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The Permanent Man Blog #3 - TV Show Formatting

Featured image3OK. To get an idea of the format I plan to use for The Permanent Man series, let's take a look at how television shows, particularly dramas, do it. We'll break down each section of the show and the purpose it serves.
Many shows, especially ones with story lines that carryover from the previous week or weeks of episodes, give a recap. Many times there will be narration that says, "Previously on (title of show)".
This serves a couple purposes. For those who watch the show regularly, it helps them recall important story points, and especially ones that have a direct impact of the story they are about to watch.
It also helps people who watch the show irregularly or never at all to get an idea of what is going on before they head into the story. It's like guiding a blind man through a room. If you tell him what is there, he's prepared and can understand the layout. If you say nothing, he's bound to bump into a few things and get frustrated.
The show begins with a short teaser in the beginning. I've seen these range from three minutes and all the way up to ten. This teaser is what captures the viewers interest. So usually, it sets up the problem that needs to be solved. Or the thing that is the catalyst to the story. It almost always ends with some kind of cliffhanger that makes you want to keep watching it after the commercial break.
Other times, the teaser actually shows you part of the story that is to come. You see the characters in a dire situation. But you don't know why or how they got there. So the story to come will show you what happened.
Now  you finally get the title of the show. Instead of placing it at the beginning, it comes after the teaser. The introduction ranges from a short musical number with video that credits the actors and others who produce the show to a simple flash of the title. This confirms what the viewer is watching, and while it may seem unimportant since anyone watching the show should know what they are watching already, it implants the title in their mind, solidifying their longing to watch it.
Finally the meat of the show arrives after the first commercial break. The story progresses with regular breaks. These are kind of like chapters in a book. Pay attention and you'll notice that each commercial break ends with some kind of cliffhanger. In order to keep the audience interested, these mini-cliffhangers are written to ensure the viewer is still watching the show after the commercial break happens. An ineffective cliffhanger at each break could cause a show to lose audience.
At the end, the story is usually wrapped up for that episode. For serialized shows, the story is complete (or maybe it goes into a two-parter) but usually something happens at the end to grab your interest. Another cliffhanger, but this one has nothing to do with the current story. Instead, it gives the viewer a glimpse of what the next story will be about.
Sometimes, not often, when the show is over and before or during the credit roll, a narrator will say, "Next time on (show title)". For those who can't wait until the next week, this gives them a better idea of the next episode's content. But it only teases them enough to bring them back for more.
Each week, a drama episode length is consistent. Usually, without commercials, the length is about 42 minutes. Of course, there are times when they have special episodes that are longer in length, but as a general rule they are consistent in length.
This helps the viewer to know what to expect. When watching and they are coming up on 10 minutes until the hour, they know the episode must wrap up soon. If there appears to not be time to resolve the problem on the episode, then they expect a cliffhanger ending for  a two-part episode. Now, they might not consciously think this, but on some level they do. This is why they can watch every episode and be satisfied. If the length of an episode one week was 20 minutes, the next week, 70 minutes, and after that, 35 minutes, the inconsistency will affect their view of the episode. This would especially be the case if they are buying each episode of a series as opposed to watching it on cable or an internet subscription service.
Now that I've laid out the format of a television series, next week's post will dissect each element and how I plan to address it in The Permanent Man series. See you then!
desmondshepherdDesmond Shepherd has written several novels including Fram GageFutan Vice, and Imaginary Me. His upcoming project, The Permanent Man, is scheduled to release November 12, 2013 and is his most ambitious work yet. Every Tuesday, right here on The Time Capsule, he will release details about his journey in writing the stories.
He's also expecting his third child within a couple months, so you can expect possible delays in his blog posts and even the release date for The Permanent Man, but he's going to do whatever he can to avoid that.


  1. [...] couple weeks ago, I broke down how a dramatic television episode works.  The first point is The Recap. This serves a great purpose, especially in serialized episodes or [...]


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