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DouglasHorn.com

Tag: Television writing

How important is formal structure for television projects?

by on Mar.11, 2010, under Questions

How important is formal structure (either beat points or acts) to a TV series set of scripts? In the ‘old days’ when we had ads predictably every 15min you had four very clear parts. Then this was changed of course to allow more regular TV advertising.  I’m working on a spec series and I’m wondering how much should we be looking to more formal structure?  It’s very difficult to obtain copies of scripts developed in Australia. So, I can’t even work back from the product and assess from that direction.
– Sue, Sydney

Television is probably the most rigorously structured narrative form after Kabuki. Structure is of paramount importance on any television project (both acts and beat points) whether comedy or drama, narrative or “reality” programming.  Feature films aim for a certain length, but the screen doesn’t usually go black if they go over by a few minutes or seconds.  In television, there are well defined segment breaks where the commercials need to go.  If they don’t get planned in the writing stage, they’ll be crammed in during the editing stage for certain.

Any given television series has very distinct structures that incorporate various interwoven storylines (A-, B-, C-stories etc.), characters, and running bits.  If you were to watch a season’s worth of episodes from a single show those tropes and patterns would leap out at you.  I’ve actually been doing exactly this all week for an interesting adaptation project (actually two seasons-worth) and I have a sneaking suspicion I could load up a few episodes to play simultaneously, and they would be in an uncanny sync throughout.  When I was writing on a network pilot recently, the segment breaks were dictated to us by the frame.  Of course those are segment lengths, not the structure of stuff that goes within each segment, but it reflects how very tight television tolerances are. (continue reading…)

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