I'm working on a glossary for the book. Your comments are solicited.
A story: the most important story in an multi-story episode, which takes up the most screen time
act out: a cliffhanger or emotional whammy that happens just before the show cuts to a commercial, so the audience will stay tuned in to the show
act: everything between two commercials
action: everything that happens that isn't people talking
attractive fantasy: a life situation which the star of a series finds him or herself in that we'd like to be in. Part of the template. (I think I made this term up.)
B story: the second most important story in an episode, which takes up a medium amount of screen time
backstory: a character's personal history before the episode or series begins its onscreen chronology
beat sheet: the whole story of an episode told beat by beat, in order
beat: a unit of storytelling, in which one significant thing happens
bible: a document that theoretically tells you everything you need to know about the show in order to write it, and realistically almost never does
bit: a series of related jokes
blacks: the action description. So called because it makes big chunks of black text on the page, while dialog is nice and sparse.
bottle show: an episode that takes place in a physically restricted set, or on the standing sets, using a limited cast, usually just the series regulars
breakdown: a brief sketch of the episode's stories, showing acts and act outs, teaser and tag.
breaking story: finding the acts and act outs in a story, often done in the room by the writing staff
breaking the frame: drawing attention to the fact that the events are taking place on a tv show, not in real life
bumping: being annoyed by a plothole. "I'm bumping on how they got the jetcopter." "That's what you’re bumping on???"
button: a particularly neat bit of dialog that ends a scene sharply
C story: the third most important story in an episode, which takes little screen time
callback: dialog that echoes earlier dialog, often twisting its meaning into something new
character-based: a drama in which the stories arise primarily from conflicts between the characters. All comedies are character based.
civilian: someone who does not work in show business
clip show: an episode that relies on lots of footage from previous episodes. Used to save money or, more often, time. Naughty, naughty, naughty.
comedy: any series that is supposed to be consistently funny, whether it is or not
comic drama: a genre in which the story structure and stakes are dramatic but the situations and dialog may be played for laughs. Usually single camera.
core cast: the characters who are supposed to be in every episode
couplet: two lines of dialog in a row, in which one character's line neatly answers the previous line. "How do you sleep at night?" "I don't."
demographics: what sort of folks watch the show
dopplering: the sound of an offscreen car going by
drama: anything that isn't comedy or reality. Not to be confused with drama, which is what happens when two people come into physical or emotional or moral conflict, or drama, the genre about emotional angstiness.
dramedy: a comic drama. No one uses this term seriously any more, so just forget it.
echo: a line we've heard before in the episode
ep: an episode. No one can be bothered to write the word "episode" over and over again.
episodic: a show in which nothing that happens on one episode significantly impacts later episodes
expo: exposition, that is, when a character explains stuff the audience needs to know. "So how does this machine work, exactly?"
going to pages: writing the script
gilding the matzah: belaboring a joke to where it's not funny any more. See "German comedians."
Guild: the Writer's Guild of America or the Writer's Guild of Canada. Your first line of defense against producers messing with your check or credit. (Nothing protects you against their messing with your story.)
handwaving: story description that sounds good in a beat sheet or treatment but leaves major story issues unresolved that will cause pain to whatever poor bastard actually has to write the pages
hang a lantern on: to draw attention to a story element so the audience doesn't miss it; also called "hanging a sign on"
hook: a series premise that makes people want to tune in to watch at least one episode
Joss: the dark god of writers. Black lambs are slaughtered to him at the new moon.
laying pipe: giving technical information now so we'll know it later when a story point turns on it
like-a-joke: a comic bit that has the rhythms of a joke, and is followed by laughter on the sound track, but is not actually funny.
negative fantasy: a life situation which the star of a series lives in that we're glad we're not in. Part of the template.
on the nose: dialog that says exactly what the character means. Usually pejorative.
pages: the script
plothole: logical flaws in the story
point of view character: a character through whose perspective the story is told, whether the hero or not
premise pilot: a pilot episode that shows how the core cast first get together or the basic situation first arose
procedural: a drama in which external events provide the stories. Medical, law and police shows are typical procedurals.
pushing: giving the audience story faster than they can absorb
reality show: a show that pretends not to have a script, in order to avoid paying the writer scale. The WGA is addressing this issue.
recurring cast: characters who reappear in the series without being core
runner: a recurring bit of action, like a running gag, not necessarily containing all the elements of a story, and therefore not a C or D story.
scale: the minimum payment allowed for a piece of writing under a Guild contract.
schmuck bait: a promised story turn that only a schmuck would believe will ever actually happen, like the hero dying (or in a science fiction show, the hero dying permanently)
script timing: the process of estimating how long an episode will play on screen
serial: a show in which the plot develops from episode to episode; compare episodic
series regulars: the actors who are contracted by season rather than by episode; compare core cast
serving a character: giving a character something to do in an episode
shoe leather: scene material that exists purely to fill in a plothole
showrunner: the person responsible for all creative aspects of the show, and responsible only to the network (and production company, if it's not his production company). The boss. Usually a writer.
sitcom: a half hour comedy, often three camera, usually one that tries to provide three laughs a minute, which exists solely for the sake of the humor
soap: a character-based drama with a serial plot line. Not necessarily an actual daytime soap opera.
spec pilot: a sample episode of a nonexistent show, written either to showcase your originality, or actually to sell the show to a network.
spec script: an episode of an existing show written to showcase your writing skills and get you a job, not intended to actually be sold or produced
springboard: an episode idea in a nutshell
staffing season: the annual cycle in which shows are optioned, pilots are shot, shows are funded and writing staffs are hired
standing sets: studio sets that stay up all season. Cheap to shoot in. Scenes that take place on standing sets make production managers happy.
subtitles for the nuance impaired: prose inserted into a treatment or script to make sure the reader gets the point. Only considered cheating if the audience couldn't possibly get the point, either. The difference between the reader not getting it and the audience not getting it can be explained by referring to the terms directing, acting, cinematography, editing and music.
tag: the scene or scenes that appear after the last commercial, to tie up any loose ends or, alternately, to untie one loose end so the story can continue next week
taking the curse off: making a story point not feel like a cliche without changing the story point itself
teaser: the scene or scenes that appear before the titles and the first commercial, to "tease" the audience into watching the episode. Normally sets up the episode story but doesn’t have to
telegraphing: giving the audience too heavy a hint where the story will go
template: the deep structure of a tv show. What every episode in the series must do.
templing: when a character puts his fingers together thoughtfully, forming a temple
the long term: next season
three-camera: series shot on a sound stage with three cameras constantly recording the action. Three-camera series are often shot in two performances on a single day. Opposed to single-camera.
tracking: following a character's personal story line to make sure it makes sense by itself. "Josh's story doesn't track."
treatment: a beat sheet expanded and polished for delivery to people who haven't heard the verbal pitch, such as network executives. Often contains subtitles for the nuance impaired
two hander: a scene between two people. Production managers love these
writer: a godlike man or woman, worthy of worship and offers of marriage, fantastic in bed, forgivable in all his or her faults.
Labels: spec pilots