Turn your non-fiction knowledge into a TV show?
First, let me motivate you. You will not have a TV show, there’s just no way. And turn a book into a TV show … ha!
I know that’s not very nice, but strangely enough, that is the first step to getting a TV show. No one knows why. Someone will tell you, it will never happen. Forget it. That’s when you know you’ve made it.
How can you turn a non-fiction idea into a TV show?
I have been asked that question many times, since I had my own TV show that ran for seven years, wrote other TV shows that aired nationwide and was nominated for an Emmy for writing another non-fiction topic.
Here’s the secret. Incredibly dumb luck.
The same kind of unbelievable dumb luck the New England Patriots have almost every year. Oh sure, they practice a lot, have great attention to detail, and put themselves in a position to win… but mostly it’s just stupendous dumb luck. Right?
You want a TV show?
Ha! Why don’t you just ask me, What does it take to get struck by lightning? Well, I suppose you could live where there are a lot of thunderstorms, learn to climb towers, and wear a giant metal hat. (Wearing a giant metal hat can also be helpful in getting on TV)
I hope you’re getting the point. I can’t guarantee that anything you do will land you a recurring role as a TV expert or get you a weekly show, but just like those super lucky Patriots and those unbelievably lucky lightning chasers you can prepare yourself to be into position to get really lucky.
For this discussion, let’s assume that you aren’t the spoiled child of some studio exec and you actually have talent. (Proven fact: No child of a studio exec has ever had any skills.)
Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for TV possibilities when your chance comes.
What’s your hook?
Having a hook is so important that we will discuss it now, and it will appear in different forms throughout the rest of this article (we’ve also covered it in the most important first step to writing a book). This is what sets you apart from anyone else with a similar story and ignites the key emotion in your viewer… CURIOSITY.
Some of the questions you have to ask to figure out your hook include:
- What sets you apart?
- What makes you interesting?
- Do you have a talent no one else has?
- Do you have a new angle on an existing topic?
- A new way of doing something in an industry that hasn’t changed in decades?
- What sets you apart from others who are knowledgable in your industry.
- Have you come across a piece of information important to so many people that it has to be heard?
- Do you have a twist to an interesting story?
- Can you entertain people when you discuss your topic?
- Are you incredibly likable?
- Is your take on your topic controversial?
Examples of hooks that might work to turn your book into a TV show
Hooks using add-on value: If you’re a great chef and you want to do a cooking show. Who cares? There are so many of those it’s impossible to stand out. But, what if your recipes cause someone to fall in love you by the third date? Or allowed you to win multiple cook-offs? Or, makes Jurassic animals spring to life. Now, you’ve got a hook.
There are hooks using more conflict. Are you controversial? Maybe you’re a banker who wants to describe the financial industry. Boring! But, what if your hook is that the banking industry is corrupt? On the verge of collapse? Or secretly makes Jurassic animals spring to life?
But, what if your non-fiction subject matter doesn’t have conflict or magical benefits.
In that case, put into action the most often used hook. Make it entertaining! Are you hilarious? Likable? Brilliant? Eye candy? (If you’re all four can I be your agent… or, will you marry me?)
Remember, the drier the subject matter, the more entertaining you’ll have to be. If you want to do a show about sand or computers you better be ready to entertain or have an audience that really loves sand.
My story as a case study of turning a book into a seven year running TV show.
I have degrees in aviation and computer software. With thousands of hours of flight time and computer software programs that sold nationwide, the obvious next career step was stand-up comic. After opening for major acts and headlining clubs I had put myself in position to get a TV show. Or so I thought. I had auditioned for major networks that were all looking for the next big thing. But, I was a comedian without a definable hook. Funny? Sure. Was I the most sarcastic? No. Was I the guy who talked about relationships? A little. Was I the guy who could do any impression? Some. Did I have one joke that just totally defined me? No. I was a comedian that could fly and airplane and write software.
I had many aviation (near death) stories and many software jokes for a book I was writing but none that transferred well to the stage. I was working on a hook. And, then…
I was told by the Comedy Works that a new network was looking to do a TV show about computers and they knew I had developed software. I immediately said No! Are you kidding me?! I’d seen computer shows. Ugh. Now, move the mouse up to the drop down box and click convert. Then, choose the file extension you want… then, throw your shoe at the TV because this is so boring. (Most computer show hosts are killed by angry mobs.)
Then I thought. Wait. I do know computers, and what if I did something fun that no one had ever done with a computer show? Which actually, is just about anything.
I wanted to connect with viewers. It had to be funny. There had to be a reason for viewers to tune-in and see what this nut was going to do every week. Inadvertently, I was creating a hook. And, hopefully, viewers would learn about the computer, too. (That had a low ranking.)
I worked on ideas to create curiosity for the show.
I would be a guy who never left his home office because he loved playing with software to the frustration of my TV wife. Yes, my computer show had a TV wife. I knew many women that were computer/video game widows and hoped they’d watch, too. Since, my TV wife always got the better of me.
Any computer hot shot guest would play a role as my neighbor, not a nerdy expert.
Every week I had a goal and something was stopping me from reaching it. The computer was my straight man and sidekick that helped me out of my dilemma.
Every show started and ended with stand-up jokes.
I responded to e-mails and turned each answer into a comedy short.
My wardrobe included bizarre, colorful shirts just to make anyone watch my show for just a minute, hopefully long enough to get hooked. I threw the kitchen sink at the show, as well as the hot tub and swimming pool.
The logline for the show was, “Home Computing is a “SitComp (Situation Computer Show) about a man, a woman, and his love… for software.” It was concise, you knew what it was about, and you could see that there could be some conflict. I give everyone involved at the network and producers a lot of credit for giving the green light to those ideas. There were a lot of blank stares, at first.
Even if you’re surprised that anybody watched my show. That’s okay.
Your show won’t please everybody either. But, it did run for seven years and allowed me to make other shows.
Whether you accidentally tuned in or read about the show it did make you curious. That’s why people flip on a show and why they watch the entire show. They’re curious to see what happens next. For example: If you knew the final score before the football game, you wouldn’t watch. If Indiana Jones told the audience that all the bad guys would melt in the last scene you wouldn’t watch. (I would just forward to that scene actually)
Get them curious and keep them curious. This article is a pretty good example. You probably wondered if the article would actually tell you how to get a TV show. Would it apply to you? Have I heard this advice before? And, here you are Mr. or Mrs. Curiosity.
The second you’ve satisfied curiosity, your audience will move on. This applies to those watching the show as well as to those you pitch the show to.
There’s another reason why someone might watch your show. It is…
Generally, when it comes to using our time we are all selfish.
I’ll watch your show, but what’s in it for me TV boy? Have you ever watched anything to be nice to the creator? Nope. Heck, you skip 90% of your friends Facebook posts, don’t you?
Wow, you are selfish. Me, too!
Here are other reasons someone might watch your ‘book into a TV show’ program.
Some people don’t want to be left behind. They want to be up-to-date and know the latest information. If you can make them smart, in a smart way, you’re on the right track.
They want to solve their problems. Imagine all the problems your average person has. I have 172 problems as of last count. Now, suddenly, I turn on your show and some are solved? That’s DVR material right there.
Some viewers want to feel like they’re the insider. They know the inside scoop on celebrities, science, politicians, and sports.
Then, there’s the super-selfish, big daddy of them all. Can you show them how to be rich, famous, attractive, talented or special in any way. DING! DING! DING! Selfish Nirvana!
And, can each individual TV show appearance or TV show episode make the audience want to share it immediately.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME TV?
Okay, let me try to prepare you for when your chance comes. (It will come) When a producer calls and says: I read your book, heard about you, saw your presentation or got your 811 e-mails about your ground-breaking knowledge and we’d love to get you on our show… that’s the playoff game or lightning strike you’ve been preparing for.
So, let me give you a few tips
YOU TIMES 10
Have you heard to just, “be yourself,” when you go on TV?
Does that mean me, in my jammies, watching Twilight Zone?
No one on TV is themselves!
Imagine living with some of the people you’ve seen on TV shows, cable shows or reality shows. Yuck!
I’ve known personally every one of the following and not one; game show host, cable host, cable guest, anchor woman, comedian, or reality star acts like that in person. Who would be their friends? In all cases, they are people who are living their life just like you are, but their job is just being a bigger version of themselves on TV. It’s them times 10. They are more confident, more aware, more verbal, more connected, more fun, and more prepared than they are in person.
Also, this is not the time to start doubting that you know what you’re talking about. You look that TV camera right in the eye and you tell them what you know without a shred of doubt. Even, if you suddenly doubt what you’re saying, make your case like, “If this isn’t true, you can have my second and third born child. No one wants to give up their first child, they’re the best one.” (Hint: I was a first born.)
Have fun! This is secretly what you’ve been waiting for. You can straighten out all the knuckleheads who don’t know what they’re talking about. If your subject makes it politically incorrect to be fun on camera then be heartfelt even more than you would normally.
ODD’S & ENDS
If you are odd, your TV appearances may never end, particularly if you have something to say. At this point in our society you’re more likely to get on TV if you behave like, “The Riddler,” from Batman. Do you have a suit with question marks all over it? Or that metal cap I mentioned earlier? Wear it! Be as visual as you can be. You’re on TV!
If you’re super handsome or beautiful and you’re smart… good golly I hate your guts. Hold on a moment while I pray for your death. Only joking, and it’s completely unfair, but you could be made for the tube. And, I will be the first one to stare all blinkey-eyed into the television, believe anything you say, and dream of our lives together. (This is where stalkers come from.)
Practice on YouTube and try to find your persona that can transfer to the small screen. You might find out that a lot of people want to hear what you have to say. But, say it better and bigger than anyone else.
Contact producers, agents, managers, and promote yourself.
Become an expert that news stations go to when they need information and for a while do it for free. Believe me, eventually, they will say, do you want to come on our show, we’ve completely run out of ideas and we thought of you.
If you get an idea for a spot on a show or a weekly show, write out an outline and try to find someone to listen.
Write a Book and follow all the same rules as above. Get people curious in your book and keep them curious as they read. This could be your calling card. This book is what can set you apart.
One, you will have the credibility of having written a book. It allows producers to see what you stand for or what your story is.
So, I hope you’ve gotten a little peek into what it takes to turn your non-fiction topic into TV gold. But, I have to be honest, you’ll never have a TV show. No way.
Written by Tim Testa, Book Launchers Writing Coach, recovering comedian, and Home Computing Celebrity.