How To Have a Successful Staffing and Development Season

If you’re an aspiring television writer, trying to get staffed this season or perhaps (like me), you’ve got an original pilot (or two) you’re shopping, understanding the business cycles can be helpful in planning and executing your strategies.

2011 Staffing and Development Calendar

Staffing Timeline

Feb. – May: Executives read scripts and take “staffing meetings” with agents and managers for network shows.

Late May: Upfronts (when networks show off their new shows to entice advertisers to commit to buy commercial airtime “up front”, months before the shows’ premieres), pilots are picked up to series, staff is put in place.

June: Most writer rooms begin.

July: Shows start shooting.

Development Time Line

June – Oct. Networks hear pitches (Cable hears pitches year around)

Aug. – Sept. Scripts are ordered

Nov Outlines are delivered

Dec Scripts are delivered

Jan – Feb. Pilots are ordered

Feb – March Pilots are shot

May Pilots picked up to series

Jen Grisanti, author of Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story and TV Writer’s Tool Kit: How To Write A Script That Sells, is no stranger to all this activity. With over a dozen years as a studio executive, Jen has heard thousands of pitches and read as many scripts. She has a lot to offer the aspiring writers she mentors through her consulting firm as well as NBC’s Writer’s on the Verge and CBS’ Diversity Program.

First off, for a successful staffing season, Jen recommends that you have one current spec script (by current she means that it should not be older than 2 years) and two original pilots. She also says it’s good to have plays and features in addition to two original pilots.

With staffing, Jen believes that  you should make a list of the top three to five shows that you want to staff on. Then, make sure that your writing portfolio supports this goal.

When you’re writing your pilot, Jen suggests studying the greats that have gone before you – and keeping up-to-date on your knowledge of the industry and marketplace. “Two nearly-perfect pilots in the past two years,” Jen recommends (that are great to study) “are White Collar and The Good Wife.”

The Tracking Board is a great resource for TV research and study and they are offering a 15% discount to readers of this blog:

Jen further advises that your logline should tell the Pitchee where you’re going and ideally, you’ll have some sort of personal connection or resonance with the character(s), world and story.

“For pilots, especially,” Jen suggests, “take us to a world we don’t know. Or, if it’s a world we do know, take us there in a new way or show us that world through a new angle or unique character’s point of view.”

The premise of your pilot script should present your Protagonist with a “rock and a hard place” dilemma. There’s his or her life before the inciting incident – and their life after. The drama comes out of the choice(s) he or she makes. The pilot, one of the toughest scripts to write – the answer to that powerful dilemma – is what earns the series.

“A lot of series now,” Jen continues, “intertwine the personal and the professional, paralleling these goals and storylines and raising the stakes simultaneously. The “All is Lost” moment is when the Protagonist is as far away as possible from his or her goal – but we must see that goal achieved.”

The value of irony and subtext cannot be under-estimated as powerful tools in the TV Writer’s arsenal. And the more you can capitalize on the trifecta tools of anticipation, expectation and surprise!

A terrific technique Jen suggests is reading your original pilot script from back to front to ensure that each preceding scene sets up the one that follows it.

That’s great advice for being able to get your TV spec and pilot script in the strongest place possible, increasing your chances to staff and sell your pilot.

8 thoughts on “How To Have a Successful Staffing and Development Season

  1. Heather HaleHeather Hale

    Hey William –

    Sorry been so long since I’ve visited this article site – there ought the be a tickler letting me know there’s e-mail waiting here! Else I would’ve responded a year ago!

    Good for you! For expanding your horizons and testing your creative muscles in every direction!

    In reference to your question for resources – I’m teaching a LIVE webinar in two days for Script Magazine and The Writers Store – on agents and managers – and I’ll teach several in the future that will address those specific issues! Hope to see you at one of them! 😉


    Hello. Thank you so much for this particular article. I have been writing for over 10 years and have just had my first cast party for two pieces……a horror feature film, and a television pilot, that I can only say has been a LONG road to this finishing point. i am happy to say that both are being edited and pushing themselves near the finishing line!!!!
    And, have been broadening my writing with different genre’s and styles. Not to be a ‘confusing’ writer but i am just looking to see where the writing lays the best. If it’s drama? Comedy? Action? Suspense/mystery? Have tackled several fields and are looking to see whom are looking to read for the new season of television?
    That would be a big help if you can foprward anything directly you know of.

    Thank you again,
    William Ayers

  3. carlito rodriguez

    GREAT info, Heather! Very necessary for those of us spending our days nose-to-laptop instead of enjoying this beautiful weather! (In time, right?)

    Is there any way you can re-post the Tracking Board promo code so that we have the option of applying it to the TB/IOTG subscription? (Or was that not an option?)


  4. Heather HaleHeather Hale

    Hey Rose!

    I’d love to come to Albuquerque!

    Especially for your hot air balloon fiesta in October!
    Or their film festival in August!
    Or the SouthWest Writers Conference in September!

    I love to travel and teach!

    If you are a member of any writers or filmmaking groups – or affiliated with a local college, Corporation or Chamber of Commerce, send me their contact information and we’ll try to set it up! I’m sure you could come as my guest to any event we organize or plan as my “assistant” – really: ambassador. 🙂

    I teach PowerNetworking all around the world and would love to bring it to NM but I teach a whole host of other classes, too – and sounds like Writing the Adaptation might be a really great class for you, especially!

    And good for you for your double bottom-line goals!

    Let me know how I can help – or if you want me to send a customized proposal to one of your local venues.

    Keep writing! 😉

  5. Rose Everding

    Heather, when will you be near Albuquerque, NM giving a seminar on power networking? I have written three screenplays and had them polished by A.P. Gonzalez at UCLA in Hollywood. Price Hall is a good friend of ours and a producer, and he was the one who read my books and suggested I write screenplays for them. My ultimate goal is to open a safe house/center for the abused to find help.

    rose Everding (Rosie)

  6. Heather HaleHeather Hale

    Awesome, Marjorie! Good for you!

    I spoke at the Vancouver Film and Television Expo a few years back and have for Signe Olynyk (of Twilight Pictures)’s Great American/Canadian Pitch Fests – Canada is just so beautiful – and a lot of comedians come from there! 🙂 Must be in the water!

    So glad you enjoyed the articles. Let me know what else you’d like – I just started doing these last month and I’ve been delighted with the response. So let me know if you have questions you want me to answer or research! Its inspiring to me, too! 😉

    Keep writing!!!!!


    We need the stories! And Points of View!!!!


  7. Marjorie Roden

    I’ve been working on developing a couple of ideas for TV series here in Canada, one for the better part of 10 years and the other for about the last 3 years with a creative partner. Thank you for writing this article to give us aspiring writers some inspiration!