To get 14 scripted series on the air simultaneously, as super-producer Greg Berlanti has done, it takes a lot of incredible ideas for shows. But it also requires equally clever ways to pitch them to network execs.
So Berlanti and Sera Gamble went the extra mile when they were selling You, the new Lifetime drama they co-created about a bookstore manager (Penn Badgley) who uses the internet and social media to stalk and get close to the unsuspecting writer he has become obsessed with (Elizabeth Lail).
As they were pitching You, which premieres Sunday and is based on Caroline Kepnes’ 2014 novel, the duo decided to “cyberstalk” the network executives they would be trying to sell the show to, said Berlanti. By working those personal details into the pitch, they helped “get to the heart of the fiendishness of the show, and the fun of the show,” he added.
“With a pitch, as much as you’re trying to give the executives in the room a sense of the story, you’re trying to make them feel the emotions the show will make them feel,” said Berlanti. “That was a very visceral way to say, ‘Look, this isn’t about a professional stalker.’ This is about a casual stalker, who has access to the same kind of information that we all have access to. And when that information is turned on its head and used in a malicious way, it shows how exposed we all are.”
Each assistant in his company’s office was assigned a network executive to stalk, said Berlanti. “The other thing you learn in that process, unfortunately, there were certain executives that didn’t have much about themselves out there, but they had spouses and friends who did. So you were able to get access through that way.”
The assistants using social media and the internet to unearth several private details about the execs, like where their kids went to camp and the name of their housekeeper.
“From one of the executives, we knew that she had a standing blowout appointment every Saturday. We knew where she was going to be located, and we put it in the context of, ‘So, if you like this pitch, we can talk about it on Saturday when you’re getting your blowout at 2 o’clock!’” said Berlanti.
“There were a lot of creeped-out executives as we went from room to room,” he added, laughing.
The out-of-the-box pitching approach was a success, as “most” of the execs tried to buy the show right on the spot. Berlanti credited “partially the quality of the book, and the also the hook of this” as sealing the deal.
However, whether or not the execs wanted the show, “everyone left the room thinking, I have to shore up my social media accounts!”
Lifetime has already ordered a second season of You.
Berlanti now has 14 scripted original shows on the air, including You and two new fall broadcast dramas: CBS’ God Friended Me (which the network debuted a month early on digital and social media) and The CW’s All American.
And the producer tries to make each one of his pitches connect as viscerally as the one he and Gamble did for You.
“That was the one of greatest success, but we always work long and hard on the emotionality of the pitches,” said Berlanti. “We always do a character board with the ‘movie version’ of the actors that we bring into the room. So that people can look up and imagine their dream cast—though very rarely do we cast any of the actual people we have up on the board.”