We often wonder how a TV program or series went from being a writer’s idea to being broadcast or distributed. Although it is true that fiction non-fiction programs take different paths, they do share a common point that is quite similar: the show bible. The show bible is a document that sets out the characteristics and needs of an audiovisual production, and it is an essential and key part for developing and selling entertainment programs, albeit to a lesser extent in works of fiction. In this case, we will focus on fiction series and works.
When a series is made, the key is script, script, and more script. Regardless of whether it is a series based on one or several main plots or complex subplots, or on more complex and striking characters, in the end the pilot script and subsequently the script for the full season is what convinces distributors and television channels to choose one series over another. Some production companies with a roadmap, a well-known showrunner (producer, screenwriter, and director), or financial margins produce the full first season, or at least half of the episodes for the first delivery before selling them on audiovisual markets or offering them to television channels. However, this formula is quite risky for small production companies, because, if they do not sell their works, they will lose millions of euros.
If there is a good story that is well-depicted in a good script, then the show bible starts to be created. In the phase before scriptwriting, a select number of professionals work on the project; in addition to the screenwriter(s), the director and the producer are also often there. However, almost all professional profiles and managers at the production company or television channel work on the show bible production phase: including lighting staff, cinematographers, directors of photography, all kinds of specialists, accountants, legal consultants, production staff, location scouts, etc. On many occasions show bibles for series are made post production or consist of a compilation of documents from the production process itself.
The show bible is generally used more in entertainment formats than in series and it only needs to be shown or “sold” when the goal is to adapt the series, which is quite rare. Information from the show bible can be used to make an exact replica of an audiovisual production, so series like Cuéntame cómo pasó and Los misterios de Laura had to deliver this document when the series were purchased for adaptation in the other countries.
There is no single structure for creating show bibles, and even less so for series as they are less common, although there are a few minimum requirements such as title, episode duration, number of episodes in the season, delivery format, at least the script for the first episode (the full season is always better), synopses of all the season’s episodes, character breakdown, locations, set and set design (along with all set requirements), technical needs, staff needs, colorimetry, target audience, and, generally, all the significant details of the production. The producer must prepare a transparent budget, but it is never attached to a show bible, as it determines the format fee or price for the series’ license, i.e., the sale price. In many cases, series are created on request, or when they are purchased from a script, the channels and distributors set the series’ budget and format fee beforehand. With all this information, the price, and in many cases the pilot, distributors and television channels determine whether or not to acquire the rights or license for fiction series, and that is how they finally reach our homes in different mediums.