by Larry Brody
Half-hour sitcoms tell less story than one-hour shows, but they have a traditional pattern as well.
Start with a Teaser that states the premise of the episode (as in introduces the problem that’s the central focus) and ends on a laugh.
This seems to work best when it comes at the expense of the lead(s) because it makes them sympathetic and worth caring about (assuming, of course, that the lead is someone we love.)
Act One then begins with the aftermath of what happened in the Teaser and ends with the first big crisis that stems from it, a big crisis being something that is very upsetting to the hapless, humorous hero even though other characters may not be bothered at all.
Act Two begins with the resolution of the previous tension, but a story twist now occurs so that whatever the hero did to save themself now backfires and makes the situation worse instead of better. Which means – you guessed it – the act ends with a new plan which is put into play and ultimately resolves everything in the last scene of Act Three.
The Tag brings together all the main characters and lets them get a good laugh out of what’s happened, This time, the laugh usually comes not at the expense of the hero but from whatever other character got the hero into trouble in the first place. After all, the way we know that the hero has won is that he or she is now getting more respect.
I’ve used a Teaser, three acts, and a Tag here because that’s become common on broadcast TV. (It used to be two acts, but in the early 2000s an extra set of commercials were added.) This construction also is the basis for most Basic Cable channels as well as for Premium Cable, where it’s sans act breaks, of course.
There we go, another one-hour drama or action show perfectly plotted!
Another in what I hope will be a long run of helpful hints for TV writers here on TVWriter™ every week. Which brings up a point: If you’d like to share some writing tips with your fellow TVWriter™ visitors, please get in touch with me at email@example.com and we’ll try to make a guest post happen.