Friday, January 07, 2011

5 Quick and Dirty Steps to Write a Bible for a New Television Program in 4 days!

5 Quick and Dirty Steps to Write a Bible for a New Television Program in 4 days

By Natasha E. Williams

What is a Television Series Bible? A series bible is essentially an overview of the proposed series. It should cover the main characters that are followed weekly, thematic issues, story and character arcs and setting. It provides the development executive with important information and gives him/her an idea of the cohesiveness of the series over a long period of time. Basically, it provides insight as to whether or not the show has legs and sustainability. If it doesn’t, it’ll probably be better off as a Television movie or Feature Film.

These steps can also be used as a brainstorming technique to develop a television series before you write the bible.

Here are the steps:


To have better success, ensure you have an interesting and unique concept that we haven’t seen before or that has some special twist that makes it interesting since there really are no new ideas under the sun, just your fresh and creative take on old concepts.

Remember to be creative, leave out boring details, make it interesting and have fun.

Day One

1. Think of a compelling title.

2. Write the concept of your series in two paragraphs. Make it as interesting and entertaining as possible. Leave off unimportant details. This helps you to think of the core elements of your idea and get right to the point and heart of it.

Day Two

3. Describe the story world where your series takes place.

4. Write short, descriptive bios of your continuing characters. Include who they are, what they want and define their relationships with the other characters.

Day Three

5. Create at least six sample episodic stories that will be told in the series. Include the challenges that the characters will face each week. Put only a few sentences in a paragraph. Be sure to include beginnings, middles and ends for each episode. Tip: The conflict or tension should be apparent because that’s what makes the story interesting. Note: If you have trouble coming up with at least six great ideas for future episodes, your show idea is probably better off being a television movie or feature film.

Day Four


Reread what you wrote. Remember to do the spelling and grammar checks. Use action verbs. Make sure everything is in the present tense. Last but not least, make sure it’s interesting and unique...something we haven’t seen before. 

If you follow these steps, you'll have a draft bible in as little as 4 days!  If you get stuck on any step, write what you can think of at the time and then go back to it later.  Don't let one bottleneck stop or slow down the process.  You may spend another week or two perfecting what you've come up with.  It's always good to take a couple of days off and come back to it because you may get fresh insight or see mistakes you made along the way.  Take your time to get it right because you'll only have one chance to make a first impression.

Once you have a decent and interesting bible, you can move on to writing the pilot episode.

Quick notes regarding the Television Pilot

A "television pilot", also known as a pilot episode and series premiere, is the first episode of a television series. At the time of its inception, the pilot is meant to be the "testing ground" to see if a series will be possibly desired and successful and therefore a test episode of an intended television series. It is an early step in the development of a television series. Networks use pilots to discover whether an entertaining concept can be successfully realized. After seeing this sample of the proposed product, networks will then determine whether the expense of additional episodes is justified. They are best thought of as prototypes of the show that is to follow, because elements often change from pilot to series. Variety estimates that only a little over a quarter of all pilots made for American television succeed to the series stage. Don’t let that discourage you. Even if your pilot episode does not spark interest in a television series development, you still can make it a spec screenplay

Speaking of spec screenplays, have you written a script that could possibly be a television series? Follow steps 1 – 4 noted in “5 Quick & Dirty Steps to Write a Bible to see. Some past and present televisions shows first d├ębuted as television movies and were later picked up as series. For example, the show Eureka was actually planned as a TV movie on the Sci Fi Channel but after seeing the movie, executives turned the story into a series. Like wise, Babylon 5 began with the pilot film The Gathering. This would go to explain too why some feature films end the way they do without any real conclusive ending. Haven’t you seen a movie and just knew the writer ended it that way either for a potential sequel to be developed, for franchise opportunities or a television series. (More about turning your spec screenplay into a franchise opportunity in an upcoming blog post). Bear in mind also that episodes can also serve as backdoor pilots to different, spin-off shows, each of which can lead to a spin-off of its own. Think Cheers, which lead to Frasier, The Cosby Show which lead to A Different World, Grey’s Anatomy lead to Private Practice and CSI which lead to other CSI’s and became a major franchise at the same time.

At any rate, a smart writer is always thinking about future possibilities and the next step. If you can leverage material you have already written, even better. It’s especially nice to put the hard work in once but reap many rewards from it.

Write right and write on!

About the Author: Natasha E. Williams has optioned and sold her projects to major Hollywood Producers and has won screenplay contests. She was featured in the book, "Crashing Hollywood", and on the development team for two, Chicken Soup for the Soul® books. She is also the 2010 winner in the Scriptapalooza TV contest in the Reality Show Category and a finalist for two other Reality Show concepts. She is also the author of, The #1 Secret to Sell Your Screenplay to Hollywood: Without an agent, even when you don’t live in LA. For more information, visit her website at and

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