Five Acts No Teaser?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Q. My spec pilot is five acts without a teaser. Is that a problem? The story itself doesn't need a teaser, but if I rack my brain I could probably come up with one that integrates in. But I'd really rather not. This story is an entrance into a world with the first act working as an introduction to players and themes, and I don't see an obvious big hook moment in the first two minutes for a teaser.
I've seen hour episodes without teasers. I can't think of any pilots without them. (Anyone have counterexamples.)

Not having a teaser is an interesting choice. It allows you to tell a bigger chunk of story before giving the audience a convenient break during which to leave you. You'll see it from time to time in hour episodes, though rarely in pilots. (Anyone got any examples?)

I feel you almost always want a teaser. I've never written a pilot without a teaser.I want to grab the reader's, the exec's, the audience's attention. A great teaser not only grabs their attention, it tells them what kind of goods the show is promising to deliver.

It does not have to have the main characters, though it usually does. The BUFFY teaser just tells us "this is going to be a narratively surprising show with vampires."

But don't take my word for it. If you're considering skipping your teaser, then you should really try to find some hit series that also skip the teaser. See why they did it, and how it works.

Then, of course, watch a bunch of hit show pilots and see what their teasers do for them.

If you can't find any hit series that don't have a teaser, then unless you consider yourself a narrative genius, and hope to break new narrative ground, I'd spend a week and find myself a teaser.

Always do your research. If you're building a new engine, you want to know how everyone else builds their engine. Otherwise you're liable to reinvent the wheel; and no one will be impressed at your effort.

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Alex, seeing your link to the 'Save The Cat' movie logline formula got me to thinking: is there a similar formula to create a logline for a pilot? Do Series even have loglines?

By Blogger sean, at 5:47 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Dan In LA, at 7:08 PM  

The Friday Night Lights pilot opens with "an entrance into a world, working as an introduction to players and themes" without any "obvious big hook moment." That said, it doesn't really feel like a first act.

The pilot of Mad Men doesn't have a teaser - though it's a cable show with limited commercial interruption, and well-known for being a slow boil.

By Blogger Dan In LA, at 7:11 PM  

The Teaser has often now been tossed in favor of "The long first act."

You cold open (after a previously on) and then play action to a dramatic point, then just take a title card -- and then come back to action.

That's how THE BORDER works. The title card isn't an act out -- because you come straight back to action. But it's effectively the same thing.

By Blogger DMc, at 8:06 PM  

Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles has five acts/no teaser (I'm not sure if it falls under the category of "hit series" or not, but as an example). A PDF copy of the pilot can be found here (scroll down):

By Blogger Wade White, at 8:47 PM  

The Sarah Conner Chronicles pilot definitely had a Teaser. It also had some very strong Act Outs.

I think J.J. Abrams stuff, particularly ALIAS, really started the long First Act, but it's really more of a 8-10 minute Teaser than anything. LOST felt like it had two Teasers. One for the island, one for the flashback/forward storyline.

Fringe is all about the Teaser.

I don't think it is mandatory to have a Teaser, but in terms of the person who sent in the email -- if you could rewrite your story to have an interesting hook into the episode -- why wouldn't you?

By Blogger James, at 8:59 PM  

@DMc: seems to me that whatchamacallit before the title card functions exactly as a teaser. Just that you don't cut to commercial. You have a pretty tease-y non-teaser. The first time I watched the show on my DVR I wound up having to rewind because the show had so much of a teaser effect my fingers assumed you were going to cut to a commercial.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:07 PM  

I believe Madmen never have teasers

By Blogger jakob, at 10:30 PM  

Ja, but MAD MEN is pay cable. Big dif there. No need to make sure the audience sees it, they've already paid for it.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:47 PM  

The venerable Jane Espenson just blogged about teasers, and she talks about the importance of encapsulating your show on the first page...

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:05 AM  

Can you make some of act one your teaser? Note some dramas that have very long teasers - watch the BROTHERS AND SISTERS one. It's like 13 minutes or something, and packs a ton of information.

As for "I don't see an obvious big hook moment" - that might be kind of a problem in itself. What's the hook in your pitch? Why should people watch you show?

By Blogger Amanda, at 2:16 AM  

The pitch itself is solid and the act outs are strong, but the pilot doesn't have a typical procedural component to hang a teaser on. Buffy's teaser introduced the villain or problem for the ep. Fringe, House and dozens of others take a similar path. This show just isn't suited for something like that.

This pilot has a lot of DNA in common with Friday Night Lights. The reason why I can't use that as a template is that the cast, main character and world in Friday Nights Lights are introduced together in a 12 page teaser. My pilot has the main character introduced to her world in the first act. But I feel like a teaser needs both the m.c. and the world in it, and yet the world is something she isn't familiar with at the onset (though Buffy is a good example of tossing the mc out of the teaser, but again that had a procedural component and was two part episode so talking about it's structure is misleading)

I mean my act one is fifteen pages, if i take brother and sisters or house as an example, maybe I could just rename act one teaser, follow suit with the rest and turn it into a teaser and four act show? Or is that a cheap out?

By Blogger just some guy trying to write, at 3:12 PM  

If it's 15 pages long, no one will consider it a teaser. A teaser would be max 5 pages, normally 2 or 3.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:05 PM  

I guess your right.

Now I actually have to come up with a creative solution that improves my script.


By Blogger just some guy trying to write, at 9:32 PM  

A little late to this discussion, but I can think of a few shows that don't use a teaser. However, they usually have one in the pilot episode. Think the aforementioned Sarah Connor Chronicles or Gossip Girl. Then again, GG's "Previously on Gossip Girl" could be seen as a something of a teaser.

By Blogger Sam, at 3:00 PM  

I think Gossip Girl is all teaser.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:15 PM  

What about the pilot for JERICHO?

It has a TEASER that goes on for 11 pages. It sets up all characters, but ends softly in terms of an act out with the lead JAKE (Skeet Ulrich) walking into a tense union meeting to see his dad, the mayor of Jericho, Kansas--who he hasn't seen for 5 years.

By comparison, ACT ONE ends with all the major characters seeing a huge mushroom cloud (just 7 pages later) hanging over what used to be Denver.

Jericho was definitely a cult show, but certainly not a hit show, so maybe there's the answer...

By Blogger George, at 7:56 PM  

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