How to Brainstorm TV Formats

info Oct 22, 2021
How to Brainstorm TV Formats

How to Brainstorm TV Formats? If you are in the entertainment industry, it's not surprising that you get asked, How do you brainstorm TV formats? I get asked At least once a week, maybe even more often than that, I hope the following gives you some insight to my methods.


Brainstorming TV Formats

Television is still one of the most widely consumed forms of media, but TV it's also a catch-all term; Netflix do formats, even "The Side Men" do formats, admittedly spoofs, but they have come up with a couple of good originals. Any content needs thought, but ask any youtuber for their biggest challenge, and the answer is going to be "coming up with new ideas." The lone influencer or indeed the lone "sub any creative" can't brainstorm because it is by definition a group activity. So I hope to answer two questions how to brainstorm alone and how to brainstorm...


What Makes a Good Idea?

An idea starts with a spark, that nugget of a thought, "Just 15 questions between you and a million pounds." I know that it is a retro-fitted spark, the actual spark was the simple faux exponential money tree, and the original title was "Cash Mountain." The series of Brainstorms that followed developed the sparks into ideas and then into "that" TV Show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" I have a free eBook, "How to give yourself the best chance of having an idea" get it here.

Once you've had the Spark moment, it's time to develop the idea. What makes a good idea is a tough one but needs asking during every stage of development. One person might think your idea is brilliant, while another thinks it's terrible. Finding a happy medium can be tricky, but there are some helpful guidelines you can follow to make sure you're moving in a positive direction. Here are some things that tend to help an idea along 

Know your audience: This is the single most crucial piece of knowledge you need.

Is there a home for this idea: Even if you identify your audience is there a platform to deliver your idea to them?

The Value Balance: If you identify a small niche audience but the budget needed to realise your vision is $1,000,000 per episode, you may need a rethink.

These all seem like very uncreative parameters, so it follows that the next piece of advice is...

Live in the real world: This is where creative dreaming and reality clash. But the hard fact is, a good idea is...


One that people will watch in numbers and that someone is prepared to give you the cash to make as an investment, expecting a return on that investment. A good idea makes money.


Sometimes a good idea is just a good idea and nothing more, deal with it!


How to Brainstorm Alone

Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming doesn't have to be a group effort. That being said, if you do prefer brainstorming alone, there are some key things you can do to keep your thoughts organised and productive. Some of these tips will also work in a group brainstorming session! No matter how you decide to brainstorm, whether on your own or with a team of people, here are six simple steps that will get you started creating killer ideas.

Actively sit and interrogate your spark, don't just think; this is called daydreaming, and it may produce a spark of an idea, but daydreaming does not create a pitch.

Be honest with yourself and ask yourself questions.

Have I identified the audience.

What Platform is best suited to delivering this idea to that audience.

Is this idea deliverable at the right cost? If the end game involves playing polo on elephants on the Mall in London, well....perhaps think again.

Is this idea recognisable, familiar to the audience identified? Most people understand One Line - low prize, Two Lines - medium and Full House - jackpot. They don't understand "if you answer the golden question 3 times in a row, you get a chance for the bonus question with doubles your money unless there's a W in the answer, in which case you lose 20% of your banked money.

Creator of the Muppet Show had a neon sign on his desk - KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Finally, write stuff down, post-its, Evernote, mind maps, cork boards or whiteboards; just write it down.

Make progress, set goals and tick them off; more of these ideas in my online course "From a Blank Sheet of Paper to a TV show in 12 weeks" are available here.


Best Tips for Brainstorming in a group

Try to be as inclusive as possible. Get everyone involved and encourage each member of your team or group to speak up. Don't be afraid that someone's idea won't be good—that way lies only failure! Instead, trust that everyone has a unique take on things and remember: variety is key. The more ideas, ideas and points of view you incorporate into your brainstorming sessions, the better off you will be in developing different formats for your TV series.

Edward De Bono has his 6 hats methodology; read about it here; my experience is that TV folk don't have the personal discipline to make it work!

A scribble surface is a great idea, one that everyone can see, so a whiteboard.

I like to record my sessions just because taking notes takes someone out of the session; of course, we also have our scribble board. A scribble board should be lots of single words, stick people, awful drawings, arrows and colour.

The big thing is to keep things flowing; the moment everyone stares into space and silence descends, it's time to stop.

The big thing is getting the mix of people right; I always want to be surrounded by NO people, not negative people but people who challenge ideas and make the group work validating their thoughts. A diverse group works best, age, sex, culture, ethnicity, education, vegans and meat-eaters.

If you can throw a couple of dyslexics into the mix, all the better. We are empaths, good listeners, and born lateral thinkers; just don't ask them to be the board writing person! 


To conclude

Don't think of deadlines (negative); think of milestones (a journey). Set your milestones and stick to them, so you see progress. Have fun, go for walks, visit castles, snooze in a hammock. Be rigorous in your interrogation of yourself or the group. Great ideas are fab. I just had two ideas given the greenlight, starting with the blank sheet of paper and finishing with a thing that creates income. It's brilliant. There is no better job.

Download my free guide to finding that spark of an idea.

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