Q. I kept wondering how "The Office" fits into your breakdown of acts and storylines. It seems very nontraditional in so many ways...First off, I can only seem to find a very obvious A and B storylines--no C. And the acts--they don't seem to be clearly defined beyond the cold opening and Act1.
Acts are easy to find on television. It's not a conceptual thing. When they cut to a commercial, that's the end of the act. If they only cut once, you have two act comedy. If they cut twice, it's three acts.
Likewise, if you're finding only A and B storylines, then maybe that's all they have. There's no law says you have to have C stories. An A and a B give you the ability to cut out of one story and go to another. Then you can give your secondary characters things that they want, which interfere in interesting ways with the protagonists of the A and B stories getting what they want ... and now you have an episode.
I think there's an interesting trend away from defining A and B stories too strictly. A show like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS tracks all its characters as they move through their overall character arcs for the season. When two characters come across each other, are those two stories weaving together? Or is the interweaving the story itself?
I think you can overthink storytelling. It's good to know what your A and B stories are so you know that you have them, and so you can make sure something interesting is happening in every act. But the point is to keep things moving along, not to conform to some theoretical notion of structure.
Just bear in mind that a loose show like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is actually much harder to write than a more traditional show like LAW AND ORDER. Free verse was always harder to write well than rhymed verse.
Labels: act structure, Crafty TV Writing, five act structure