TV companies are always looking for game show formats. Really successful ones, like ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, can make millions for the TV company and, over time, for the person, or team, who came up with the idea. Be warned, though, a good format is a remarkably difficult concept to come up with. Even professionals can take years to create a good one. But if you’re a game show fanatic, you could be in a good position to come up with an idea.
- What’s involved in coming up with a TV game show format?
- How do you do it?
- Case study: Hugh Rycroft – co-creator of Tipping Point
- Tips from an expert in creating a game show format
- How much can you make?
Well unfortunately it’s not as easy as it sounds. To be honest this is a very hard industry to break into, but IF you can come up with a good idea and hone it into a killer format you may not have to work – ever again. In order to break into this industry you need a lot of patience and you must be very persistence.
You will spend a lot of time contacting production companies and probably never get a reply. Indies (independent companies) can be impossible to contact, will refuse unsolicited submissions, sit on your ideas for months, or quite possibly steal the best bits. Proving any of this later is, of course, virtually impossible.
Even if you get your foot in the door, there is no guarantee that you will ever come up with a winner. It can be a depressing business. It could take you years of trying and failing to come up with an idea that is even optioned, let alone bought.
If you’re the creative type though and have a passion for game shows, give it a go – you won’t know if you don’t try.
Step 1: Brain storm!
This is a great excuse to watch TV in the name of research and making money! Study some popular game shows. Watch them regularly and work out what their basic elements are and what makes them work. The idea should be simple but fun. See if you can find an ‘ideas buddy’ with whom you can brainstorm and come up with formats together.
Putting a bit of reality into the game show, and vice versa, has opened up the game show format to more than the traditional three podium format. There is an endless variety of elements you can include in a game show – you just need to find the right ones that click. Dramatic tension seems to be one thing that makes a great game show, especially at key moments of choice for the contestant.
To really have a chance though, you need to let go of all your pre-conceived ideas of what a TV game show is, let go of traditional ideas and invent new ways of giving audiences entertainment programmes.
Step 2: Target production companies.
Once you’ve got your idea, look at the channel’s website, or simply the closing credits of the show to see which production companies have made the most popular game shows. Target these with your idea.
Experience is the most valuable way to learn about what ideas companies will buy and produce. Regardless of whether your ideas are purchased, each time you pitch to executives in the industry you are building relationships with people who you can contact later and talk about how to make your ideas work.
Step 3: Presentation.
Producers are busy people, so to ensure your script is read format it into a brief synopsis with a highly marketable ‘logline’. You should be able to fit the description of it onto no more than one A4 sheet. Hone it down to the simple rules and a few gimmicks and send it to TV production companies.
With your full script, ensure you have these headings:
- Title of the show
- Format of the show – Game Show
- Author Name
- Logline – a few sentences to describe your concept
- Treatment – Synopsis or Outline. This is a detailed description of your show as it would be seen on TV, to interest or provoke the reader make sure you ‘show’ the reader what the audience is watching.
Get some ideas from Bob Boden’s online video tutorial on creating game shows.
Hugh Rycroft, one of the creative minds behind the popular ITV game show Tipping Point found inspiration for his game show format whilst visiting a seaside arcade in 2003. Hugh acknowledges that the game show industry itself is a tiny market and a very hard one to succeed in, “I estimate that fewer than 30 new game shows appear on British TV in any given year, out of the (literally) thousands of ideas that are generated… Having said this, in the specific case of ‘Tipping Point’, the fact that it DID finally end up on TV 9 years after I first had the idea suggests that persistence can pay off!” So if you really think you have a great idea you have to be patient and persistent. Take a look at Hugh’s five essential tips for game show beginners below.
- For a complete TV ‘outsider’, by far the most important things will be to network with TV people. The best idea in the world will never make it onto TV if it never lands on the right desk! Not all production companies will look at unsolicited material, so write to them first before sending your idea, or check out their website.
- Remember, a single, big slightly whacky or left-field concept, even if it’s not particularly well thought through, is far more likely to get someone’s attention than a show relying on more traditional game show themes, which development teams can think up in their sleep!
- If you do find a production company that likes your idea, be open to them playing around and changing the concept, because on the whole these people do know what they’re talking about.
- Persistence can certainly pay off – TV is littered with examples of things that were turned down dozens of times before
becoming huge hits. Ideas can be rejected for all sorts of reasons so keep trying.
- Finally, for a complete beginner, the best pitch advice is to keep it simple. What you’re trying to sell is the unique and brilliant core concept at the heart of your show. Good luck!
As we’ve mentioned above it’s a tricky business, so we wouldn’t advise you to give up your day job yet. HOWEVER if you come up with a winning idea, the sky’s the limit! It’s a very difficult industry to crack but if you really do love game shows and have the passion to commit and persist who knows what might happen. Just remember it often takes 40, 50 or even 100 ideas to be pitched before a TV station will consider buying one!
- PACT – The association of Independent producers, where you can find most of the contact details you need.
- Labyrinth Games – Puzzle and games consultancy behind many successful shows.
- 2waytraffic.com – Production company that distributes Who wants to be a millionaire in the UK, USA and other countries.