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Script Formatting Tips for a Situation Comedy

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Misty Faucheux•updated: 8/4/2009

Here are a few guiding tips for writing a situation comedy script.

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    Some types of screenwriting, especially for television, relies on generic formatting of institutions that are well accepted. The reason that this happens in television is that the format is so controlled by expectation and time slots that there tends to only be creativity within the confines of the proven genres.

    These genres go even farther than those in film because the effect goes to the very core formatting of the programming. A film drama can pretty much exhibit any element it wants as long as it has the specified emotional goal. A television drama usually adheres to a sub-genre, a story pattern and a timeframe. One of the most specified of these is the situation comedy because it relies on very specific beginning and end paradigms that arc within a half of an hour. Here are a few formatting elements that are important for writing a television situation comedy script.

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    The Page

    The standard translation of around one page per minute of screen time, which is why most feature scripts are between eighty and a hundred and twenty minutes. This is not as true for half and hour situation comedies, which are usually around forty to fifty pages for the twenty three minutes of screen time.

    Though you will probably go with a standard twelve point font, you are going to alter the margins just a little bit. Go one and a half inch margin on the left and a one inch margin on all other sides of the text. You are going to number each page in the upper right-hand corner with a period to the right of the number. In parenthesis, you can also add the act and scene that are taking place.

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    Story Arc

    The situation comedy format has a few elements, such as an opening teaser, usually about two acts, and what is often referred to as a “tag.” When labeling your acts you do this in all caps, and at the end you indicate that the act has finished. The TEASER will usually be what comes before the opening title credits and is short and sets up a little bit of what is going on or just has a joke that sets the tone.

    The tag comes at the end of act two and may even be during the final credits. All of these are a little bit flexible depending on the show, so if you are the one creating the show you have a little bit of freedom as to how you want to extend this paradigm.

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    Ending Scenes

    Conventionally all scenes are ended with a FADE OUT or CUT TO, depending on whether you are cutting away or to a new scene. Usually if you are cutting to a commercial break or the end of the program, you will use a fade. If you are just cutting between scenes, you will use a cut.