Larry Brody’s TV Writing Tips & Tricks #19 – One-Hour Teleplay Construction

by Larry Brody

Looking for more detailed info on TV Writing? Then this is for you!

Over the years certain types of story construction have proven to work more effectively than others on TV. By “effective” I mean that series that plot their stories this way have gotten consistently higher ratings than others, and during the usual course of an episode fewer viewers have gone surfing away.

For one-hour shows, start with a Teaser that illustrates the premise of the episode. Make sure it shows us this week’s central problem. And make sure it really does “tease” us by ending on a note of tension – with danger (physical or psychological) either impending or rearing its fascinating head.

Act One should start with a response to what’s happened in the Teaser, and works best if it too ends with tension. Depending on the kind of series this is, the tension can be personal and involving a series regular, or it can be something the hero has to handle in their professional capacity which brings a serious problem or danger to the hero as well.

Act Two should begin with the aftermath or resolution of the previous tension and conclude with MAJOR trouble for a regular, most likely the main hero.

A successful Act Three often starts by resolving the previous danger and saving the hero and ends with the hero and their allies putting together all the pieces of whatever puzzle they’ve been trying to solve so that they now know what to do.

This leads us into Act Four on most broadcast series, where we discover it ain’t over yet after all,  The end of Act Four is where the major crisis and climax of the whole episode strikes because even though the doctors, lawyers, or Indian Chiefs know the answer they still haven’t put that knowledge into action properly.

Act Five then can become the good guys racing to the rescue and saving their client, patient, or themselves just in time. What should you do with the Tag? Why just let the gang relax about it. (And if they can relax poignantly so much the better.)

This construction also is the basis for most Basic Cable channels as well as for Premium Cable, 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 larrybrody@tvwriter.com and we’ll try to make a guest post happen.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.