TV Script format might be the ONLY thing more confusing than a screenplay flashback. (And can often derail many new writers from attempting a TV spec – which is unfortunate because there is MONEY in them TV hills.)

So, here is a Slideshare presentation on 10 Secrets to Mastering TV Script Format:

“10 Secrets to Mastering TV Script Format” Transcript
TV Script Format Key #1: There are 4-5 Acts in an hour-long drama
Description: I know you’ve come to know and love the 3 Act Structure, but TV scripts actually have 4-5 Acts for an hour long drama. They still follow the 3 Act Structure in terms of presenting a problem, raising the stakes, and resolving the problem, but there are more dramatic breaks for commercials. Script Format Key #2: For TV, you must label the acts
Description: In a TV script, every act (including the teaser or cold open) needs to be centered, capitalized and underlined. The end of the act should follow the same format, so the end of Act Two should read: “END OF ACT TWO” in your script.

TV Script Format Key #3: The 1 page = 1 minute of screen time rule is serious
Description: This general rule applies to features as well, but it’s much stricter in the TV-world. There is little wiggle-room if your script is too long since the time slots are tight. You only get an hour, so even if what you have is really, really good, it can’t go over.

TV Script Format Key #4: Hour-long Drama page length versus half-hour Sitcom length
Description: If you’re writing a spec script for an hour long drama, you should aim for 53-60 pages total over the course of 4-5 acts. Sitcoms are typically 3 Acts. Single-Camera half-hour sitcoms usually run 28-32 pages long and multi-camera sitcoms are usually 40-48 pages long. Script Format Key #5: Spacing differences between multi-camera sitcoms and single-camera
Description: Single-camera sitcoms often follow the format of hour-long dramas and features when it comes to spacing. Typically, multi-camera sitcoms that are filmed in front of a live audience have double-spaced dialog which accounts for the longer page counts. Of course, there are exceptions so be sure to read script examples for the show your writing a spec for.

TV Script Format Key #6: It’s all about the breaks
Description: A successful television script has its commercial breaks in exactly the right place. For network TV, commercial breaks are unavoidable, but every show does them a little bit different. Become an expert in the show you’re spec’ing and read example scripts to see where they usually break and when. Some shows have 4, others have 5. You need to match the show you’re writing.

TV Script Format Key #7: Your script needs mini-cliffhangers to thrive
Description: Once you’ve determined where your breaks need to fall, you need to make sure you have extra compelling drama at those breaks. Commercials on network TV are a fact-of-life, so if your show needs to cut away you need to leave the viewers with a dramatic event strong enough to insure they’ll come back after the commercials.

TV Script Format Key #8: Multi-Camera Sitcom Writers, Don’t forget your character list!
Description: Right below the slug line on your multi-camera sitcom, you need to list the characters that are needed for each scene and enclose the group of names in parentheses.

TV Script Format Key #9: Cut down your character descriptions!
Description: When writing a feature, you’re used to descriptive character introductions including general physical appearance and age. When writing a TV-spec, the characters are known. No need to describe Phil Dunphy, we know what he looks like! Save these for new characters you’re introducing.

TV Script Format Key #10: Mind your act lengths!
Description: When writing a feature, the second act is usually the longest. In TV, the first act is typically the longest. This is because shows often need a little more time to hook the audience before the initial commercial break. You have to get your viewers invested in the story so they’ll stick through the commercials later.

TV Script Format Key #11: Multi-camera sitcoms follow their own set of rules
Description: Apart from including a character list and double-spacing your dialog, multi-camera sitcoms filmed in front of a live audience have their own set of rules. For example, character exits and entrances are underlined, and major sound effects are often marked with a colon. Just another reason to read episode scripts of the show you’re spec’ing. It’s important to match their format!

TV Script Format Key #12: Make sure your script caters to its specific franchise
Description: Because TV programming functions by and for advertisers, each show has a franchise with a specific audience. Some examples include Sci-Fi, Teen, and Legal. Each franchise has its own audience and those audiences have expectations about that franchise. For example, in classic westerns the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black. Even if your show challenges the conventions, you must be aware of the audience’s expectations. Know your genre! Know your audience!


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About The Author

Michael Rogan
Editor, ScriptBully Magazine

Michael Rogan is a former screenplay reader and optioned screenwriter. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of ScriptBully magazine, and has written a few non-sucky books including "How to Write a Book That Doesn't Suck (and Will Actually Sell)". He has made it his mission to help screenwriters kick ass - and rid the world of films based on action-figure lines.

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