Writing For Film & TV » Discussions

TV Structure

  • Leader
    May 25, 2017
    In the same way that movies have a three act structure, hour long TV shows generally use a five act structure. It’s basically the same but allows for more commercial breaks. Ideally, the audience is left with story-tension at the break every time, but, of course this is not always possible.
    There’s also the matter of a teaser and an epilogue, so simple structure is: Teaser-Commercial Break1-Act 1-Commercial Break2 - Act 2-Commercial Break3-CON’T Act 2-Commercial Break4-Act 3-Commercial Break5-Epilogue. About 44 mins runtime for the show.
    In Sitcoms (runtime 22 mins), pretty much the same, but in neither case is a Teaser or Epilogue required. That is purely an aesthetic choice of the writer.
    HOWEVER, in today’s market, not so much. Netflix, HBO, Amazon, etc., don’t care about commercials and don’t care if an hour long show plays more than an hour, or a sitcom goes the entire 30 minutes instead of only 22. In fact, they expect it.
    TV Writer’s have to keep all this in mind while at the same time ignoring it. As the Greeks long ago pointed out, stories are three acts by nature, so they get written that way, and then adjusted to the TV parameters.
    Here’s a link to an example. The pilot script for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. You’ll notice it’s Cold-Opening (teaser)-Only Two Acts- Tag (epilogue), but the fact is the Cold Opening is actually Act 1 and the Tag is simply the conclusion of Act 3(mislabeled Act2).
    Also, notice that page count has nothing to do with anything—in this case, 36 pages worked out to 22 mins.

    Here's the link: https://myspecscript.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/gang-gets-racist.pdf
  • Member
    Jan 13
    Thank you for all the good information. I know it's been awhile but still good and valid knowledge. I have to push myself to finish some of my ideas!
  • Mar 6
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