Thriving in Comedy: Crafting and Pitching TV Series with Impact

Conversation with Screenwriter Hollis Rich on Challenges of Creating Successful Comedies, Building Industry Relationships, and Pitching on Zoom

by Carole Dean

In the dynamic world of television production, crafting and pitching a comedy series requires more than just a good script. It demands a unique blend of creativity, strategy, and personal connection to captivate audiences and secure funding.

Hollis Rich has been able to combine all of that and carve out a successful career as a television writer and producer that spans both half hour comedy and hour drama.  Her shows include Doogie Hauser MD, Grace Under Fire, Picket Fences, and Party of Five. She co-created and co-executive produced the critically acclaimed series State of Grace which earned two Humanas nominations and four Jewish Image Awards for its humorous, authentic depiction of two girls of different faiths.

I was fortunate to have her as a guest on The Art of Film Funding Podcast.  In my interview with her, this acclaimed filmmaker shares her expertise on writing comedy and navigating the competitive landscape of TV funding pitches.

Comedy and Pathos: A Winning Combination

Hollis explains her approach to writing comedy intertwined with pathos.

“My whole thing is to replicate life as closely as possible because I feel that is how audiences connect with character and story,” she says. “It really is replicating how life feels, which is comedy and pathos.”

“It really is that tension between the two in a scene or tonally throughout a series that I feel makes it all more powerful,” she explains. “Because you’re dealing with real issues, and to have comedy in that context hits a chord with audiences and makes the comedy actually funnier.”

“In a comedy, when you have pathos, it also can be unexpected,” she explains. “And if it’s done right, it doesn’t just feel clunky, like a sentimental, overly sweet moment. It feels real. And yet the surprise of both keeps the audience alert and interested also.”

Focusing on Representation: Disabled Leads in Comedy

One of Rich’s recent focuses has been on developing two half-hour comedies featuring disabled leads. She was inspired by Jim Le Brecht, a filmmaker a wheelchair user and advocate for the disabled community. Jim co-directed the Academy Award nominated documentary Crip Camp.  Witnessing the insider humor of the disabled community sparked her interest in creating comedies with disabled leads.

She acknowledges the challenges of representing disability in mainstream media but believes that it’s a barrier worth breaking. “It’s just another barrier to break,” she says.

Hollis emphasizes the importance of portraying disabled characters realistically and humorously. “I tend to depict these people as just people who happen to be disabled,” she explains. “The humor is about their lives; it really is character humor and character-based humor that comes out of the stories and just their point of view.”

Embracing Challenges: The Power of Thriving, Not Surviving

Hollis emphasizes the importance of embracing challenges, particularly when crafting narratives that defy convention. By portraying characters who thrive despite their handicaps, comedy can transcend mere entertainment, offering viewers a glimpse into the resilience of the human spirit.

“We tend to focus more on the sense that these are people who are not just surviving, but thriving,” she says. “It really reflects the reality of the disabled community, which is not just one block of people but a range of disabilities and abilities.”

The decision to condense the series into a half-hour format was driven by the desire to maximize impact through surprise. By challenging audience expectations with a disabled lead in a comedy setting, Hollis and Jim sought to carve out a unique space in the television landscape, echoing the groundbreaking impact of shows like “Will and Grace.”

Brevity is Key: The 10-Minute Producer’s Pitch

One of the top priorities in pitching a TV series, according to Hollis, is brevity. In today’s fast-paced industry, time is precious, and producers appreciate pitches that get straight to the point.

Hollis learned from industry veteran Mary Jane Skalski, who emphasized the importance of brevity in pitching. Instead of the typical 20-minute pitch for a half-hour show, Hollis and her team have condensed their pitch to around 13 minutes, dubbing it the “10-Minute Producer’s Pitch.”

“We’ve paired it down to the basics,” Hollis explains. “It’s about telling the producers the budget, how it films, where it films, what’s going to happen, and who the main characters are.” The key, she says, is to keep it simple yet engaging. By adding humor and dialogue to the pitch, they ensure that the information is conveyed in an entertaining and memorable way.

It’s Ok to be Nervous, But be Passionate

“In doing that kind of pitch,” she explains, “you need to embellish, especially with a comedy, have some humor in there, and just the way you actually convey the information should be in a humorous tone.”

“And we also find we get a lot of mileage out of the short synopsis of the pilot, which people really respond to, because we really make it very dynamic and include some dialogue and have some dramatic moments and some very funny moments.”

“I mean, everybody’s a little nervous, but it’s fine to say that you’re nervous. It’s important. They really want to see you being passionate. Being nervous does not bother them, you’re not an actor. You’re not going to be on stage. You’re not going to be on camera acting this out, but they want to see your passion and commitment to it, which is important to convey.”

Scripted Versus Improvised: Finding the Right Balance

When it comes to delivering the pitch, having a well-rehearsed script is essential. While Hollis admits she used to be able to memorize pitches, she now relies on a script, especially when pitching via Zoom.

“Jim and I pitch it together, so we absolutely have a script that we have practiced,” she says. While Jim generally sticks to the script, Hollis might add her own improvisational flair, connecting with buyers through the camera.

Pitching on Zoom presents its own challenges, as reading body language and gauging audience reactions can be more difficult. However, Hollis emphasizes the importance of connecting with buyers, even in a virtual setting.

“It’s as if you’re continuing the conversation,” she says, “which puts everyone at ease.”

Engaging the Audience: Creating a Conversational Atmosphere

One of Hollis’s key insights is the importance of engaging the audience during the pitch. “They’re not just committing to your show and your ideas,” she explains. “They’re committing to you.” By creating a conversational, relaxed atmosphere, Hollis ensures that buyers feel comfortable and interested in the project.

Hollis encourages participation from buyers, leaving room for questions and comments throughout the pitch. “They want to know that you can do your part,” she says, “which includes being open to input from them.”

By demonstrating flexibility and openness to collaboration, she shows buyers that she’s not just selling a show but building a creative partnership.

Building Relationships and Making Connections

In the competitive world of television production, relationships and connections are key. She emphasizes the importance of working with respected industry professionals and leveraging existing connections to secure meetings and opportunities.

With the support of Mary Jane Skalski and Echo Lake Entertainment, Hollis and her team have been able to secure high-level meetings with industry insiders. “People know her,” Hollis says of Mary Jane, “and they know that what she brings in is good.”

By aligning themselves with reputable production companies and industry veterans, Hollis and Jim have positioned themselves for success.

Leveraging Experience: Coaching and Consultation Services

Drawing on her extensive experience in the industry, Hollis offers coaching and consultation services to aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters. By providing personalized guidance and feedback, she helps clients refine their comedic scripts and pitching strategies, empowering them to navigate the competitive landscape with confidence.

Crafting and pitching a comedy series for TV funding requires a multifaceted approach that blends creativity, strategic planning, and personal connection.

By embracing challenges, mastering the art of brevity, and fostering collaborative relationships, creators can elevate their pitches from mere presentations to compelling narratives that resonate with audiences and investors alike.


Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-The Art of Film Funding Podcastprofit that offers the Roy W. Dean Film Grants and fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers.

She is creator and instructor of Learn Producing: The Ultimate Course for Indie Film Production.  Essential classes for indie filmmakers on how to produce their films.

She hosts the weekly podcastThe Art of Film Fundinginterviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of  The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits

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