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The Television Structure


In television, we talk about acts and act breaks in a slightly different way.

The script’s “acts” are defined by the number and location of commercial breaks, not because the three-act structure does not apply. which mostly depends on which network the show is on. Most half-hour television shows used to have a commercial break halfway through the episode until about a decade ago.

Therefore, shows would be divided into two acts. The Cheers pilot follows this structure, so the first act would not conclude with the dramatic first act’s conclusion but rather with the midpoint.

When I worked on a Nickelodeon show, this act structure was also followed. However, I believe that is due to the law requiring fewer commercials on children’s television.

My most recent employment involved writing for a Netflix show with no commercial breaks. Because of this, we decided to divide the scripts into three acts for our own and production purposes.

In the series’ script stage, I’ll discuss the breakdown of that.

When I write a sample pilot, I break it up into three acts and use the standard dramatic three-act structure for the breaks. I also use a short one-page tag at the end and a cold opening at the beginning.

I would suggest breaking up your pilot into three acts because that’s what the majority of shows do now and is the simplest way to do it.

It’s up to you whether you use a tag or a cold opening, but most shows today use cold openings. Additionally, Fox shows probably have four acts. Therefore, if you are writing a spec script for a different show, examine how many commercial breaks it contains and where they fall, and make any necessary adjustments.

The majority of the time, when writing a television show, there is an A and a B story. I may go into this more in depth in the following section. A much lighter C runner occasionally as well.

Even if a typical episode of your show would have one, you might not need one in the pilot. Even though most episodes of Cheers have a B story, the pilot does not.

Your episode’s main plot is the A story. Most of the time, your protagonist will understand this story. In the pilot, they will without a doubt. The B story is a parallel subplot that centers on a supporting character or characters to serve them and provide a break from the main story beats.

In addition, you might have a short C story or a runner to support a different character. In a typical episode of The Office, Michael Scott would be told the A story, Jim and Pam would be told the B story, and Dwight would be told the C story.

Also, think about how well Seinfeld combined two, three, or even four stories into the climax. However, in your pilot, you won’t have to worry about it again. Your protagonist is the character that really requires attention, as I stated in the section on character. In the event that you are
composing a troupe show, you will most likely need a B story, however with A story getting

The typical way to structure a story is to alternate between scenes from the A story and scenes from the B story. You should finish your acts with your A story because it usually has more beats, features your lead, and has higher importance and stakes.

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