Abby Greensfelder on her five steps of development

Abby Greensfelder (pictured), co-founder of Half Yard Productions, reveals the five steps that form her development process and have led to hit series over the years, such as Say Yes to the Dress and Diggers.
May 26, 2014

For every great idea that turns into a series, there are many more that don’t. But that doesn’t make the process of generating and developing those ideas any less vital for producers and programmers. Here, Abby Greensfelder (pictured), co-founder of Bethesda-based Half Yard Productions, reveals the five steps that form her development process, and that have led her and Half Yard to several hit series over the years.

In the entertainment world, we are constantly on the look-out for the next big hit or the creative take on a tried-and-true topic.

It seems like it should be easy – but it’s not. The business of development is just that – business. You have to approach it strategically and methodically to turn that grain of an idea into a show and – better yet – a hit.

I have been very fortunate in my career to be a part of several hit TV series and it has always been equal parts luck, strategy, planning and gut. People often ask me if it’s different moving from a network to a production company. The truth is that, in one respect, running programming at Discovery and running Half Yard isn’t that different – so much about your success is in managing to keep the development pipeline full.

With that in mind, my five key ingredients for development have remained intact throughout:

ORGANIZE: Create a place where you capture your ideas, no matter how small or undeveloped, when they bubble up. It could be Evernotes, a notebook, an Excel spreadsheet or an office whiteboard. I like it to be something that’s portable and always
on me (iPhone Notes, for example) so that I can record whenever I think of a “nugget.”

Keeping ideas straight and in one place helps to develop them further and determine if they are viable. You can always come back to old ideas later when they feel relevant again.

DISTILL: I’m a big believer that good shows should be simple and have a unique point of view. Once you have an interesting nugget, don’t let it sit too long before investigating whether there’s some meat there. Is it a unique world? Are these characters we haven’t seen before? Is this a new way in? Bottom line: If you aren’t thrilled by a show’s titillating title
and one-liner, no one else will be either.

OVER-DEVELOP: Whether as a programmer or a producer, you can never have too many ideas in the cooker. And let ideas bubble up organically because sometimes the one you’re not personally focused on turns out to be something special.

BINGE: Watch TV to see what’s out there. What’s doing well? What’s played out? What story is being told differently?

NUDGE: Look outside the industry for inspiration, to folks who don’t know anything about the business, but who are passionate and curious people. These can be people you interact with in your world that can offer another perspective that is not through the TV lens. I have my personal “muse” who I often milk for ideas and bang ideas off of.

They shall remain nameless. Of course, beyond all this, it’s also about surrounding yourself with people that are better and smarter than you, and who can make that idea a reality.

  • Abby Greensfelder was formerly head of programming and development at Discovery Channel before co-founding Half Yard in 2006. She estimates that she has pitched and fielded pitches for more than 2,000 ideas in her career.
About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.