What Is A ‘TV Series Bible’?
A TV Series Bible refers to the treatment, or pitch document that accompanies a spec TV pilot when it goes out on submission.Since there are spec TV pilot scripts flying all over the place, your bible needs to “stand out” from the rest of ’em. But how? Well, for me, that’s a no-brainer … You write the PERFECT spec TV series bible and hook the reader!
Sadly, I’d venture a whacking 95% of spec pilots are let down by their accompanying TV series bible. In the course of this post, I will break down what you need to include in your bible to help sell your TV pilot and its series ‘off the page’.
1) It’s boring!
Well, first off, a lot of the TV series Bibles I see are just really dull. To look at; to read – YAWN. A series bible is another chance to really SELL your script and your story and 9/10 writers forget this. They might spend a lot of time on them, they might skirt around them – the end result is the same.
2) And It’s Too Long!
Most series bibles I see are TOO LONG – ten, fifteen, even twenty plus pages. They’ll start off with a lengthy synopsis usually, maybe a page each for character profiles, a lengthy note on background of the story, why the writer has chosen this story to tell… STOP RIGHT THERE!
It should be remembered: readers don’t usually get paid extra to read your TV series bible. That means, however good your series bible, there’s a very good chance the Reader will simply skim over it. So, if you can’t GRAB them, let them know IMMEDIATELY what
- a) this is about
- b) who the characters are and
- c) why this is a series (and not say, a feature)
then you’ve just missed your chance, big style! Just two issues – but they’re big enough to make soooooo many series bibles fail. Simple as. But how to give yourself a fighting chance of a decent series bible?
Essential in your TV Series Bibles
1) A one page pitch
No one is afraid of just one page – and even if an overworked reader is having a bad day, then there still should be a good chance of them reading at least THIS page! (For more info on one page pitches, click HERE and for to download a 1 Page Pitch Ref Guide click HERE). Make sure your logline is clear and interesting and NOT a tagline (don’t know the difference? Then click HERE). FYI, a one page pitch for a series bible should be for the series AS A WHOLE, not the scripted episode you have included with the bible.
2) Very short character bios
Most character profiles I read are about a page long and usually make little sense, either because they are a stream of consciousness or because the writer references moments “to come” in the series that seem completely disjointed because they haven’t happened yet (a classic case of a story being clear in the writer’s head, yet it not translating to the reader). I recommend between 2 and four lines for each MAJOR character, with just one line for MINORS.
Don’t worry too much about what these characters look like (unless it has a direct bearing on the story) and DON’T cast the characters in your head, I hear so much about it being “fine” or a “no-no” that I think it’s far better to stay clear of that ol’ hornet’s nest. Screenwriting God Tony Jordan said in a seminar I once attended years back, he also includes a “secret no one else knows” to his character bio. I used this in a series bible about a year ago to great effect, it got me the meeting and the guys really enthused about it (it’s stuck in development hell now, but you never know).
3) Very short synopses of other episodes
I like to give myself two lines for these – one for “story of the week” and one for the “serial element”, though of course it does depend whether you’re writing a TV series, serial or sitcom. Whatever the case, keep it as short as possible.
Yes, I have seen longer synopses – recently I read a series bible with about 200 words per synopsis. This is really the longest I would recommend. The writer in question got away with it because they managed to make the events REALLY INTERESTING with lots of great action words and questions asked of the reader. If you believe you can do that too, be my guest.
Half a page, definitely no more than one page, detailing how the series works. That is, if it has a story of the week, how the story of the week works, who the returning characters are, how the series ends and how it moves on to series two, intended channel, intended slot, etc etc. This is important when you’re submitting to production companies because the development process is long and involves lots of people.
If they option your script and you’ve given them a page with the word Format at the top, in my experience, the “format document” becomes part of the contract. That way you will have ensured you retain the format rights – the “created by” credit. Which is of course extremely important when it comes to getting paid.
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