Learn the major differences in the way you pitch a TV show vs a film
The biggest difference between pitching a movie and pitching a series is the arc of the main character or characters. For the vast majority of films, the main character is very different by the end of the story as compared to the beginning.
TV development execs want to make lots of episodes starring strong, likable characters or a fun and interesting concept. Those characters may change or grow over the course of an episode, but they shouldn’t grow too much in such a short period of time. Imagine if Naruto went from student to Hokage in just two episodes.
Feature execs want a strong, likable character that learns and grows over the course of the story. Someone they can build a franchise around and corner a specific market.
TV studios and execs don’t mind overlapping worlds nearly as much as feature execs. (How many police procedurals or family sitcoms can exist at the same time?)
But rest assured, if Pixar makes a breakdancing hats movie, then DreamWorks won’t touch hats for at least a decade.
Yet they all want to make and sell products based on those properties.
If you’re not sure whether your cartoon idea would make a better movie or TV show, ask yourself some questions:
Does my idea have more than one protagonist?
TV series that have an ensemble cast show the execs that there is potential for many episodes. This means more chances for a breakout character to emerge. Animated features tend to lean on one or two characters to carry the emotional load, in hopes that the audience connects with them.
Does my protagonist grow and change by the end of the story?
If you already have a story in mind, like an origin story that ends with the protagonist gaining power, or reuniting with a lost loved one, you most likely have a feature on your hands.
That’s not to say you can’t write and develop new episodic challenges for your hero to face though.
Are there other stories I can tell with this same character?
What I mean by that is, how strict do you want to keep the continuity?
Most animated comedy series “reset” their world for each new episode. If Headley the talking hat developed a serious rash at the end of one episode, it’ll be all cleared up by the next one.
Networks typically like the freedom to air those episodes in any order. As the digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu grow, this won’t matter as much since their audiences can pick and choose which episodes to watch in whatever order they want.
Serialized action cartoons by their nature keep track of every detail. They know their audience will cry foul if in one episode, Connie the Construction Hat was scared of spiders, but in the next, she’s flirting with one. There had better be a good reason for that!
Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu like these types of series because they’re so easy for fans to spend hours and hours binge-watching.
This points back to researching your potential buyer and knowing what they’re looking for. Don’t pitch a feature story to someone looking for a TV series, and vice versa.