in the show exactly as written, except McNulty was named McArdle and Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale (named Aaron in the pitch) are reversed. On the other hand, I've heard stories of shows pitched and bought with only a few sentences.

So, this week my friend Scott Albert and I pitched a show called Quarantine. I even made this promo:

And here's the one page:

On June 10th, 2009 the population of the town of Palliser was 25,000. Three days later only 5000 were left alive. The town was put under an emergency quarantine. As fast as the mysterious virus arrived it disappeared. The survivors are all immune but remain carriers.

Now, a year later, the world has forgotten Palliser and its survivors. The town remains quarantined, cut off from the rest of the world but normal life has returned.

Better than normal. There is no crime, no one ever gets sick, there is no homelessness or hunger. It is the perfect town.

That’s the official story...

But when Travis Clark goes into Palliser he finds out the truth.

Palliser is a nightmare. A group calling themselves The Sherrifs run the town in secret. No one knows who they are or how many of them there are. They enforce their laws with an iron fist. People live in fear, afriad to let the outside world know what’s really going on behind the mask.

After 18 months in Afghanistan, Travis and his battalion take their turn on the Palliser wall. His hometown. He’s on his first patrol when a young woman tries to break out. He does what he’s trained to do. He shoots her. As she lays bleeding, he knows she’ll die if he doesn’t do something right away. Travis takes her inside. He saves her.

And he expects to contract the mystery virus and die. He’s ready, his whole family died in the original outbreak while he was in Afghanistan and he’s exhausted and suffering post-traumatic stress from what he’s been through.

He takes the injured woman to the town’s only doctor, Naija Singh.

And then Travis doesn’t die.

He doesn’t even get sick. Naija is worried for him, tells him to be careful and to leave her office right away. Travis realizes she’s scared of something so he doesn’t press her too much.

Walking the empty streets of Palliser at night Travis thinks it’s quieter than Kandahar after curfew. He sees a figure run by in the shadows and follows. This is like being on patrol. Travis stays hidden, watches a teenage boy, Danny McNair, being chased by men with black hoods hiding their faces. When the men catch him, they tell Danny this was his last chance.

Travis steps out of the shadows and says, “Last chance for what?” There’s a fight. Travis wins and then hooded men run off. Danny tells Travis he’s a dead man now, The Sherrifs will kill him.

Secrecy, conspiracy, fear, danger. That’s life in Palliser...

So, as you can see, it's pretty derivative stuff. In the meeting today Scott was able to think on his feet a lot quicker than I could and answered all the questions about the conspiracy and the secret plans being carried out. If we're very, very lucky, someone will pay us a little money to write a pilot episode.

And, to bring this back around to books, I'd just like to say that yesterday was the official publication date for my new novel, Swap - in Canada, at least. It'll be out in the USA in February and it'll be called Let It Ride.


Stacia Decker said...

Hey, I like the way the LET IT RIDE cover plays off elements of the US covers for DIRTY SWEET and EVERYBODY KNOWS. Nice!

John McFetridge said...

Thanks, me too.

I was hoping there would be a woman's face on the cover, too, (even smaller, like the US Dirty Sweet) but there's always the paperback, right?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have you ever seen the book or the documentary of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP. It put me in mind of that. I'd watch it.

Dana King said...

Not only are you listed in IMDB, your popularity is up 17%.

Word verification = preakers. People to come early to stand in the infield and get likkered up at the Preakness.