A television script is a little like a regular screenplay, but also different in some fundamental ways. The number of scenes will vary by the length of your show, its number of acts, and the type of show you’re writing. If you’re sitting down to write your first television script, worry less about the following guidelines and more about the number of scenes it takes to tell your story effectively. You can always cut down the number, shorten the length, or change things to make the script fit a specific mold later. But in this day and age, hard and fast rules about television writing are becoming rare since there aren’t any rules in streaming.
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How Many Scenes Should Be in a TV Script?
Depending on what kind of show you’re writing, the number of scenes in your TV script can vary dramatically. There’s no rule, but there is an average. Most acts include three to five scenes, and most TV shows have four acts, so that’s anywhere between 12 and 20 scenes in a single episode. The big caveat here, though: I don’t even want to suggest a number because, honestly, it’s unique to each script. Is your script a multi-camera sitcom (such as David Crane’s “Friends) or a single-camera comedy (such as Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan’s “Modern Family”)? I’d suggest reading produced scripts more similar to your own and studying how many scenes those include. The answer boils down to the fact that you need as many scenes as it takes to tell your story. Don’t let yourself get hung up on a specific number, but a 12 to 20-scene script is a good starting place.
How Many Pages Should Be in a TV Script?
The number of pages a script has is a more definitive answer than the number of scenes since pages directly correlate to show length. On average, a half-hour, single-camera comedy show can be between 28-32 pages, while multi-camera shows can be around 40-48 pages in length. Multi-camera show scripts are longer because the content is double-spaced, and CAPS are used for all scene descriptions. Both half-hour shows still have an actual run time of about 22 minutes. An hour-long show can be between 58-66 pages, although there are shows that get well into 70 pages.
All these numbers are just what you’ll commonly see. Unless your script is significantly longer or significantly shorter, you shouldn’t give too much worry about the number of pages.
How Many Acts Should Be in a TV Script?
One-hour shows start with a teaser section, are commonly followed by four or five acts, and sometimes a brief tag at the end. A teaser is a short opening, usually set in one location, that runs a couple of minutes (between two to three pages). The teaser is meant to tease some conflict that the episode will then resolve. Thirty-minute shows can have teasers as well. A tag is a very short tease at the end of an episode, implying future conflict. Just as the episode is ending and the audience believes all is resolved, the tag hints otherwise. Tags can also be used in 30-minute comedies but typically aren’t plot-driven and instead offer an added moment of comedic content.
A 30-minute show is usually between two to three acts, and it can depend on what type of show it is and what platform hosts it. For example, a show on HBO doesn’t have to deal with time restraints necessitated by commercials (which also act as natural act breaks), whereas a show on ABC or CBS does. Nowadays, 30-minute shows tend towards a three-act structure, but the number of acts is all about what works best for telling your story. There’s a lot of reinvention within 30-minute shows, so there’s room to play around and try new things. Think genre-defying half-hour shows like Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s “Barry,” and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag.”
Unlike features, you usually list the act breaks in television scripts at the top of a new page where that act begins and then underline the act, teaser, or tag heading. Although, this is becoming less common with scripts destined for streaming services.
How Long Should Acts Be in a TV Script?
Again, there’s no hard and fast number for act length in a TV script, but each act is typically between 9-15 pages in an hour-long show; this can vary depending on how many acts you have. If the script is structured as two acts in a half-hour show, each act might be between 15-20 pages or with a three-act structure, 7-12 pages.
Phew, that’s a lot of numbers, but don’t let the numbers stress you out! Often the length of these screenplay elements is just a suggestion or an average; try not to sweat it too much. There are television writing formats you must abide by for traditional TV production, but worrying about the number of scenes or amounts of pages isn’t a biggy as long as you’re staying within the averages mentioned above. Happy writing!