Script Length Anomaly?Complications Ensue
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Here's an odd anomaly I'd love y'all to weigh in on.

Broadcast drama scripts are much more than a page a minute. Our CHARLIE JADE scripts were 51+ for a 43 minute show. THE BORDER scripts are up to 60. The very talky WEST WING scripts are in the high sixties. GILMORE GIRLS have been spotted as high as 73.

But look at cable dramas. Thanks to the efforts of my tireless researcher Webs, DEXTER pilot is 66, but other scripts are 54, 54, and 57 pages. DURHAM COUNTY scripts are 55 pages for 52 minutes. The MAD MEN pilot was 52, with most running 51-53 pages, and some 50, 49 and even 46 for a 48 minute show.

On the other hand, RESCUE ME: 64, 64. THE WIRE: 63 (and 89 - as Wilcox points out below, a 90 minuter). CARNIVALE pilot: 64.

The SOPRANOS scripts run a bit longer, but I don't think all the episodes are 52 minutes, either.

What's up with that?

Granted, broadcast scripts have act breaks. But five acts + teaser only gives you an average of 2.5 extra pages. (Slightly less, actually, since if writers are anything like me, they will usually try to reduce the page count, so a loose couple of lines at the end of an act will usually provoke a frenzy of line-trimming.)

Cable shows tend to weigh their dialog more carefully, maybe? Or have more dialogue-less cinematic goodies? Is it that you can afford more longueurs when you know your audience has already paid for its ticket?

What do you think?



Re: the 89-page script for The Wire -- that was a 90-minute series finale. It may have even been scheduled for two hours, I can't remember.

By Blogger Wilcox, at 1:46 PM  

In Mad Men's case, it's definitely a more languorous and deliberate pace with more silence. But I don't know if I could really come up with much of a pattern separating b'cast and cable shows.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 4:20 PM  

I think the longest THE RICHES script ended up in the area of 55 pages. And FX was pushing heavily to have those scripts be at 50 pages or less.

The range from all the episodes and drafts in season 1 was 48 - 58 pages.

I think the common consensus is to be at 50 pages or less, simply to give the producer the illusion that the script will be cheaper to shoot. I mean, doesn't a 48 page script ~~seem~~ like it should cost less than a 60 page one?

The reality is that page count on TV is more often than not reflective of the voice of the show, than a simple 1 page per 1 minute translation.

By Blogger James, at 8:12 PM  

I'm curious since I don't have your email handy, how would one go about writing a spec script for a show that doesn't exist yet?

Not my own original show, but one that I know is in the works and would want to have one by my side?

Such a show I'm referring to is "The Greysons" which is a show the CW is putting together about Robin in the vein of the "Smallville" style.

Would I copy that format as a template?

Also - they told us in film school to never write specs for the show you want, but instead a spec LIKE the show you want. So would I be better to write a Smallville spec in this instance?

By Blogger Andrew Kosarko - Screenwriter, at 2:47 PM  

Often the scripts I get will have "omitted parts" and some pages with just one line of dialogue. These are shooting scripts and what you read doesn't always fit exactly with what airs. I'm talking to you, BSG. I think that means something. And of course, some scripts are more dialogue-heavy versus scene-heavy. You don't know how long a few sentences can last. Or montages.

By Blogger Little Miss Nomad, at 7:04 PM  

Also, Andrew, totally write specs for the show you want, at least until you're actually in the position to have people from show you want read your script. I don't know why you would write a spec for a show that doesn't exist yet, since you have no idea what kind of a show it's going to be.

By Blogger Little Miss Nomad, at 7:06 PM  

It's in the vein of Smallville, one of my favorite shows. It's a show based on the superhero Robin. I'd just want to have a spec by my side should the show take off before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.

So it's ok to write for the show you want? I was under the impression from professors that show runners never hire writers that write exactly for their show. But want to see that you can write in that genre. So if it were them, they would be likely to suggest for me to write a spec "Smallville" or "Heroes" script because it's in that 'Superhero-1 hour drama" genre.

By Blogger Andrew Kosarko - Screenwriter, at 7:55 PM  

no, you don't not write a spec for the show you are submitting to for staffing.

the risk of speccing a new show is that if it *doesn't* take off and is canceled quick, you are stuck with a useless spec. the hottest specs are shows that have been on just long enough to be established, are a known quantity to agents/showrunners, and have a degree of cool or buzz to them.

i don't think The Graysons meets any of those criteria yet, though it could at some point. at this point, for that genre, i would think Heroes is the show to spec

By Blogger Chris, at 8:08 PM  

But it doesn't sound like you're in a place yet to get a spec in producers' hands yet. Write specs for shows you think you can write best, and when you get the opportunity to have your work read by people who can staff you, you should have plenty of options for them to read.

By Blogger Little Miss Nomad, at 4:57 PM  

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