Friday, November 11, 2005

Ever wanna write a TV show script?


Spec script In Hollywood, you're already at a disadvantage if you
don't know the lingo. You'll hear the words below all the time, so
you better get familiar with them.

Usually called a "spec," this what the script that you write for a
show is called. If you want to become a writer for a show, you have
to prove that you're a good writer, so you have to write a sample
script of a show that already exists and that people are familiar
with . . . a spec script.

When you write a spec, it's supposed to look exactly like a normal TV
script looks, complete with language, conventions, and stage
directions. It should look as close to professional as possible, as
if it were an actual script for that show ready to go to production.
So in order to write a proper spec, you have to know exactly what a
script should look like. We'll help you with that later.

Set up This is the unfunny part of a joke meant to set up the
upcoming funny part. Often, one character delivers the set up and
another character gets the punch.
Punch This is the funny part of the joke.

LAVERNE: It's Thursday, we should take the trash out.
LENNY and SQIGGY enter: Hello!

Laverne's line is the set up, and Lenny and Squiggy's entrance is the

Act Just like a play, a sitcom is usually broken into three acts. The
break between the acts occur at the commercials.

Scene Again, just like a play, there are scenes within the acts.
There could be one long scene or several short scenes.
Cold open This is that part of the show at the very very beginning,
before the credits begin. Sometimes it sets up part of the overall
story, and sometimes it's an unrelated funny scene. A cold open is
also called a "teaser."
A & B stories Each show has more than one story going on, there's
always the main plot, but sometimes there are subplots. The main plot
is called the A story, and the subplot is called the B story. If
there are more subplots, there can be C or D stories too. The A story
is the biggest and most important one, and usually involves the main
character, while a B story might be a spinoff of the main plot and
involve secondary characters.

Here's an example. For The Drew Carey Show, an A story might be that
Drew won the lottery. A possible B story would be that Oswald and
Lewis like the same girl. A C story might be that Kate has a new
date. They are labeled A, B, or C according to how much of the show
they're given.

Climax This is the problem that is established. In other words, at
the climax, the audience should be asking, "How are they going to get
out of this one?" In a sitcom, there are two climaxes. The first is
at the end of Act 1, right before the first commercial (ya gotta
keep 'em watching!). Act 2 shows the character trying to get out of
that predicament and making things worse. At the end of Act 2, is the
second climax, which is like, "I would so never want to be in that

Using the example above, a climax after Act 1 might be that Drew
can't find his ticket. A the climax after Act 2 might be that he
finds the ticket, gets to the lottery office, and they arrest Drew
for impersonating Drew Carey (because Mimi stole his wallet and
replaced his pictures with somebody else).

Resolution This is Act 3. In one final scene (or couple of scenes),
everything gets worked out for our stars.

Keeping with our Drew Carey example, it might be that Kate's date is
the new guy in Drew's pictures, so the lottery is awarded to him.
Then the girl that Oswald and Lewis liked decide to go with Kate's
now lottery-rich date, and Drew, Lewis, Oswald and Kate are back to
the normal living situation.

Choose a show

Now it's time for you to pick a show and write a spec of your own.
First of all, write for a show that's been on TV for 3 and 5 seasons.
This is because the people that are reading your script will be
familiar with the show and its characters, but not completely sick of
them. This means that you should not write a spec for Friends or
Frasier. Also be sure that the show you write is still on the air. No
agents or producers would read a Married . . . with Children or I
Love Lucy.

Currently (at least, as of May, 2000), there are a lot of King of the
Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will and Grace, Dharma and Greg, Just
Shoot Me, The Drew Carey Show, and Sex and the City scripts that
people are writing as specs.

Why not write for a brand new show? Two reasons:

Who knows if it will be a hit? If it doesn't come back in the fall,
you've got a spec that no one will read, and that doesn't do you much

It's so new, the people reading your spec won't know if you captured
the voice because the show is unfamiliar. However, Everybody Loves
Raymond is a show with which people are generally more familiar, so
the reader will get a good sense of your ability.
Write for the show that you like the most and feel you'd write the
best script for. Your enthusiasm will really shine through. But keep
in mind that you won't get hired to write for the show that your spec
is about. In other words, don't send your Sex and the City script to
the producers of that show. There are three reasons: 1- the producers
aren't allowed to read it for legal reasons (you might claim that
they stole the idea from you, when they really thought of it on their
own), 2- that show already has enough writers, and 3- they know their
own show so well that you could never live up to their expectations.
So if you want to write for a particular show, make sure that your
spec is NOT of that show.

Watch the show

So you've chosen your show, eh? Before you start writing for it, you
should absorb every detail you can get about it. If you want to write
Just Shoot Me, tape every episode you can and watch them all several
times. Learn the backstories. To learn about the history of shows and
characters, it's a great idea to do some web searching and look at
some Internet fan pages. Also see if you can find synopses of shows
that series has already filmed. You'd be quite embarrassed if the
show you write had already been written two years ago.

Get your hands on a script

And get a copy of the show's written script if you can. It helps to
see it in print, and you're going to have to match their style
EXACTLY. Scripts are available from Script City in Hollywood (323)
871-0707, but you can also find tons of scripts at
and Sitcom Format 101.

Read the scripts. Read them again. And again. You need to know how
many scenes and acts the show has, how long it should be, and what
the format is. Is it double spaced or single? Is it written like a
film script (like Sex and the City) or a traditional sitcom (like
Drew Carey)? You need your spec to look and sound as if were written
by a writer on staff

courtesy of:
Mike Jukes


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