Interested in writing a TV format? Here’s what you have to know


So, you’re a television junkie with a yearning to see your work up on the screen. You’ve got as far as developing the idea for a spec pilot episode. Now, you just need to sit down and write it in a format that is easily understood and accepted by companies or people that may be willing to invest in your idea. We are here to guide you through the process of writing a TV format in order to help you check the boxes and hopefully land your next gig as a TV writer. 

Understanding and choosing your structure

The single most important step, often influencing your story or idea, is choosing a TV structure that would best help you express your message. There are 3 key script structures you need to familiarize yourself with if you wish to break out onto the screen. These are as follows:

  • 1-hour drama: Opening with a teaser and broken down into 5 acts, each act builds tension and conflict until the episode subsequently ends on a cliffhanger to entice viewers back for more. 
  • 30-minute single-camera comedy: boasting a more cinematic feel than their multi-camera counterparts, these shows utilize a cold open, three acts, and a tag to attract an audience.
  • 30-minute multi-camera comedy: shot fast, and usually shot in front of a live audience, the sitcom has a specific format that needs to be adhered to exceptionally closely.
Interested in writing a TV format? Here’s what you have to know

While variations are becoming more prevalent, these are the standards that you should be aware of entering the TV game. Each of these structures are varying principles that you would be required to follow should you choose to create in any of them. 

Once you have selected your structure, you need to research as much as you possibly can about the principles of each and follow them to the tee when drafting your script. What is fantastic about following these structures is that there are so many excellent examples to reference when crafting your own TV show, and that is where our next recommendation comes in.

Research to make a unique script

Analyzing work that has come before is one of the most critical parts of creating a successful script as the last thing you want to do is craft an idea that has been worn to the ground. With reference to the above structures, you could take these shows as examples of ones in their categories that did exceptionally well:

 

  • 1-hour drama: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sneaky Pete.
  • 30-minute single-camera comedy: Modern Family, New Girl, Parks and Recreation.
  • 30-minute multi-camera comedy: The Big Bang Theory, Frasier, Friends.
Interested in writing a TV format? Here’s what you have to know

By understanding what makes these shows successful, you can start incorporating some basic ideas that would enhance your own narrative. This is where it gets tricky though as the line between originality and stealing from an artist is very thin. Try avoid falling into too many genre tropes when you are developing your script, something you will develop the more you research shows in your chosen structure. 

Finding an audience

So, you’ve completed your script and it is written in the appropriate structure following the correct principles outlined for that particular structure. All the hard work is done! Or, so you thought. Now it’s time to find an audience and that means finding someone to back your work. Partnering with a television agent, entering a scriptwriting contest, and joining TV writing fellowships are a few ways that you can start getting your script out there!