TV pilots are the initial episodes of programs that give a network an idea of the characters and the direction of a show. Hundreds of pilots are shot every year with only a small potion actually being made into TV shows. These are the most common ways creators get funding for their projected pilots.
Some creators will shop their ideas around to various channels in the hope of gaining interest in their projects. At other times, creators already at a network will pitch show from the inside. If a network is interested, it might order a pilot. Syfy, for example, has dozens of shows in development right now. If the channel decides to move forward with any of these projects, the channel will pay for the pilot to be shot and will base the future of the show on how the pilot comes out.
Sometimes, creators of a show will already have access to funding and will pay for a pilot to be shot before being ordered by a network. In circumstances like this, the creators will shop the pilot around instead of the idea. Mark Burnett, for example, has enough money to back a pilot if he comes up with a new idea for a reality show. The Hollywood Ghost Hunters is a group of horror stars and behind-the-scenes workers who shot a pilot themselves for a reality show that would follow their paranormal investigation team.
As a business consultant, I have helped creators get in touch with private investors in the past. Some investors look for an interesting project to fund in exchange for equity in the future of the property. All of the funding could come from one backer or from multiple backers who start a conglomeration to back the pilot. Usually, the goal of the investors is to be bought out by a network if the show becomes successful.
Sites like Kickstarter have opened up a new avenue for funding a TV pilot. People can place information about a project online and have people from all over the world donate in an attempt to get the project up and running. Special messages from the creators, copies of the pilot, or walk-on roles can all be offered for donations. Zenescope Entertainment recently gained funding online for a pilot to be created for an animated version of their Grimm Fairy Tales comic book.
These are the most common ways TV pilots are funded. Channel-ordered pilots have the highest chance of acceptance since the network would have at least a portion of creative control, therefore gearing the show toward the needs of the network and viewers. Pilots funded by successful creators also have a strong chance of being picked up. Private and public funding are both newer techniques (last decade) that have not been tested enough yet by time to see if they will make a significant impact on the market.
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