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February 21, 2022

How to Pitch to the BBC

The BBC is the bastion of British respectability and prestige. Getting a show on the Beeb or auntie, as it's referred to in Britain, is often a fast track to a successful career in television scriptwriting.

Let’s dive into how to pitch an idea to the BBC and unpack how writing for the BBC might be different from working for other commercial channels in Britain and America or streaming services like Netflix.

What is the BBC?

Many people across the world are familiar with the BBC - the British Broadcasting Corporation founded in 1922 - and its array of groundbreaking and classic dramas, across its 4 channels. From classic sci-fi like Doctor Who to gritty crime dramas like Peaky Blinders to complex police procedurals like Line of Duty.

But what many might not appreciate is that the BBC is not a private company, it’s state-owned. This means it's funded through a license fee - a year compulsory subscription levied on every British citizen.

Why is this important for you as a writer? Because it means that commissioning decisions are not based purely on commercial viability i.e whether the show is going to make money.

Some might argue commissioning editors are more risk-averse than other commercial networks because the BBC has to negotiate how much it can charge people with the incumbent government every 10 years.

If the BBC upsets the British government too much, they run the risk of having their budget cut.

Working for the BBC, therefore, is seen as being part of the British establishment.

Historically, this meant most of the writers and management were from white, middle and upper-class respectable families. Legendary writers like George Orwell began their careers at the BBC and satirized its stuffy attitudes and bureaucracy as the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

In recent years there has been a shift to try to incorporate a wide range of talent from underrepresented backgrounds and diversity quotas are now in place.

However, the BBC is still not the place for ruffling too many feathers, particularly as a first-time writer. The creators of Netflix’s The Crown reportedly turned down an offer to make it for the BBC as they felt it would mean oversight from Buckingham Palace and the government.

Often commissioning decisions are made about whether the show is in the public interest. Shows are often commissioned if they portray under-represented groups or particular stories and themes that might be overlooked by other commercial networks.

What are they looking for?

The BBC is looking for high-quality dramas that reflect British perspectives and culture first since that’s their main audience.

If you’re not from Britain you can still pitch. But familiarize yourself with British culture and issues. Many people from outside Britain are familiar with the most successful shows that are licensed on Netflix and Amazon. But not with lower-budget shows that premiere in non-prime time slots on BBC 2. As a first-time writer, your show is more likely to end up in these slots.

Use a VPN to access the BBC iPlayer website to see these shows. If you belong to an academic institution ask if they have access to Box of Broadcasts - an archive of BBC shows going back to the 1950s.

Research shows that are upcoming in the following year and make a note of them. Could you write something similar and different? Do you have a unique perspective on a particular topic that would lend itself well to drama?

The BBC also looks to nurture new talent and has a history and a budget to be able to facilitate this.

Check out the skills and training section of their website for some tips and tricks and the latest opportunities.

Consider radio first

Many writers at the BBC earn their stripes on the radio first. It’s far cheaper to commission. This also means there is less risk involved and easier for you to get the green light.

Check out long-running soap operas like The Archers or their shorter dramas or radio plays and see if you could write something similar.

Study writing for radio as it is a separate exercise from writing for screen though you can of course still use Arc Studio Pro.

BBC Writers Room competitions

The BBC Writers Room should be your main port of call when it comes to pitching to the BBC. It contains an invaluable script library and a host of other resources. Access it here.

The logo of BBC Writers Room - black writing on a yellow background
BBC Writers Room is a great resource

But the most valuable aspect of the BBC Writers Room is the opportunities that are listed and updated here. There are a host of writing competitions you can enter. This includes the TV Drama Writers’ Room which allows aspiring writers to write an episode of an upcoming drama for the BBC.

Rather than accepting pitches, all year round The BBC has now started running specific windows for writers to submit their scripts. This could be an open pitch where you can pitch and submit a script in any genre. Or they could be for a specific genre.

The BBC looks for high-quality writing and original interesting ideas as well as unique voices. You should only submit your best, most polished work to the BBC. Don’t submit unpolished drafts in the hope a producer sees potential.

Approach submissions to the BBC with as much professionalism as you can so that you stand out.

In general, scripts should be a minimum of 30 pages long (excluding title/character pages). Remember the golden rule of scriptwriting is a page per minute. Being mindful of the BBC’s formatting you’re probably best to choose either 30 pages (minutes) or 60 minutes.

The deadline for 2022 passed in December and calls for 2023 are likely to be open again in late 2023.

If you are unsure about entering be sure to use social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram to connect with previous succesfull entrants into the Writers Room and find out how it is.

Build your network

The BBC Writers Room is one way to begin writing a script for the BBC. But this should never be a substitute for building your network.

Ultimately though this is cold pitching. The BBC is still an organization that is inundated with pitches and scripts in development.

Everyone wants to write for the BBC. So how do you stand out?

Get to know someone on the inside who is going to help you. As writers, we’re often so used to working on our own. When in fact the answer to getting our scripts on the screen is to seek out networks.

Meet other more experienced writers at networking events. Make genuine connections and hang around where producers who work at the BBC spend their time: that means going to London or Manchester.

And start by giving more than you take. Offer critiques of other scripts and be vocal on social media about the shows you love and hate. What can you learn from them? Then start to ask for some feedback on your own work.

How to pitch an idea to the BBC: step outside your comfort zone

To be successful at pitching an idea to the BBC you need to step outside the familiar. Write interesting takes and unusual characters from different perspectives to stand out when pitching your scripts to the BBC.

And get out of your usual routine. If you write at home, go to a coffee shop and start a conversation with a stranger. Find out where BBC commissioning editors and other writers hang out and make genuine connections.

Then polish your script and keep at it. If your first script doesn’t get greenlit put it to one side and get writing on the next one straight away.

If you’re thinking about pitching to the BBC then be sure to download Arc Studio Pro to make sure your scripts are professionally formatted and ready to submit.


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How to Pitch to the BBC
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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