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DOCUMENTARY TIP #3: Documentary Broadcasters

So, just what sort of shows are the broadcasters looking for right now? What are the philosophies of these networks, and what are some tips on pitching to them? And once you have your idea, how in the world do you get your idea in front of these people? We've set out to answer these questions for you and you can find the info here and in our Members Area in our new Broadcaster Database. We’re also in the midst of creating a new Documentary How To audio course addressing these questions. We’ll let you know when that’s ready.  But in the meantime, here’s some of the scoop…


One way to get your pitch to a network executive is through a 'Producer's Portal', which is just what it sounds like: an online portal for submitting your work. Here's the one for Discovery Channel: (We just saved you 15 minutes of searching their site trying to find their 'portal', and the distinct pleasure of finding all their shows that reference 'portables'!)

Of course, this method of sending a proposal electronically is rather impersonal, sort of like cold-calling from the old days. The good news is though, they usually do promise to get back to you within 8 weeks. Many times even if you have met face to face with a programming executive, you will still need to submit online for legal reasons. As a general practice, the networks cover themselves by having you sign a release waiver for your idea. This unfortunately is a necessary evil and quite alarming the first time you have to do it. But, these entities don't want you suing them for 'stealing your idea'.

There are other ways to get a meeting with a real-live person, which is generally more effective, and also helpful for you to hone your project idea. Usually the executive will have good feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your idea. Read Hank’s blog entry about this.


We recently had a meeting with an executive from The Learning Channel, and here's what he told us about what they are looking for: Basically with TLC, it all starts with story and character. They are looking for complex and rich character-driven series or one-off's (films that are stand alone projects, not part of a series). These characters should be familiar characters that the audience can relate to, not larger-than-life characters as we might find on E! And they should be ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances.

Plus, TLC wants to enter a new world with shows that are visually arresting and have a great payoff (Little People, Big World). It is a network that is mostly watched by females, but they are currently branching out into the men's market, mostly on Thursday nights. They want domestic shows (no traveling to foreign countries - save that for The Travel Channel), and they consider themselves a channel that is safe for kids.

Specifically, they are looking for wedding shows, large family shows (they're looking for the next Jon & Kate Plus 8, of course), looks at interesting and unique subcultures, and new worlds with tremendous characters.

So that's TLC in a nutshell. Check out our new Broadcaster Database in the Members Area for this kind of inside information on many other networks. We’ll let you know when we launch our Documentary How To audio course “What Broadcasters Are Looking For”. (Make sure you've joined our mailing list!)