Q. I'm kind of confused by 4, 5, and 6 acts in TV nowadays. Do you know of any resources where I could study the act breakdowns of TV shows?
Read produced TV scripts, and make notes about the act breaks. Watch TV, and stop the show at the act break, and write down what sort of act break it was. (On your digital video recorder. You do have one, right? It's a professional tool you must have.)
I've never seen a crystallization of 5 or 6 act structure the way there was sort of a standard format for 4 acts. (Act One out: it's not going to be easy. Act Two out turns the story on its head. Act Three out: highest jeopardy.) Faithful Readers: have you?
I'm not sure if it's this way anymore, but a few years ago almost everything on ABC was a 6 Act structure. I wrote a Pushing Daisies many years ago that used the 6 act structure.
For 5-act, I always went by the precedent set (sort of) by shows like Friday Night Lights and some others that adopted it. First 3 acts are just yours, rephrased.
Act 1: Problem presents itself.
Act 2: Episode premise turned on its head.
Act 3: Moment of greatest danger.
Act 4: Episode plot resolution.
Then use act 5 to resolve emotional stories, and tie up any loose plot ends.
It's not perfect and won't work for every show, obviously, but it has serviced me well enough.
I think the reason is that there isn't a definitive "one way" anymore. I remain convinced that 5 act and 6 act are just different ways to say the same thing.
Most of the time now I write a teaser and 5 acts...with a dip in the middle for opening sting. Is that 5 or 6? Depends who's counting.
The other difference tends to be a function of what the vendor will allow you.
Scenario 1) as someone mentioned above, action largely is resolved at the end of Act 4 and Act 5 becomes about the "detonation" that sparks in the lives of the characters...what we a more genteel age called denouement.
Scenario 2) is the fearful, "no there must be action across all the acts!" in which case you probably have one artificial twist too many and then wrap stuff up really fast.
Part and parcel with this discussion -- somebody usually makes a reference to a British show that was cooler and more nuanced and that's when you roll up the newspaper and smack them on the nose and say, "give me 11-14 extra minutes and I'll nuance you, too, bub."
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