How to get paid to be on TV

As seen

So I got paid to be on TV.

And I’m going to share what happened. Because on this blog we are exploring unusual things that may seem improbable at first.

This one involved me getting way outside my comfort zone.  It took me a while to gather up the courage…first to do it and then to write about it.

But it was fun…and:

1) it illustrates some interesting lessons about negotiations.

2) I try to be as honest as possible.

3) The Escape Artist does not waste good comedy material

Negotiations are important in several areas of life related to financial independence.  Things like getting a salary raise…or a discount on a holiday. Things like getting a significant other on board with your escape plan.

Negotiations involve dealing with those most demanding of creatures: other people. I’ve found that about 99% of people are good at heart. But you still need to be able to negotiate and to stand up for yourself.

For example, your employer will generally be looking for the best deal out of you possible. The most work for the least pay.  That’s kinda how the system works.


And negotiations are important even in romantic relationships. Yes, even if you and your partner are a pair of snuggly love bunnies. If you don’t negotiate, you may end up as a doormat…as we saw with the sad case of Tim.

The first thing that you need to realise is that, under the right circumstances, EVERYTHING in life is negotiable.  All those “unbreakable” rules, policies and procedures at your office, all social conventions, all prices, all relationships…EVERYTHING.

Most people have no idea that this is the case.

But you, as a smart reader of this blog already knew that. The Escape Artist previously explained, with only a touch of exaggeration, that:

There are no rules, there are only ethical guidelines.

So, here’s how to get paid to be on TV.

1) Put yourself out there

When blogging or pursuing financial independence (or anything really) starting does not guarantee you will succeed.

But not starting guarantees lack of success.

For me, the trick was to put useful stuff out there into the Big Wide World and see what happens.  Or, in the words of Dizzee Rascal: put yer skillz on show. You can’t predict what will come from this. But often, when you do this, good things happen.

One of the things I often help coaching clients with is the idea that if you want to build an industry reputation or freelance career or side hustle, you need a shop window where people can see your work and find you.  This could be as little as a LinkedIn profile or it could be your own website with your design portfolio showcased on it. Or it could be a full-on e-commerce website that captures sales and accepts payments.

Putting yourself out there means getting over what other people might think.  On this, Tim Ferris has some excellent advice:

Be bold and don’t worry what other people will think. They don’t do it that often anyway…

My shop window opened in May 2014 when I published my first post. The world was not shaken by the publication of that article. Tumbleweed blew.  My blog stats looked like a heart rate monitor left on in intensive care after the patient has died.

2) Keep showing up

A bit of patience is required.  Here’s the secret: if you are working towards a bigger purpose and enjoy the process, then you don’t really mind how long it takes.

So I kept churning out the articles.  Those early days were very productive: I often published 2 or 3 articles a week. The thoughts just kept tumbling out of my head and onto the screen. And some of the articles were even readable.

Don’t get me wrong…I love all my readers. And my strong preference is for the entire world to start reading my blog, pay attention and stop fucking things up.  It’s just that, even if no one reads this, I’ll probably carry on letting The World know where its been going wrong.

Seth Godin says that his success can mostly be attributed to the fact that he kept churning out stuff or, as he puts it, “showing up”. Even through the dips.

There have been many times when my blog stats looked like they’d levelled off or gone backwards. Yet slowly the traffic has grown. Last month was my biggest month so far.

Remember: the first million is the hardest.

3) Be open to opportunities

When Hollywood calls, you have to answer the phone.

Last year, I got my first email from a TV production company (which I wrote about here) in New York looking to make a TV show. Which seemed strange given there’s a long list of great US blogs about financial independence.

But I agreed to jump on a Skype call. And, with all the subtlety of a napalm strike, The Escape Artist let slip that he might be prepared to fly to New York all expenses paid.  The nice lady said she’d discuss it with her colleagues. She seemed keen and told me that there was no need for me to call them, they would call me.

I never did hear back. Perhaps they lost my phone number? And my email address. And my Skype address.

But it turns out that TV production companies are a bit like buses. You wait 45 years for one to show up…and then 3 come along at once.

I got another email a few weeks later from the assistant to a TV producer making programmes for BBC Worldwide in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a place in America where unemployed people say they are making TV programmes. So initially I was a bit sceptical.  But I knew that some TV shows do actually get made…so I did some research on this guy.  And I’d actually heard of some of the shows that he’d made. I’d even watched a couple of episodes myself.  So we fixed a time to speak.

I then got a call from a real Los Angeles TV producer.  Honest to God.  It turned out that he was a good bloke. Even better, he actually knew all about the world of financial independence, having been on one of the FI chataquas in Ecuador.

So far, so surreal.  But then I got the third call, this time from a British TV production company funded by Channel 4 to make an experimental pilot show about how to retire by 40.

The trick when taking a call from a TV company is that you don’t immediately hang up on the basis that this is obviously your mates winding you up.

Nor do you fall to the floor screaming OMG! OMG! OMG! WAIT TILL I TELL MUM!!!!!

No, you take the call maintaining as much dignity as you can muster. Like this shit happens every day. No biggie.

4) Stay in your frame

In any negotiation you have to know when to compromise.

But you also have to know when to stay in your frame.

What do I mean by that?  Well, my frame for the negotiation was that I didn’t want to be on commercial TV for the sake of being on TV. So if they wanted me, they’d have to pay me for my time.

Their frame was: you should be desperate to be on our show…because everyone else is prepared to dance like a puppet for the privilege of being on TV.

It’s easy to be pressured by other people to enter their world on their terms.  But The Escape Artist has strong boundaries.

And yes, that is a euphemism for being bolshy when the situation demands.

5) Know your objectives

The beauty was that the TV company had come to me.

I knew they had money and a deadline.

They knew I wanted to get paid.

Financial Independence
No kittens were harmed during the making of this show

Having worked in the City, The Escape Artist is no stranger to prostituting himself.  In my working career I was always prepared to do pretty much anything for money that was not illegal, immoral or harmful to kittens.

So I was prepared to do all sorts of unpleasant things at work. Things like sitting in a glass box under florescent lights, getting shouted at by clients and tying a piece of cloth tightly around my neck (a tie).   But there’s no point prostituting yourself if you don’t get paid.

My objectives for this blog involve letting the world know where its been going wrong and perhaps even helping a few people along the way. Oh and saving the planet as well.  It seemed plausible there’s a better chance of achieving these goals with a bit of mainstream media coverage.

But I still value my time and my goals do not include being the unpaid bitch of commercial TV.

6) There are no Rules

When I raised the subject of getting paid, they told me that was Impossible. Against The Rules. Unheard of.

TV companies understand supply and demand.  They know the average punter would love to get on TV. And they know our weak spots.

Would it be politically incorrect to point out that female TV researchers are smart, persuasive and not unattractive?  And that they are more than capable of playing the male ego like a salmon on a fishing line?

Yes, that would probably be politically incorrect. But it’s also true.

So I politely stuck to my guns re getting paid.  And, as their deadline approached, as if by magic The Rules no longer applied.

Funny that.

With my demands met, I now had no excuses left.  It was time to conquer my fear and just do it.

So a TV crew turned up in my town one fine winter’s day in January and I spent a surreal day getting filmed.  I had no idea how much time and effort it takes to shoot just a few minutes TV time.

The TV crew were all lovely people.  I could see that they were doing jobs that they loved. This reminded me that if you can pull off the trick of finding a job that you love and pays you, then the whole financial independence thing becomes less of an emergency.

Apparently the programme will come out on Channel 4 sometime later this year with the title How to Retire at 40.  And yes, I did tell them that I was a slow learner and it took me until 43.

So, it turns out its possible to get paid to be on telly.  True, it’s not big money.  But remember The Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Every little helps.

I don’t know whether the TV show will be any good. I haven’t seen the results and I don’t have any editorial control. Maybe during the editing process they’ll decide that The Escape Artist has the perfect face for radio and cut me out. Which would probably be a relief for all concerned.

To be honest, I’m not sure I dare watch it.  There is a possibility that The Escape Artist comes out of this looking like a complete idiot.  It was my first time on telly*…so cut me some slack here people. 🙂

July 2017 Update: How to Retire at 40 8.30pm on 10 July on Channel 4.

*Other than being a ball boy at Newcastle United vs Cambridge United which was televised in about 1982. Oh, for Americans, that’s soccer BTW. 

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  1. Julie Calvert · · Reply

    Way to go! I look forward to seeing it in the Spring. Presumably you will let us know when you have the date.

  2. daverave999 · · Reply

    Nice one! I will certainly be looking out for it, but as Julie says, a heads up would be appreciated.

    1. Thanks Julie, Dave…will post on the site when I know when its coming out (gulp)

  3. I am glad your ethics prevent mistreatment of kittens. Congratulations on being a TV personality. I live in the US but don’t own a TV. Hence I read your blog and aim to retire by 40 -just.three.years.

    1. Good for you Rowan 🙂

  4. jamesethorpe · · Reply

    Excellent post. Looking forward to seeing the show. Please do give us a heads up when you know the date.

  5. I look forward to seeing you on tv – as others above have said, keep us posted when you know the date, although I will actively keep an eye out as this is something I can make the OH watch and hope that some seeds go in….

  6. SurreyBoy · · Reply

    Great reminder of the awesome negotiating power of being able to walk away. Whether its agreeing a salary, fees for a piece of work or buying a house – there is a world of difference between saying you will walk away when in reality you wont, and saying it when you honestly can walk away.

    Dunno if its a subliminal thing, but when you have the power to say GFY the other side of the discussion just values you more.

  7. Hah! This is brilliant news!

    I very much look forward to seeing this soon.

    I think they contacted me as well but didn’t bother replying as no way do I want to go on TV (not sure it will go down to well at work for a start). With the Majority of UK bloggers still on the road to ER and in a similar position to myself re: work no wonder they had to come begging (along with your clear wit and charm that would be ideal for a TV broadcast of course)

  8. Congrats! Like yourself and TFS, I was also contacted. I had a chat with a producer but I think they lost interest once they realised I was over a decade away from both being 40 and retiring by 40.

    Cant wait to see the show when it comes out.

  9. I was contacted too, but let’s face it, at 50 I wasn’t exactly an early retiree! Plus I didn’t have the balls to go on the telly, so hats off to you EA for doing so. It’s the Sunday before the show is aired now and I’m having butterflies for you, so I hope you’re coping with the forthcoming…..I wonder what?! Best of luck.

  10. Red kite · · Reply

    Finally caught up on the programme…hmmm. Congratulations on basically making the only point of substance in the whole thing…but blimey, if a self-styled ‘consumer journalist’ throws up his hands in horror faced with a couple of numbers, what hope is there? Depressing. And of course if you save half your salary in a bank account, you will get precisely nowhere in twenty years. But investing, hey, that’s just waaay too complicated for our tiny consumer minds….

  11. Playing with Fire · · Reply

    Thanks for doing the show, it would have been a whole lot of fluff with no maths at all if it wasn’t for your section. You did well to distil the message into the few seconds that they showed!

    1. Bless you PwF and Red Kite. Yes, it was light on detailed FI content. Light as a floaty ghost, elves wings or pixies dreams. But then they have to try to reach a mainstream audience.

      On the positive side, I thought The Potato Guy illustrated how easy it could be to create a side hustle with nothing. Almost like he was demonstrating The Correct Way To Start A Business. And the fact that people pay him good money to scrawl on a spud with a crayon suggests that a lot of people might have some…errrr…room for improvement in their spending 😉

      1. Hmm, I chuckled at the potato guy too, good luck to him. But I wish the media wouldn’t treat us like dolts. He allegedly clears £26k a year doing this? So does he pay tax on that? Even if he doesn’t, I think he was selling the spuds at £4, with free postage. Let’s say his profit is £2.50 per potato. he’s then sending out 10,400 of them a year. Or 28 a day, every day of the week. If he works the same days a year as the average Brit (say 260) he’s doing 40 a day All to be put in a nice wee box, after a thoughtful personalised message, some glitter, some fake eyes (and checking for no potato eyes, or rot) ….so ten minutes to prepare a potato, and that’s being generous. Not counting his time for going to buy them and then going to send them (Post Office must love him). He’s spending six hours a day doing this, I reckon, for less than twenty grand a year, stuck in his bedsit. Plus this all assumes his demand is constant. How does he cope at Christmas, or National Potato Day, when he has 200 potatoes to get out the door? I think my cute potato messages would be taking on a darker tone after a few weeks of this……

  12. Red kite · · Reply

    I’m afraid I found potato head a bit depressing, sorry! He said he did 120-150 a week, which is certainly a non trivial amount of time. It wasn’t explicit that this was a side hustle (though I think they also said it earned him £60 plus an hour, which works out at about 8 hours a week with no holidays). And I guess it’s a fairly low impact/low harm activity, compared to some of the things you can do to earn money! Maybe he enjoys it, but for me, making money for the sake of it (i.e. without feeling I’m doing something useful in the world) has never really been appealing.

    1. Playing with Fire · · Reply

      Yes, I recall them saying from £4 a potato. I have no idea how much they go up to; but my suspicion is that most people who will spend £4 on a plain potato message will happily upgrade to a fancier potato message… Is that judgemental of me? I’m basing it on the number of people at coffee shops who upgrade without thinking.

      I liked the potato segment, it would have led nicely into “I live off my potato money and stache my salary” or “I’ve hit my retirement number and do this for money for hookers and blow”. But without either it just seemed a little lost on a programme titled “How to retire at 40”. I know this is on me for actually believing in the advertising (you should have seen the look of disappointment when my Miracle Gro didn’t include any actually miracles), but shouldn’t the title be at least a clue to the contents?! I expect a jar of jam to say “World’s most amazing tasty jam” and contain averagely-tasty jam, but I don’t expect it to contain pickles. This was a jam jar full of pickles, with only TEA and the wall of retirees as scraps of jam.

      1. I think we were maybe expecting too much here.
        Happiness is reality minus expectations and all that!

        I mostly enjoyed the show but yea it was light on content on how to actually retire by forty. Didn’t get the bit about the guys “investing” in the property share. Unless they were planning on doing some Geo-arbing once they sold up and banked their profits then they would just have to buy somewhere else to live and be no better off because the whole of the housing market would have risen as well. But it was a good demo of how to get on the housing ladder I guess.
        The potato guy did say he worked 8 hours a week, so I guess he’s got his process down to be very efficient Jim! If people are paying him for this then I would assume they find it valuable and so he is not just making money for the sake of it, he’s providing a valuable service (to idiots, I guess you could argue, but who are we to judge 🙂 )
        Shame we saw Huw’s face but they didn’t feature him at all.

        Well done TEA though on making it onto TV and providing the basic and easy to grasp (unless you’re the interview guy it would seem!) maths of how to retire early!

        Watch out Martin Lewis 😉

      2. Yes, spot on re expectations there TFS. We have to be realistic as to how TV works and the mainstream audience at which it is aimed!

  13. Red kite · · Reply

    So, have you seen the article in today’s Telegraph (no paywall!)? Features your case study quite extensively (perhaps a little uncomfortably?) but actually the article is (imo) a good summary of the underlying issues and challenge….

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