Recently I interviewed Kevin Beggs, Chairman of the Television Group for Lionsgate Entertainment at the Apex-Writer's Group, who oversees production and development of all scripted and non-scripted programming. He’s had a long string of television hits, so I won’t list many, but his works include series like Mad Men, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Dangerous Liaisons, Orange is the New Black, Weeds and the popular Dead Zone.
I found him to be remarkably sharp, open, and informative. I wished that you could all have been there, so I’ll report some things that might be interesting to novelists.
Write the book.
When I asked what he was looking for in a book that could be turned into a television series, he said:
He likes to get involved in the process early, before the book is turned into a screenplay, so that he could help develop it, suggest ideas to help make it stronger and unique.
If you want a long-running series, he sees each book as a season of 8 to 12 episodes, and of course the seasons would run for as many volumes as you have books. So, for example, a five-novel series might run for five seasons.
Another thing he needs is a story that “has legs,” one where the characters are interesting enough so that the viewer wants to keep watching every week. If the story is too plot-driven, then the series tends to have a beginning, middle, and end that come and go in short order.
You don’t need to write a screenplay based on your book to pitch. Instead, he prefers to find professional screenwriters to make the adaptation. Yet, he emphasized that being able to write a script is a great skill to develop.
An Agent or Producer Makes the Pitch.
As a writer, you don’t want to take the work to the studios yourself. Instead, have your literary agent, Hollywood agent, or a producer do it.
You don’t need to bring a director, a show-runner, and actors along with your package when you make your pitch. The truth is that you probably don’t know the ideal people to do that, but he knows who they are.
Instead, Kevin prefers to have producers and agents bring him the “hottest new properties” they can find. Of paramount importance is the pitch. Does it demand the reader’s attention? Once he has that, he likes to review the book, podcast, short story, or other source material and consider how to develop it for television.
As authors, we are often worried about how to make money with television. If the studio options a property, there is a small payment up front. Then if they “purchase” the right to make it into a series, you get payments that are usually split up. They may come on first day of filming, last day of filming, on the date the program airs, and so on. Then, of course, if the series goes into wide distribution internationally or is re-broadcast, then the money typically really comes in.
The real value in getting a television series for us as authors is that our intellectual property is now more “discoverable” to an international audience, which can lead to vastly more book sales.
In addition, we have had nearly a hundred interviews from New York Times bestselling authors, top literary agents, book editors, and industry professionals over the past year, and more coming up. You’re welcome to join us!