Pitching is hooking
Ever had a great idea but just couldn’t sell it? You’re not alone.
Bill Lawrence is the creator of hit US show Cougar Town, which has run for 56 episodes so it clearly has legs.
Yet according to this interview with the AV Club, Lawrence had a ton of problems selling it – until he changed the name into something catchier with a clear hook.
In TV writers’ rooms, you often have “room bits,” which are things that can never go on television, but are jokes, almost like a callback, that you return to in order to waste time and goof around in the writers’ room. Cougar Town exists as a room bit because I like Courteney [Cox], and Mark Pedowitz, who ran Disney at the time, called up and said, “Do you want to do a comedy with Courteney Cox? She’s thinking about doing comedy again.” And I said, “I dunno, man. I’m pretty busy with Scrubs, and I’m not sure I’m a female-lead writer.” And that was the end of it.
But then a room bit started in the Scrubs writers’ room. I couldn’t get a passion project of mine sold. With my track record, I couldn’t go to the networks and say, “This is a project I’m passionate about.” Because it wasn’t hooky enough. It was just about a father and a son. So a room bit started where I said, “You know what sucks? I can’t sell my passion project. But if I go to [ABC President] Steve McPherson right now and said”—and this was just off the top of my head—“‘I’ve got a Courteney Cox comedy, she just got divorced, she never had her 20s, and she’s gonna fuck younger guys, and it’s called Cougar Town,’ I could sell that without doing any more work than I just did.”
And it became a joke in the writers’ room, where instead of having cuts between scenes, a claw would just rip it. Just rip the image right off the television. We kept joking about it week after week. And then, finally, after three weeks, I was like, “Should I do this?” And Kevin Biegel, who was on Scrubsand was a smart young writer, said, “I’ll do that with you. I don’t care. I’m in.” And we convinced ourselves, so it wasn’t totally a sham, that you could to a campy, Ab-Fab type comedy with a woman discovering her 20s for the first time. But I will say that I went into ABC, I said just what I told you, and I sold the show. When I went into networks four months earlier, with a full outline and a good track record, I couldn’t sell it. So Kevin and I, when we get twisty about the title—I don’t know that I could have sold the show by saying, “Hey, it’s about adult friendship, and it’s about people in a cul-de-sac drinking wine, and it’s called Cul-De-Sac Crew.”
As this thread on IMDB states, the original concept of ‘fucking younger guys’ is no more, but hey, never underestimate the power of a catchy, high concept title.