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How To Write A TV Series Bible That Sells Your Pilot

What Is A ‘TV Series Bible’?

A TV Series Bible refers to the treatment, or  pitch document that accompanies a spec TV pilot when it goes out on submission.

Since there are spec TV pilot scripts flying all over the place, your bible needs to “stand out” from the rest of ’em. But how?

Well, for me, that’s a no-brainer … You write the PERFECT spec TV series bible and hook the reader!

Sadly, I’d venture a whacking 95% of spec pilots are let down by their accompanying TV series bible. In the course of this post, I will break down what you need to include in your bible to help sell your TV pilot.

So, let’s go …
Why Your TV Series Bible Isn’t Working For Your Pilot:

1) It’s boring!

Well, first off, a lot of the TV series Bibles I see are just really dull. To look at; to read – YAWN. A series bible is another chance to really SELL your script and your story and 9/10 writers forget this. They might spend a lot of time on them, they might skirt around them – the end result is the same.

2) And It’s Too Long! 

Most series bibles I see are TOO LONG – ten, fifteen, even twenty plus pages. They’ll start off with a lengthy synopsis usually, maybe a page each for character profiles, a lengthy note on background of the story, why the writer has chosen this story to tell… STOP RIGHT THERE!

It should be remembered: readers don’t usually get paid extra to read your TV series bible. That means, however good your series bible, there’s a very good chance the Reader will simply skim over it. So, if you can’t GRAB them, let them know IMMEDIATELY what

  • a) this is about
  • b) who the characters are and
  • c) why this is a series (and not say, a feature)

then you’ve just missed your chance, big style!

Just two issues … But they’re big enough to make soooooo many series bibles fail. Simple as.

Essential in Your TV Series Bible

1) A one page pitch 

No one is afraid of just one page – and even if an overworked reader is having a bad day, then there still should be a good chance of them reading at least THIS page! (For more info on one page pitches, click HERE and for to download a 1 Page Pitch Ref Guide click HERE). Make sure your logline is clear and interesting and NOT a tagline (don’t know the difference? Then click HERE). FYI, a one page pitch for a series bible should be for the series AS A WHOLE, not the scripted episode you have included with the bible.

2) Very short character bios

Most character profiles I read are about a page long and usually make little sense, either because they are a stream of consciousness or because the writer references moments “to come” in the series that seem completely disjointed because they haven’t happened yet (a classic case of a story being clear in the writer’s head, yet it not translating to the reader). I recommend between 2 and four lines for each MAJOR character, with just one line for MINORS.

Don’t worry too much about what these characters look like (unless it has a direct bearing on the story) and DON’T cast the characters in your head, I hear so much about it being “fine” or a “no-no” that I think it’s far better to stay clear of that ol’ hornet’s nest. Screenwriting God Tony Jordan said in a seminar I once attended years back, he also includes a “secret no one else knows” to his character bio. I used this in a series bible about a year ago to great effect, it got me the meeting and the guys really enthused about it (it’s stuck in development hell now, but you never know).

3) Very short synopses of other episodes 

I like to give myself two lines for these – one for “story of the week” and one for the “serial element”, though of course it does depend whether you’re writing a TV series, serial or sitcom. Whatever the case, keep it as short as possible.

Yes, I have seen longer synopses – recently I read a series bible with about 200 words per synopsis. This is really the longest I would recommend. The writer in question got away with it because they managed to make the events REALLY INTERESTING with lots of great action words and questions asked of the reader. If you believe you can do that too, be my guest.

4) Format 

Half a page, definitely no more than one page, detailing how the series works. That is, if it has a story of the week, how the story of the week works, who the returning characters are, how the series ends and how it moves on to series two, intended channel, intended slot, etc etc. This is important when you’re submitting to production companies because the development process is long and involves lots of people.

If they option your script and you’ve given them a page with the word Format at the top, in my experience, the “format document” becomes part of the contract. That way you will have ensured you retain the format rights – the “created by” credit. Which is of course extremely important when it comes to getting paid.

So… What do you have in your bible?

  • 1 page pitch x 1
  • Character profiles for ALL character x 1
  • Short synopses of ALL other episodes x 1
  • Format x 1

So, four pages plus your episode: those four pages are your CORE material really, what you absolutely can’t do without. I think there’s no problem going up to five pages (as long as your pitch is ONLY one page) – but I wouldn’t recommend eking anything out simply to fill the space. Here are some interesting ideas I’ve seen or talked about with other writers as “optional” for the series bible.


You may also like to know that just like words such as “outline”, “treatment” and “synopsis”, “TV series bible” are all under dispute AS WELL.

Sometimes what I describe here gets called a TREATMENT or EXTENDED PITCH. You will note TV writer Sally Abbott (The Coroner, Casualty, Eastenders) says similar in the comments section of this post.

Something to bear in mind if you’re pitching a specific producer or show – as I always say, it’s worth ASKING what the other person means so you’re all on the same page.


Optional in your TV Series Bible:

i) A letter/diary entry/interview with the protagonist and/or antagonist

Everyone knows getting under the skin of characters in pitch material is difficult. Writing something from their POV then is a great way of getting your reader on board – as long as this letter/diary entry/whatever TOTALLY ROCKS. If you skimp on it, it could have the opposite effect.

ii) Photographs and/or concept art

If your series is set during a particular event, is historical or is set in the future, then it can be useful to include some photos or pictures in your pitch material to show the arena (or “nail down” lesser known elements!). The only caveat I would offer is don’t go overboard with this device. We don’t want photos and piccies all over the place and I wouldn’t reccomend using piccies, even drawn ones, of characters because of that “casting” issue mentioned earlier in this post.

iii) Setting/Tone or Arena

A few short paragraphs about the WORLD OF THE STORY is always a good idea, though not a necessity in my book. After all, the setting and tone should form part of your one page pitch. But if you want to expand on what you mention on that first page, there’s no reason you can’t – especially in science fiction or historical worlds. [Very often on the same page with “Location”, below].

iv) Location

Location may play a big part of your story and even be a character in its own right, like the Hub in Torchwood or if it’s regional and outside London, like Hollyoaks. Remember not everyone will know what the hell you’re talking about, especially if they’ve never been to the location your series is set, so a few short paras about these elements and how they play a part in the story may help here.

v) Maps

Spec precinct dramas can really benefit from this. A precinct drama is when  the “place” is bigger than the characters, who may be replaced at will (like in soap opera). A small map of where the main action takes place can help readers hook into where the events are taking place and why. I wouldn’t make the map too ornate or fancy. It can be risky as some readers are critical of visual aids.

vi) Ethos

This is essentially WHY you want to tell this story and HOW audiences can benefit from it. I’ve read some very plausible, moving arguments *for* particular stories … Other times they’ve left me indifferent or even turned my stomach. Getting this one right is really difficult. When it works however, you can’t beat it. Again: just a couple of paragraphs maximum should do it.

Final Points about the Series Bible

Of course, as individuals you may come up with something else for your “optional” material – and why not?

Just remember – there are no “rules” on what you SHOULD include in a series bible. Just don’t be boring or too long!!

Want MORE Help for Your TV Series Bible or Pilot?

Check out the INFOGRAPHIC VERSION of this post 

9 Steps To Getting Your Spec TV Pilot Written, Edited & Sent Out

Spec TV Pilot Plot Construction: Your “Story Of The Week” Vs Its “Serial Element”

Interview with Regina Moriarty, screenwriter of MURDERED BY MY BOYFRIEND

5 Things I Learned From DOC MARTIN Screenwriter Julian Unthank

Interview with Vinay Patel, screenwriter of MURDERED BY MY FATHER

5 Things I Learned From Showrunner & Screenwriter Roland Moore

How To Write Daytime TV Drama

5 Things I Learned From TV Story Expert John Yorke

5 Tips To Become A TV Showrunner

6 Things I Learned From Debbie Moon, Showrunner on  WOLFBLOOD

For another great post about writing TV Series Bibles (that includes a free template to download!) From, CLICK HERE.

Good Luck!

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85 thoughts on “How To Write A TV Series Bible That Sells Your Pilot”

  1. Fascinating stuff, Lucy – and well noted.

    Out of interest, do you work on these elements as you write the script, or after?

  2. Personally, I leave all those optional things out and stick to the three pages PLUS one more – the most important page of all: Format.

    Half a page, definitely no more than one page, detailing how the series works. That is, if it has a story of the week, how the story of the week works, who the returning characters are, how the series ends and how it moves on to series two, intended channel, intended slot, etc etc.

    This is important when you're submitting to production companies because the development process is long and involves lots of people. If they option your script and you've given them a page with the word Format at the top, in my experience, the "format document" becomes part of the contract.

    That way you will have ensured you retain the format rights – the "created by" credit. Which is of course extremely important when it comes to getting paid!

  3. An excellent post; definately one of the best I've read in a long while!

    Thanks so much for the insight! I've never properly tackled a bible but know I need to. It was the size that scared me and I now see it doesn't have to be that long! Bible-writing, here we come!

  4. No problemo guys…

    Michelle – d'oh!!! CANNOT BELIEVE I left that one out, I'm officially a muppet. OF COURSE Format goes in, it's absolutely essential. So it's FOUR pages, not three. Have updated accordingly.

    Jonathan – I think it depends; I wrote my series bible for KINGS OF THE CASTLE before I wrote the pilot episode, but I know of plenty of writers who do it the other way round… I think it depends on your working method and as long as it's conceived as a series from the off, that should be okay.

  5. Fine post Lucy and great addition from Michelle. definitely something that's been doing my head in for a while as could never seem to settle on a document I was happy with. So this has been invaluable help, thank you!

  6. Welcome guys.

    Antonia – yes I did. Way I see it, they can always ignore it or just read the pitch doc. I actually was in the process of updating my script and bible for KINGS OF THE CASTLE with an added supernatural element when I heard about the CBBC call; I'd had feedback from a couple of prodcos that a ghost or two in the castle itself might be fun, so thought I'd see if I could make any headway with this idea. I ended up re-titling it and re-focusing the story and since it got a second read, I think it might have worked, made the concept a bit "fresher" perhaps? Without feedback I can't know for sure of course, so will send it out to a few peeps, see what they say.

  7. Excellent stuff, Lucy. The thought of tackling The Bible scares me a bit, but I suppose it has to be done at some point. May try it with my CBBC entry, just for practise.

  8. No, fiction. I was thinking more along the lines of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or TALES FROM THE CRYPT. No recurring character, different tone and style from week to week, no real series arc.

  9. Ah, good question. I've never seen one — probably because there wouldn't be much call spec-wise, though these days sometimes Producers put together proposals for what they call "commissioning strands" in the way you describe… I've seen one or two of them. I'd say an extended proposal concentating on the "FORMAT" aspect of the series bible would probably be your best bet. Presumably a pilot to go with it would make the proposal more interesting to financiers ornother prodcos/networks etc, so perhaps a bit on the story/characters of the pilot and how it all fits together with the other episodes… End of the day, there are no hard and fast rules for pitch material like this except: 1) sell the story off the page and 2) don't be boring.

  10. Nice post, thanks Lucy.

    Do you recommend sending in a 4/5 page bible alongside your episode when submitting it?

    Also, I like to write a highly detailed, lengthy bible for my own purposes in addition. And from this big behemoth, I write a much smaller, more condensed copy.

  11. Hi Ashley,

    Absolutely – send your Bible with your submission, that's what it's for! It won't always get read of course (readers don't get paid for them), but a good reader will at LEAST flick thru them. It's REALLY REALLY important to have a good logline and to lay them out well, so someone not connected to the material can see what it is, even skimming.

  12. Hi Lucy, thanks for this great information!

    I've already pitched a network, based on a pilot we already produced and broadcast elsewhere, for an ongoing non-fiction documentary series. They liked the pitch and want to see more.

    The prospective network would like me to write up 4 shows, each in a new location with new subjects but the same host, and I would love your advice on what format I should use.


  13. Hi Ina, sorry I missed your comment donkey's ago – hopefully you've set up an alert on this post and will see it at some point…

    I think the advice I would offer for your non-fiction show would be the same as I gave Karl: big up the format of the show and its episode "storylines", the "how it will work" bit. I should mention non-fiction is not my area though and sorry this is so late.

  14. Hi Lucy, this is really great information. I am writing a pitch for a documentary series for tv. Are there any specific tips of the trade you would suggest for me adhere to?
    Many thanks.

    1. Wouldn’t like to say for definite, Karina ‘cos I’ve never done it myself. I would imagine having the *sorts* of thing a fictional TV Bible has but making them non-fiction would help – so instead of your logline and pitch giving an overview of the story, making them about the content, etc. You may be interested in the London Documentary Summit which is running soon I believe. Google for info x

  15. Great advice, Lucy, thanks. I’d say that in the pitch page (which I agree is the most crucial page of a bible) try to use just one adjective when talking about each character. The reader needs something to go on, but restricting yourself to just one adjective will sharpen the character in your mind and it won’t hold up the flow on the all-important pitch page.Obviously you can have the longer chr descriptions later in the document, like you say.

  16. Lucy,

    I love your post. Very informative, but what about a reality game show? I have an idea for one and some of the agencies I’ve been looking at are requesting a Reality Bible rather than a script. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Mike, glad it’s of use. I’ve never seen a Reality Series Bible I’m afraid, but I would imagine it’s a case of doing something similar to here – a pitch, some notes on the format of the show, how contestants would be picked/eliminated etc, how it could “translate” to other platforms like the web, that kind of thing. I would recommend looking at reality shows like yours for inspiration. Hope that helps!

  17. Does your section regarding the “Format Page” only apply to treatments for UK productions? Would that also apply for treatments for US productions?

  18. People might be writing them rather lengthy because of what you find when you google “series bible” Galatica’s is 50 some odd pages. The batman series has a 152 page document as it’s series bible. Are these documents so lengthy because they are actually shooting rather than still in spec stage??

    1. Hi JH, yes I suspect it’s because they’ve been commissioned, rather than spec. If something is speculative, it’s nearly ALWAYS better to err on the shortest side possible when it comes to page count, whether series bible, treatment or actual screenplay.

  19. Series bibles are often altered or written after the shows been greenlit as guides to other creative participants, not least the writers. The details and length need (yes needed) are to keep the show on track, a difficult and arduous task for the showrunner. A pitch document for a series is not really the bible but you’ better have a detailed bible up your sleeve if they’re interested. The truly creative people in tv series writing and producing want that kind of bible because they need to see into the future a fair bit. So I’m kind of wary of dumping on previously written bibles for that reason.

  20. Lucy, this is was very well done, and extremely helpful. I’m in the process of developing a series and wanted to make sure that things hadn’t changed since I was in development. Glad to see that the format is basically the same. Thanks a million, kiddo!

  21. WEll, I just got a “bite” on a vamp story I wrote, and of course they asked about a TV series BIBLE. So here I am taking notes! Some of the bibles you see out there — Falling Skies for instance, are crazy lone (Falling Skies is over 60 pages long!) Spielberg is producing that Falling Skies so maybe a detailed Bible was requested/ needed? (Love the show btw)
    But for a spec TV series I agree a short 4-5 pages should be enough to get interest, if it’s the right project told well. This post was very helpful and will definitely give me a structure to follow. Thank you!

  22. Im wondering, how do you pitch a TV show if one doesn’t want to be the writer for it? Meaning, I JUST want the “created by” title. I can pretty much write every aspect of the bible with the exception of the pilot episode or is that just unheard of?

    1. As I understand it, “Created by” comes from a writer selling the idea, but getting moved off their own project and someone rewriting it, though I could be wrong. If you don’t want to write the script at all from the offset, you’re probably best off advertising on social media and screenwriting bulletins and forums for a co-writer.

  23. I’m going to say I disagree about length here… I think these are more pitch documents. A series bible needs to be more exhaustive and detailed so other writers can pick it up, read it and “get it”. Sure, they’ll get rewritten and refined but my current one (3rd draft and the one that’s been sent out) is 24 pages long – covering overview, character biogs including the police questions for the 2 leads, blurb on the location, tone, format, golden rule, background info on the main job of the lead, script restrictions, possible worlds and possible story ideas. And two photographs. Bibles have to be a good read too. They’re no good if they’re dry. In my mind they’re there to inspire other writers and the production team and give a clear vision for the show. A short document may be useful for readers but not necessarily for making a show. Just my two penny worth. Xxx

  24. Hey there, this is good stuff! I would also add that in your pitch or somewhere in the show bible you could put in opportunities for product placement. Execs love to make money, and if your show has lots of opportunities for that?? You definitely raise your chances of them liking your idea.

  25. Interesting article. I have a completed feature screenplay, and believe that my characters have enough going for them to carry a series.

  26. Hi Lucy,

    Thanks so much for this. I went to the two main writing schools in Australia, and they told me a load of garbage. Also, there’s a lot of confusion on the net about this topic.

    So I ended up wasting a year trying to follow the format of Battlestar Galactica for my spec TV series because a teacher swore that it was the best example and that a long bible was required for a spec TV series. My series is nothing like Battlestar Galactica and it’s a nightmare trying to discern a logical format in that series bible that would fit all series’.

    BTW, your article here suggests a good tip for finding valuable info on the net or anywhere: if you can understand the info instantly, the instructor probably knows exactly what they are talking about. If you are confused, then the instructor probably has no clue. So keep looking until you find clear info that makes distinctions such as spec bible vs commissioned bible.

    Anyway, thanks again. You’re a life saver.

  27. Hi Lucy,

    This is an incredible post. I have written a novel I am looking into getting published and turned into a TV series. Its a bit ambitious but the story is something I feel should be heard more.

    This has been a huge help, thank you.


  28. Thanks for this Lucy.

    On a whim, I wrote a children’s TV pilot last year for the BBC’s Writersrooom Script Room. It is the first ever idea I have ever written for TV. I think I had less than a week to come up with the idea and submit it. I saw it as an excuse to challenge myself to writing to a deadline rather than as a serious submission. I barely had time to read through the draft before submission. As for the accompanying series outline – I had no idea what was involved, so gave some last minute thoughts as a token gesture. Unsurprisingly I never head back from them.

    The idea for the series though has played on my mind for the last year and I have been keen to develop it further. Last night I read the pilot episode again and was surprised to find how enjoyable it was. For a first draft it was very well written and genuinely thought it had potential. It was the ‘series outline’ that really let the submission down. I had no time left and no idea what this document entailed.

    So thank you very much for your helpful advice above, as I am now going to attempt to develop this project further – then who knows what may happen?

  29. Thank you for the information. It was very informative as I’m just getting started on a bible and it kept me making a huge mistake with starting out with an indepth bible.

    What also caught my attention was this from the article:
    “Screenwriting God Tony Jordan said in a seminar I once attended years back, he also includes a “secret no one else knows” to his character bio. I used this in a series bible about a year ago to great effect, it got me the meeting and the guys really enthused about it”

    Did I not see the “secret” in the article or can you pass it along?

    Thanks again for the help.

    1. Glad it helped, Ken. I didn’t say what the “secret” was, cos I can’t remember to be honest!!! I meant it as a format-thing, so include “the secret no one knows” in your character bios. Hope that’s clearer 🙂

  30. I do both the long and short versions of the bible. In my experience, there are some producers that might want a certain number of pages and there are others who really do not care. I prepare for both. The key is to clearly communicate your story in an interesting way.

  31. Hi Lucy – just to clarify re: the logline, mentioned a few times here. Do you mean a logline for the series or the logline of the pilot? I’ve tackled the latter, but haven’t seen examples of one for an entire series.

    1. Hi Lashonda, is that a reality TV show? If so, I’d imagine you would need an in-depth pitch doc of some kind *like* a bible, yes.

  32. Lucy,

    Thanks for the article. It was one of the only ones on this I found instructive.

    For the episode synopsis section of the bible, how many episodes is it customary to outline? Is it really all of them (potentially over a hundred)? Should these episodes span the entire series, or just the first season?

    1. Hi Mason, you’re welcome. First season is probably best. If you’re in the UK, this would be say, 6-8 episodes, but only very short loglines.

  33. Thank you for this, there is a lot of good information here. I’m a playwright who is venturing into tv and film writing. Plus I’m in grad school for writing for the screen and stage. I just finished my first pilot and I’m working on the bible as well. My professor told me that when it comes to writing the bible, it might be a good idea to write both the bible and the pilot simultaneously. That’s what I did, I went back and forth until I finished the pilot, now I have to finish the bible. I just wanted to note that you write this eight years ago and there still isn’t much information about how to write a series bible. Your page is still the first in my google results. Anyway, great job, this helps me. I was one of those stream of consciousness bible writers. This helped me organize it better.

  34. Great article Lucy

    Under Optional you wrote about a PO of your main character.

    I read Max Landis’ bible for Dirk Gently and he used this for his opening pages and throughout. Exceedingly well.

    Where would you suggest placement of this if you’re not Max Landis.

    I wrote a small POV blurb which would lead the reader directly into the bible. Short and simple.

    But curious if it should be the lead-in.


    1. Hi Sean, great question. Not sure I would make it the lead in like that if it’s a spec and you’re not Max Landis – think I would put it at the back, after the ‘normal’ stuff. That said, if you can do an awesome job, why not!! But it would be a calculated risk I think.

      1. Thank Lucy

        Sage advice, because it’s more of an option (your word) anyway.

        If you give the impression you’re using tricks to help sell the bible, that’s starting out on the wrong foot.

        Thanks again.

  35. Hello, the article is very clever and useful, but after looking around the web I’ve found only very long bibles (more than 30 pages) where authors talk about themes, impressions, values and a lot of other stuff… I’m pretty confused! What should I do? Being short or spending words over words? There’s an example of short bible?

    1. They are long bibles because they are from commissioned (produced) shows. Spec bibles should be short and to the point because frankly it will be difficult to get prodcos etc to read them (script readers don’t get paid extra to read accompanying material). It’s hard to find spec series bibles, but if you join a writers’ group like Bang2writers you may be able to do peer review with someone who will swap theirs with you.

      1. Short and sweet.

        Just think: when no one knows you you have to get in early and make an impression.
        The amount of time that readers actually have is limited compared to a 20 page bible looking on their desk.

        Impact them with a short version and they’ll ask for the longer version.

        It’s not personal, they just know better.

        1. Of course it makes sense, and personally I’m more synthetic than wordy, so it’s good, I think… But a part of me would like to spend an extra space to describe the mood, the thought behind the story etc… But I guess that if a story is strong enough, it will speak by itself without explanations, I’m a wrong?

          PS for Lucy: when you talk about 4 lines, you mean the standard 60 types for line?

          1. Do you mean the four lines in the script? For describing action? If that’s the question then it’s four sentences max.

            If that’s what you mean.

          2. Ops, sorry, I miss the point.
            I was referring about Characters description, which are thought to be no more longer than 2/4 lines, which is very very short to me, considered that in the standard format each lines have 60 types (with spaces), so that’s my question.

            (sorry Sean, I can’t reply under your post and I dunno why)

            1. Hi fellas. Yes very short character bios are best because readers don’t *know* your characters like writers do, so epic character studies are pretty dull to read to be honest. Characters are what they DO in the story, after all

            2. That’s ok

              That’s my fault for forgetting to hit “allow reply” I think

              Or something.

              And thanks for clarifying.

    2. Hello, Lucy V.

      I’d like to say that your guide to writing a short and brief TV bible has been very helpful for me. However, I do have one question. If a character section should remain on one page, what would you suggest if a project has a larger cast (i.e. 20-30 characters)?

      Thanks for your time and wonderful articles.

      1. Hi Mark R, glad it’s useful. It’s extremely unlikely you’d need 20-30 characters in your T.V. series.most ensembles are in the region of 6-8 characters (incl protag and antag). You may want to reference ‘antagonists of the week’ or important ally characters taking us to about 10-12. Any others would be peripheral and don’t need mentioning in the bible.

    3. Your description is so helpful I was feeling overwhelmed by writing a treatment I pretty much finished the script but didn’t how to do a treatment
      Thank you Thank you
      You made it manageable

    4. I printed off this information for later, when I clean up my bible to show others. Brilliant post and lots of great information.

      I love the Facebook group and the YouTube videos.

      Thanks for creating them.

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