Jeff Time: Day 27 (TV Show Breakdown)

Okay, sorry about the lack of updating lately.  To be honest, I’ve been wanting to take a break from listening to myself talk.  It’s probably a sad day when a writer  gets annoyed with himself/herself.  

I’ve been reading some books about writing for television.   My goal for the last couple of years has been to try to write a movie or a book.  In the process I’ve realized that it might be a little too early for me to be that ambitious.  I may need to pace myself.  A lot.

So that’s where the idea of writing for TV came in.  I’m thinking about half hour sitcom writing.  A feature film is about 2 hours.  That’s around 100 to 120 pages.  They say one page of a script equals about one minute of screen time.  So one episode of a sitcom is around 22 minutes (with the commercial breaks).  That’s 25 or so pages (if you factor in that some scenes will get cut).  25 pages is easier to write than 100.  But then, most half hour shows have over 20 episodes per season.  

I’m not aiming that high.

I don’t know if I’m wanting to do this because I want to get a career started or if I just think it sounds like a fun challenge.  The way you get a job writing in television is by writing what is called a spec script.  It’s a speculative screenplay that producers can read to get an idea of your style and voice.  They recommend that you write 3 of them.  I don’t know why it’s 3.  Basically you would write an episode of a show that is currently on television.  I guess the thought is that if it’s on right now there is a better chance of it being watchable and also fresh to the producer’s mind.  

The thing is that you aren’t trying to write a spoof or an imitation of the show.  They are more looking to see if you captured the tone and the quality of the show.  You don’t think about it but all TV shows have certain rules they go by.  There are things the characters would never say or do.  And also, with sitcoms the goal is for the characters to go on a certain journey through specific situations but they should always end up in a very  similar place to where they started.  They might learn a lesson in the story of the episode but it is never so profound that they are a completely different person.

Now, I’m not trying to create and develop an original show right now.  I have a couple of ideas but I’m going to save them for now.  I’m just thinking it will be good practice to try to write a spec script.  I’ve already settled on a show I want to write.  I don’t want to say what it is yet but I will say that I have been watching several episodes over and over again on Hulu to try to get the feeling down.   

It really is strange to watch a TV show this way.  Normally I would just watch to be entertained but now I’m taking notes and trying to figure out the mechanics of how it works.  A lot of sitcoms are 3 acts broken up by the commercial breaks.  And then they will have a “cold open” at the beginning.  That’s the first part before the credits roll where the basics of the episode’s plot might be introduced.  And usually there will be a little end tag that’s about a minute long that runs during the closing credits.  That is usually like a little icing-on-the-top scene that will lightly and humorously tie up one of the secondary story threads of the episode.  Normally it’s one of the supporting characters doing some goofy thing.  The audience laughs and is left with a feeling of completion and is probably smiling (not sad or confused… for a sitcom at least… a drama might be different).

I think my biggest worry is how to pull off an overall story to where it makes sense and is believable.  That’s tricky.  And lots of shows have second and third story lines that may not be as important as the main story but still serve a purpose and tie in.  

I think that sounds hard.  Like Ross and Rachel are trying to figure things out while Monica is getting stressed about her job and Phoebe and Joey are playing chess or something.  And then Chandler’s gotta be doing something too because he’s one of the main characters.

So there is more going on than you realize when you are just watching the show.

And I have to end this with a little tag reminding you that I’m only trying this.  I don’t know yet if it’ll work.  I’m still in the early stages of a nervous attempt.  If I fail please go easy on me.

Okay.  As you were… but a little more enlightened… but mostly the same person you were before you read this blog… like a sitcom character…

Uh… okay.

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