Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tailoring your pitch... a network is perfectly demonstrated by two television shows currently on TV. These shows are amazing examples of how two networks can develop the same premise in two very different ways.

The shows:

USA's Psych and CBS's The Mentalist.

What is the premise: An man with a gift for noticing every detail of the world pretends to be a psychic and works with the police department to solve crimes.

However, that is where the similarities end. The development of the shows couldn't be more different. First, let's examine the shows' summaries directly from their website.

The Mentalist:

THE MENTALIST stars Golden Globe Award nominee Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who has a remarkable track record for solving serious crimes by using his razor sharp skills of observation. Within the Bureau, Jane is notorious for his blatant lack of protocol and his semi-celebrity past as a psychic medium, whose paranormal abilities he now admits he feigned. Jane's role in cracking a series of tough high-profile cases is greatly valued by his fellow agents. However, no-nonsense Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon openly resists having Jane in her unit and alternates between reluctantly acknowledging Jane's usefulness and blasting him for his theatrics, narcissism and dangerous lack of boundaries. Lisbon's team includes agents Kimball Cho, Wayne Rigsby and rookie member Grace Van Pelt, who all think Jane's a loose cannon but admire his charm and knack for clearing cases.


Raised in Santa Barbara by a family of cops, Shawn possesses uncanny powers of observation honed by his police officer father, Henry, who drilled young Shawn to note even the smallest of details from his surroundings as a way of grooming him for his inevitable career in the family business. Unfortunately, when a rift develops between father and son, Shawn finds himself taking a series of random jobs instead of becoming the detective he was groomed to be.

However, for the fun of it, Shawn makes a habit of calling in tips to the police about cases he reads about or sees on television, and when one of his tips appears too close to the truth, the police are convinced that Shawn is an accomplice and arrest him.

Using his charm and well-tuned talent, Shawn convinces the cops that he's actually a psychic, and although highly skeptical of his explanation, they hire him to help solve tough cases. With the reluctant assistance of his best friend Gus, Shawn uses his skills of observation and charismatic personality to become the detective he was trained to be, opening his own PI agency – Psych – and solving cases for an ever-suspicious, but grudgingly impressed, police force.

As you can see, there are incredibly similarities in just the summaries of the show. However, while The Mentalist is a serious drama, Psych is a lighthearted comedy. In Psych the general lighting is bright and colorful, in The Mentalist it's dark and brooding. In the Mentalist, the main character's family is murdered, in Psych the worst that happens to Shawn's family is they get annoyed at his antics. Even the commercials show The Mentalist as a dark, brooding, and haunted man while the Psych commercials have Shawn and Guy goofing around with each other. Except for the premise, the SHOW couldn't look, feel, or sound more different.

So, what does this tell us about Television in general? Well it's something that we should all be aware, a show that works for one network may not work at another network. If you have a light hearted show, it would work better on USA than CBS. However, it also tells us something more. And that is how different channels will develop the exact same show. USA is known as the home for quirky, lighthearted characters (MONK, BURN NOTICE, IN PLAIN SIGHT) while CBS is known for serious drama (CSI, NCIS, THE UNIT).

As this also demonstrates, a show CAN be pitched to different networks with success. However, it must be massaged and geared towards the network. Any good production company with a pitch meeting at a network will do their homework to know how to pitch their show to NBC, FOX, HBO, or Comedy Central. Each of those networks could love the idea for a show, but the show will end up VERY different depending on where it lands.

It's not about changing the focus of the story, but it is about tone, structure, and pacing.

P.S.- This same theory works for movies at different studios. Different studios produce different projects, and if you're pitching a movie, make sure you know where you're pitching and what they're interested in.