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You Can Make the Next Big Network TV Hit — Here’s How

Ringer Studios is ready to hear your pitches

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

It’s upfronts season, which means that the big networks are busy showing off their new shows to prospective advertisers. Some of them sound great (Adam Scott and Craig Robinson starring together in a series about ghosts!), some of them sound less great (a spinoff about Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, but instead of an annoying adult he’s an annoying kid), and some of them sound like television Mad Libs (David Boreanaz as a Navy SEAL?).

Now it’s your turn to play producer. You get $50 with which to assemble a show that you’d be proud to show off at an upfronts presentation — and that stands a decent shot at making it to series, and maybe even syndication. You’ll pick the setting, the actors, the genre, and a bunch of other variables — and then write up the elevator pitch.

Our staff took a stab at building a few shows to get the ball rolling. Hit us in the comments with a show of your own. May the spirit of Shonda Rhimes be with you. — Sam Schube

BUDGET: $50

NETWORK (pick one)

$10: CBS
$8: ABC, NBC, Fox
$6: TNT, TBS, USA, Bravo, E!
$4: Comedy Central, CW
$2: Adult Swim

GENRE (pick one)

$10: Procedural
$5: Drama
$5: Comedy

STYLE (pick one)

$5: Multi-camera (a la Two and a Half Men)
$3: Single-camera (a la The Office)
$2: Reality (game show)
$2: Animated
$1: Reality (social)

SETTING (pick one)

$10: Police/fire department
$8: Hospital
$8: Military
$6: Law office
$4: Television network/magazine/website
$2: Generic workplace
$2: Home/apartment

LOCATION (pick one)

$20: Dick Wolf’s Chicago
$10: New York/Los Angeles
$8: Iraq/Afghanistan/Navy SEAL compound
$6: Chicago, non–Dick Wolf version
$4: Any other major American city
$2: Any American suburb

TALENT (pick at least one)

$5: Actor has never appeared on broadcast television before (Jeremy Piven in Wisdom of the Crowd)
$4: Actor has led a broadcast series before (David Boreanaz in SEAL Team)
$3: Actor has been a supporting actor or lead on a short-lived series before (Casey Wilson in Sackett Sisters, Craig Robinson and Adam Scott in Ghosted)
$2: Actor has a background in stand-up comedy (Bobby Moynihan in Me, Myself, and I)
$1: Actor is a relative unknown

TWISTS (not required)

$10: Multiple timelines
$5: Secret siblings

MISCELLANY (not required)

$10: Show is a reboot/reunion
$5: Show is a spinoff
$5: Show uses superhero IP
$5: Time travel
$3: Involvement of tech billionaire
$2: Scenes set in restaurant/coffee shop
$2: Story pulled from international tale of scandal and/or mystery

‘Chicago Juice’

Bill Simmons: It’s the latest Chicago spinoff series from Dick Wolf! Adam Driver and Jay Pharoah are lifelong buddies from Chicago who moved to L.A. to become actors after college. Neither of them caught their big break and had to work at Kreation — an expensive organic juice/food takeout chain in Los Angeles — to cover their rent. Guess what? They both became gluten-free health freaks! Now they’re moving back home to open their own Kreation franchise in downtown Chicago, where they quickly become outcasts in the land of deep dish pizza, heavy beer and two-pound Wrigley Field hot dogs. They don’t have anything in common with their friends anymore, but at least they have each other. In the first episode, Driver’s character gets knocked unconscious at a Cubs game after telling an overweight Cubs fan that he should stop eating bread. At the hospital, an adorable resident doctor (Nina Dobrev) treats him and happens to be the only other gluten-free person in Chicago. She starts moonlighting for work at their Kreation store, only she has a little chemistry with Pharoah’s character, too. Every episode is filled with gluten-free shaming and someone trying to either rob their store, set it on fire or outright shoot either Driver or Pharoah. Think “Two Guys, a Girl and a Gluten-Free Pizza Place” crossed with Chicago P.D., but with extra turmeric.

Network: NBC ($8)
Genre: Dramedy ($5)
Setting: Generic workplace ($2)
Style: Single Camera ($3)
Talent: Adam Driver ($5), Jay Pharoah ($2), Nina Dobrev ($1)
Location: Dick Wolf’s Chicago ($20)
Miscellany: Scenes in a restaurant ($2)
Total: $48


‘Strange Medicine’

Alison Herman: For reasons only God, Peter Thiel, and Dana Walden’s personal assistant can understand, networks keep making some variation on “goodhearted capitalist decides to make historically public institution run like a for-profit business.” These shows (Pure Genius, APB, and now, Wisdom of the Crowd) are pure propaganda for the wonders of the free market, and so far they’ve all fallen on deaf ears. But maybe the problem here isn’t necessarily the subject — it’s the tone: weepy drama where every billionaire gets his Bruce Wayne origin story.

As Silicon Valley shows, the way to get at the heart of modern tech isn’t to artificially inflate it with murder and disease. It’s to show these people for the bumbling morons they really are, which is why the perfect vehicle for the Zuckerberg Story isn’t a procedural: it’s a workplace sitcom.

Enter NBC, trying to rebuild its comedy brand with mixed success (sorry, Powerless), and Will Arnett, who’s played almost every flavor of white male blowhard there is: the washed-up sitcom actor (BoJack Horseman), the floundering rich kid (Arrested Development), the holier-than-thou recovering alcoholic (Flaked). His character tries to run a hospital like a startup, accidentally kills a few patients during beta testing, and frustrates an ensemble cast of doctors and nurses played by a mix of beloved stand-ups, photogenic comic actresses, and recent SNL alums. I call it Strange Medicine, because our billionaire’s last name is obviously Strange.

Network: NBC ($8)
Genre: Comedy ($5)
Setting: Hospital ($8)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Will Arnett ($4)
Location: Other major American city ($4)
Miscellany: Involvement of a tech billionaire ($3)
Total: $35


‘The Night Desk’

Andrew Gruttadaro: Night-shift news editor Adrian Grenier, played by Adrian Grenier, is a sad and lonely man working for a New York City paper called something generic but legit-sounding — let’s say The City Tribune. One fateful Tuesday evening, Adrian is copy-editing an article about Mrs. Merriweather turning 112 when the paper’s printing press stops working. Unable to get ahold of maintenance, he tries to fix it himself. That’s when he slices his hand open, causing his blood to seep into the machine’s crevices and ink to course through his veins. From then on, Adrian has the supernatural ability to know how the developing stories in The City Tribune are going to end before they actually do. He can see that the mayor is actually innocent of those racketeering charges! And that the dying oil magnate on the Upper East side is dying because his wife is poisoning him! Adrian stops copy-editing and spends most of his night shift in an East Village coffee shop with his doorman, Freddy (played by comedian Joe Mande), the only guy who believes in Adrian’s powers, trying to use his newfound foreknowledge to help the citizens of New York. The Trib becomes littered with grammatical errors, but slowly, the city becomes a better place to live. Airing on Friday nights on Fox.

Network: Fox ($8)
Genre: Procedural ($10)
Setting: Newspaper ($4)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Adrian Grenier ($5), Joe Mande ($2)
Location: New York ($1o)
Miscellany: Time travel ($5); Scenes set in restaurants/coffee shops ($2)
Total: $49


‘Meat Up’

Kate Knibbs: After their respective careers in bodybuilding and venture capitalism go bust, childhood best friends Matt (Jay Pharoah) and Viggo (Rupert Grint) are opening Manhattan’s first vegan, paleo hot dog stand. Their hot dogs are, improbably, a hit, especially with influential food YouTubers Meagan and Meghan (Sasheer Zamata and Kether Donohue) — until Matt’s old work nemesis Dickie (David Boreanaz) opens up a rival vegan, paleo taco food truck and starts stealing their thunder.

Network: Fox ($8)
Genre: Comedy ($5)
Setting: Generic workplace ($2)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Pharoah ($2), Rupert Grint ($4), David Boreanaz ($4), Sasheer Zamata ($2), Kether Donohue ($3)
Location: Manhattan ($10)
Miscellany: Scenes in restaurant ($2)
Total: $45


‘The Chair’

David Shoemaker: Tim Allen plays Tim O’Halloran, an anchor at the right-leaning Hot News Network, who has been framed for murdering a young, female producer on his show. The show follows O’Halloran as he is forced to resign his job in disgrace, starts a podcast to cover the news and clear his name, and — most importantly — becomes an amateur gumshoe, bent on unraveling the vast left-wing conspiracy that maliciously framed him to keep him from speaking the truth to the American people. Each week, the news he covers intersects with his ever-expanding investigation, as we find out: Can O’Halloran clear his name in time to avoid the electric chair and get back to the anchor’s chair? Bill O’Reilly writes and produces.

Network: TNT ($6)
Genre: Procedural ($10)
Setting: Television network ($4)
Style: Multi-camera ($5)
Talent: Tim Allen ($4)
Location: New York ($10)
Miscellany: Story pulled from international tale of scandal and/or mystery ($2)
Total: $41


‘Power Play’

Megan Schuster: In the vein of Friday Night Lights, One Tree Hill, and Pitch, NBC is bringing the sports drama back to prime-time television. Power Play is the story of a minor league hockey team set in Buffalo in the wake of the 1980 Winter Olympics. Our three leads — Blake Jenner, Alden Ehrenreich, and Ben Schnetzer — and the rest of their teammates navigate the challenges of trying to get a call-up to the majors, set against the political backdrop of the United States in the early ’80s. Think throwback jerseys, great haircuts, and all the cellys.

Network: NBC ($8)
Genre: Drama ($5)
Setting: Generic workplace (primarily a hockey arena — $2)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Blake Jenner ($3 — shout-out Glee, Supergirl, and Melissa & Joey), Alden Ehrenreich ($3), Ben Schnetzer ($3)
Location: Buffalo ($4)
Miscellany: Large fake snow budget ($2); Skating lessons for actors ($2); Emilio Estevez cameos (the rest of my money)
Total: $50


‘Smoak and Mears’

Michael Baumann: Jay Smoak (David Keith) and Bill Mears (Keith David) are retired CIA agents who run a high-tech international private detective agency headquartered in Washington, D.C. They take a series of cases that gradually unfold into a conspiracy leading to the highest levels of corporate America and government. Periodic buddy-cop high jinks ensue. Think Sneakers meets Person of Interest meets The Finder, for those of you who watched that. We’ll do all the fun spy/cop/military stuff without having to root for the actual CIA or police.

The key is the juxtaposition of Keith David and David Keith, not only for the funny name-based stunt casting, but because I’ve never seen either of them on screen without being incredibly happy. David Keith lasted like 10 minutes into U-571 and it was the best 10 minutes of the movie, and I was one of about a dozen people who watched Keith David’s ill-fated military sitcom Enlisted, but he had me falling out of my chair laughing. Will a network procedural conflict with Keith David playing the new pope in The New Pope? Perhaps, but this is part of my plan to take over The Ringer from the inside and turn it into a Keith David fan blog.

Since my two leads are both in their 60s and I’ve got some extra money lying around from my original budget, I’ll hire two more secondary leads to do the running-jumping–climbing trees part of a private-eye show: Paget Brewster and the just-liberated-from-Pitch Mark-Paul Gosselaar, on the condition he keeps the beard and oversized trapezius muscles he grew for the role of Mike Lawson.

Because this is a slightly-outside-the-box Fox show with a main cast that includes two actors from Season 6 of Community, it’s going to be absolutely awesome and get canceled after 13 episodes.

Network: Fox ($8)
Genre: Procedural ($10)
Setting: Military ($8)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Mark-Paul Gosselaar ($4); Keith David ($3), David Keith ($3), Paget Brewster ($3)
Setting: Washington, D.C. ($4)
Miscellany: Story pulled from international tale of scandal and/or mystery ($2)
Total: $47


‘To Be Faire’

Christian Robinson: Lea Michele plays a middling actress forced to return to her hometown of Annapolis, Maryland, after an on-set tantrum goes viral and leaves her career in the toilet. Her well-meaning but overmatched agent gets her a gig at the local Renaissance faire (second largest in the country!) that she reluctantly accepts. There she reunites with her high school theater chums, Adam Brody and Deborah Ann Woll, interacts with the wacky faire folk, meets her newest unhealthy obsession (the King, Ed Westwick), and tries to figure out how to catapult herself back into the limelight.

Network: ABC ($8)
Genre: Comedy ($5)
Setting: Generic workplace ($2)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Lea Michele ($4), Adam Brody ($4), Deborah Ann Woll ($5), Ed Westwick ($4), rotating cast of standups/improvs ($2)
Location: Any American suburb ($2)
Total: $39


‘Outer Banks’

Chris Ryan: Love takes flight in the home of the Wright brothers. Set in coastal North Carolina, Scott Speedman is a cop who never left home. One night he starts a steamy relationship with new-in-town Adrianne Palicki. It would be love at first sight, if only Palicki wasn’t the bank robber Speedman was after. Blue skies, big crimes, and summer love are back on the USA.

Network: USA ($6)
Genre: Drama ($5)
Setting: Police ($10)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Scott Speedman ($3), Adrianne Palicki ($3)
Location: North Carolina (TAX BREAKS, MY G)
Total: $30


‘Hinkie’s Heroes’

Sam Schube: Put-upon Sam Hinkie (Michael Stuhlbarg) spends his waking hours trying to convince his bosses, his employees, and his entire city that he’s not off his rocker. That’s because Sam, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, is doing his job like no one else has done it before — and in the City of Brotherly Love, sympathy for an eggheaded accumulator of second-round picks is a precious commodity, much like a superstar. Between disagreements with the team’s tech-bro billionaire owner (played by Josh Duhamel), jokes from Shirley Temple–swilling center-slash-comedian Joel Embiid (Lakeith Stanfield), and strategic tips from his former college player wife (Kaitlin Olson), Sam’s days are full of frustration, education, and laughs for the whole family. This summer, we’ll all learn to trust the process — unless Hinkie’s Heroes gets canceled before my vision has a chance to bear fruit.

Network: NBC ($8)
Genre: Comedy ($5)
Setting: Generic workplace ($2)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Michael Stuhlbarg ($3), Lakeith Stanfield ($3), Kaitlin Olson ($4), Josh Duhamel ($4)
Location: Philadelphia ($4)
Miscellany: Tech billionaire ($3)
Total: $41


‘Fargo: Season TBD’

Katie Baker: Whenever the folks behind Fargo decide to migrate westward, I hope they’ll consider basing a season on Caltrans legend Dave Wood. With the assumption that being on wild-card channel FX would cost halfway between the $4 and $6 categories, Fargo: Season TBD (and/or Untitled Unaffiliated Fargo Knockoff Project for a Competing Network) would be a single-camera dramedy revolving around the cowboy-hardhat-wearing, curled-stache-sporting Wood (Jeff Bridges).

Wood works for the state transportation agency as the Donner Pass Area superintendent — yes, as in that Donner. Navigating the snowy Sierra mountain pass that once socked in the doomed traveling Donner Party in 1846, Donner Dave tweets and keeps the streets in order, cleaning up Teslas crashed by tech billionaires (Cameron Diaz) and helping lead a wintertime search-and-rescue mission for a former extreme skier (Mark Ruffalo) who goes missing in the dense, snowy surrounding woods while recording a documentary that was supposed to get him back into the game.

The resulting investigation incorporates a cast of characters ranging from a Reno cocktail waitress who can communicate with Donner Party ghosts* (played by a brilliantly-cast unknown) to the young son of the town’s leading doula (played by a brilliantly-cast unknown kid, with Sarah Silverman as his mom). From the shores of Lake Tahoe to the diners of Truckee; from the offices of Airbnb to the Squaw Valley funitel, this miniseries is a reminder that nobody is out of the woods … yet.

*To save funds, the ghosts will exist in the present timeline only.

Network: Preferably FX, willing to work with TNT ($5)
Genre: Dramedy (average of $5 plus $5 is $5)
Setting: Police/fire department, essentially ($10)
Style: Single-camera ($3)
Talent: Cameron Diaz ($5), Jeff Bridges ($3), Mark Ruffalo ($3), Sarah Silverman ($2), ($1) for a kid, and ($1) for the Reno ghost whisperer
Location: Truckee, California, and environs ($2)
Twists: This show doesn’t rely on such gimmicks (JK, I’m too cheap to pay for another timeline, see above asterisk)
Miscellany: Show is a spinoff ($5); Involvement of tech billionaire ($3); Scenes at a restaurant/coffee shop ($2)
Note: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” (The $2 for being based on a true story is not owed in this case, because, in keeping with Fargo canon, this is mostly a lie.)
Total: $50