FIVE ACTS???Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

DMc has noticed that shows like Lost are going to five acts. It certainly feels that way sometimes. But maybe what we're seeing is just metastasizing teasers?

As for comedy, yes, I think it's all three acts now. Not so much to squeeze in another commercial, but to accommodate more story. Three acts just feels more natural. The old two act shows really drag when you watch them now.

UPDATE: Several readers write in to say, yes, some shows are going to five and even six acts. YIKES. I guess I'm going to have to change some language in my book, aren't I?

I wonder what this does the "flavor" of the act outs? Where is your "moment of greatest jeopardy" (normally act three out)? When do you upend the plot (normally act two out)?

I have to say, the script we're writing now works rather well in five acts, as the tag has gotten a little bit long. Four acts with teaser and tag don't have to be much different than six acts without teaser or tag.

This may seem fairly petty or arcane to you if you're new at this, but a lot of learning to write TV is learning to write within a specific structure of acts -- four for hour drama, three for half hour comedy. (Used to be two for half hour comedy.) If this five act thing catches on, it will require some retraining.


There was a discussion of this over at WriterAction. A couple of showrunners reported that, yes, there is a deliberate choice at some networks to change the act structure. The idea is to get rid of the ads at the end of a show, so that people don't change channels before the next show starts.

Of course, those ads have to go somewhere. And where they go is into a newly created act break.

Jacob Sager Weinstein

By Blogger Jacob Sager Weinstein, at 12:40 PM  

There's definitely a move to five acts. ABC insists on it now from what I understand, and other networks have pushed for it, though some showrunners of longrunning series have managed to avoid making the change. Desperate Housewives has a teaser and six acts.

By Blogger Jeff, at 12:55 PM  

Jacob Sager Weinstein: This is slightly off topic, but I've often wondered about it.

How can the Writer Action BBS work?

1. It isn't run by the WGA.
2. The privacy policy of the WGA is to NOT give out information that can identify members.

So how can they validate that those applying for membership are WGA members? (4 digits of SSN & Date of Birth)

So how can the validation method work? Any validation method relies on comparing 'identifying information' ! (Even if the WGA just confirms that someone with those digits in the SSN & date of birth is a member, that is still identifying information)

I guess that means that someone in the WGA is leaking confidential information on the side (with a nod and a wink from WGA management)?

It just doesn't make any sense!

(No - I'm not a WGA member. I'm from another country, and since they don't recognise their sister organisations like the AWG ...)

By Blogger Mac, at 8:52 AM  

I know, they don't recognize the WGC either.
Y'know, solidarity forever and all that.
Wonder if they have cocoa and complain about runaway production a lot.

By Blogger DMc, at 10:09 AM  

Someone ought to use a fake WGA number -- or a real WGA number with the wrong name -- and see if it gets through. Then we'd know if the WGA is giving out info or not.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:16 AM  

Re: "How can the WriterAction BBS work?

1. It isn't run by the WGA
2. The privacy policy of the WGA is to NOT give out information that can identify members."

Hold a Guild member and WA member, I have to tell you that you're over-analyzing this in the extreme.

WA simply gets confirmation from the Guild that a given writer is a member. End of story.

This fantasy about the Guild not giving out info is out of whack.

By Blogger Gary, at 6:05 PM  

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