Examples of How to Format a TV Script (2023)

TV script format is perhaps the most difficult type of script format to master. That’s because it involves tons of intricacies that screenplays and stage plays don’t. Never fear though, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about TV script format, from 30-minute sitcoms to hour-plus dramas. We’ll look at teleplay examples from Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, and more to see how professional script writers use the format. By the end, you’ll be ready to get started on your very own TV script.

TV Show Screenplay Format

First, let’s start with the basics

If you’re interested in becoming a script writer for television, then you should consider checking out our TV writing and development masterclass series. The whole series is available on StudioBinder’s YouTube channel – and you can watch the first episode below:

How to Format a Script for a TV Show • Subscribe on YouTube

It may be helpful to think about the conceptual aspects of a TV script before you dive into the margins. As a whole, TV scripts are extremely standardized. However — golden rule: you should always consider the story first, arc and structure second, format third. With that said, let’s jump into a TV script format definition.


What is TV script format?

TV script format is the term used to refer to the structure of a teleplay. Television scripts can be anywhere from 20-100 pages, but most are 25-30 for half-hour shows or 50-60 for hour-long shows. Unlike screenplays, teleplays are structured rigorously, and usually written for production.

(Video) How to Write a TV Show Script - Difference Between Television and Movie Scripts

Types of TV Scripts

  • 30-Minute (Comedy or Drama)
  • Hour-Long (Comedy or Drama)
  • Pilots and Specials

TV Show Script Format Examples

30-minute TV script format

The 30-minute structure is one of the most popular structures in all of television. In the industry’s infancy, many of the highest-watched shows – such as I Love Lucy and All in the Family — were 30 minutes long. The episodes themselves were 24-26 with 4-6 minutes of commercials to break up the scenes. Fast forward to the mid-'80s and it seemed like every popular show was 30 minutes long. The data table below shows the most popular television series from 1986-2019.

TV Screenwriting Format • Most Popular TV Shows

All of this is to say that if you want to be a TV writer, then you need to know how to write a 30-minute script. But how do you do that? Well, there’s probably nobody better at it than Larry David. We imported the Seinfeld “The Chinese Restaurant” teleplay into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to see how Larry and co-writer Jerry Seinfeld utilized TV script format.

For the purpose of learning more about TV script format, pay closer attention to the margins, actions, and sluglines than the story itself.

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (1)

One of the first things you’ll notice about “The Chinese Restaurant” script is that its acts are outlined. In this sense, teleplays are more similar to stage plays than screenplays. Make note that “The Chinese Restaurant” only has two acts, while most 30-minute scripts have five. Here are some other things you should remember when writing a 30-minute teleplay.

  • Sluglines are always underlined

  • Actions are written in ALL CAPS

  • Page numbers go in the top right-hand corner

The most popular 30-minute show of the 2010s was The Big Bang Theory. One could argue that much of the show’s success could be attributed to the fact that production ran it like clockwork. The Big Bang Theory had rock-solid scripts; not in terms of quality but in terms of quantity and precision.

Remember, network sitcoms are meant to draw viewership, then run for as long as their legs will sustain them – that’s what The Big Bang Theory did. Let’s look at a script for The Big Bang Theory to see why it was so successful. You’ll notice that the script begins with a “cold open” which serves to set-up the events of the episode.

(Video) Basic Elements of a Film Script for BEGINNERS! (How To Format, Read and Write a Screenplay!)

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (2)

TV Script Format Examples • Read The Big Bang Theory Script

If you’ve read movie scripts before, then you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of variation in format and style. For example, take any two screenplays, and you’re bound to find stylistic differences. With TV writing, there’s no room for that. TV script format is always set-up the same way, with acts, actions, sluglines, etc. The narrative structure is usually set-up the same way – but that has less to do with rigidity than anything else.

Network TV is all about popularity. If you want to write 30-minute episodes for network TV, then you’re going to need to adhere to the formatting of the most successful shows, like Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory.

With the advent of streaming services, the 30-minute TV script has taken new forms. Take HBO’s Barry for example. The Barry pilot script is structured more in screenplay format than network TV script format. You’ll notice that acts aren’t outlined in the script, nor are the actions written in all-caps.

(Video) 6 Tips For Writing A TV Pilot Or Spec Script by Carole Kirschner

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (3)

TV Drama Script Format • Read the Barry Script

Just remember that Barry was written by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, two established writers; and that the Barry script wasn’t written for network audiences. If you’re writing a 30-minute script on your own, don’t get hung up on the intricacies of TV script format. But if you’re planning on joining a writer’s room, then you’re going to want to make sure you know how networks want their scripts to be formatted.

How to Format a Script for a TV Show

60-minute TV script format

The 60-minute TV script format offers a bit more room for flexibility than the 30-minute TV script format. But when I say a bit, I mean a really small bit. Just like the 30-minute script, the 60-minute script is tuned for network TV more rigidly than it is for premium cable.

First, let’s take a look at a 60-minute procedural script. But what is a procedural script? A procedural script is a script that follows a specific narrative structure. Think every law enforcement show in existence: FBI, NCIS, Law & Order, S.W.A.T., and yes, CSI. All of these shows are procedural – so as to say we know what to expect – bad guys do something bad; good guys take the case; good guys struggle; good guys capture bad guys. People love it.

Let’s take a look at a CSI script to see how it’s formatted.

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (4)

TV Show Script Format Examples • Read the CSI: New York Script

You’ll notice that the episode begins with a teaser. Pretty much every 60-minute script has a teaser, and it’s essentially there to serve the same purpose as a cold open – to thrust us into the action before the opening credits/title card. You should also take note of the scene headings. It’s common practice in screenwriting and TV writing to mark each new scene in the shooting script. If you’re writing a spec script or draft, don’t worry about marking scenes.

Now let’s look at a 60-minute script that was written for premium cable. This next script is for Deadwood, Season One, Episode Five. You’ll notice that much of the structure is the same as CSI, but the dialogue is much different.

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (5)

TV Show Script Format Example • Read the Deadwood Script

When you’re writing for a premium cable provider like HBO, you’re given a lot more flexibility with what you can say and what you can show. Since this is a mid-season episode script, the writer probably had a good idea of the parameters they had to work with. If you’re writing a 60-page spec script, don’t be afraid to use vulgar language, gratuitous violence, etc. – just be mindful that it may exempt you from getting your script seen at certain networks.


Television Script Format Example

TV pilot script format

I’d venture to say that 99% of successful TV writers have worked on a pilot. Think about it: every story needs a beginning. How does a TV show begin? More often than not, with a pilot. But what is a pilot episode? A pilot episode is the first episode of a TV series that serves as a proof of concept to the network. If the pilot is successful, then the show will likely be greenlit for a season order.

Let’s take a look at how to write a TV show pilot script that sells, by breaking down the pilot for Breaking Bad.

Format for Writing a TV Script • Subscribe on YouTube

One could surely credit the success of Breaking Bad’s pilot to its great story – but a great story will only go so far without proper execution. Fortunately, writer Vince Gilligan did a great job of nailing the TV script format.

Examples of How to Format a TV Script (6)

TV Show Screenplay Format • Read the Breaking Bad Pilot

Vince Gilligan directed the pilot episode of Breaking Bad in addition to writing it. Did you notice how shots are written into the script? That’s generally considered taboo. It’s likely that Gilligan had already been approved to direct the episode by the time this script was produced, therefore he wrote in the camera directions as well.

studiobinder tools for writing tv script

Get started on your own TV script

There you have it. We covered all the bases of TV script format, with examples from some of television’s most popular and acclaimed series. Now it’s time for you to get started. Try StudioBinder’s software – it’s free to get started and will give you all the tools you need to bring your TV script to life.


Teleplay vs. Screenplay vs. Script

If you’re looking to learn more about script writing techniques, then you’re not going to want to miss our next article in which we review what makes teleplays different from screenplays and scripts. We break down examples from 30 Rock, Malcolm in the Middle, and Star Trek, to show you how to utilize Hollywood lingo.


How do you format a TV show script? ›

Begin most 1/2 hour scripts by writing the name of the show, centered and capped, 6 lines from the top of the page. Double space down from the name and center the episode title in quotation marks. 6 lines below that, center ACT ONE, then A below that, also centered.

What are the basics of TV script writing? ›

The 10 Key Rules of Writing for TV
  • Character Cast Size. Consider how many characters you will feature. ...
  • Characters in Conflict. ...
  • Characters Don't Change. ...
  • Make Characters Want Things. ...
  • Use ABC plotting. ...
  • Ad Breaks are Act Breaks. ...
  • Dialogue Comes Last. ...
  • Create a Series Bible.
Dec 19, 2012

How do you format a 5 Basic script? ›

How To Format A Screenplay - 5 Basic Elements : FRIDAY 101 - YouTube

How many pages is a 1 hour TV script? ›

Generally speaking, hour-long episode scripts can be anywhere from 45-63 pages, although a majority of the time you want to stick with 50-55 pages. The basic sense of it is that one page equals one minute, and with a 60-minute show, you obviously need to account for commercial breaks.

What are 4 types of scripts? ›

Types of Script Writing
  • Screenplays. Screenplays are scripts written specifically to be produced for a visual medium, such as film or television. ...
  • Playwriting. Plays are productions that occur live, on a physical stage rather than the metaphoric stage of film or television. ...
  • Audio Drama. ...
  • News Scripts. ...
  • Other Scriptwriting.

How many pages is a TV script? ›

Television scripts can be anywhere from 20-100 pages, but most are 25-30 for half-hour shows or 50-60 for hour-long shows. Unlike screenplays, teleplays are structured rigorously, and usually written for production.

What are the 5 elements of formatting in screenplay? ›

For this introduction, we're going to call them character, want and need, plot, structure, and conflict and resolution.

How do you format a short film script? ›

6 Tips for Writing Short Film Scripts That Connect
  1. Find a small, specific, significant idea you can tell well in a short script. ...
  2. Craft a complex character with a small, significant want. ...
  3. Create a pattern of external and internal change. ...
  4. Start your story on page one. ...
  5. Hit your scenes late and get out early. ...
  6. Show don't tell.
Aug 26, 2020

How long does it take to write a TV script? ›

For features, you will have to turn outlines in to producers in 2-6 weeks, while drafts will usually require a set number of weeks: 12-weeks, 8-weeks, 6-weeks, with additional steps (rewrite, polish) requiring an even faster schedule.

How do you write a 30 minute script? ›

How to Write a 30-Minute Sitcom Script
  1. Create a cast of characters. ...
  2. Plot out the story lines in your script. ...
  3. Buy or download a scriptwriting program or template such as Final Draft or the Screenwright screenplay formatting template. ...
  4. Write the teaser of your script.

How do I start just writing? ›

8 Great Ways to Start the Writing Process
  1. Start in the Middle. If you don't know where to start, don't bother deciding right now. ...
  2. Start Small and Build Up. ...
  3. Incentivize the Reader. ...
  4. Commit to a Title Up Front. ...
  5. Create a Synopsis. ...
  6. Allow Yourself to Write Badly. ...
  7. Make Up the Story as You Go. ...
  8. Do the Opposite.

What are the 4 things that a script must have? ›

Script reader, Ray Morton, explains why there are only four elements to screenwriting that make your story a true cinematic experience. Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers! There are only four elements you can use to tell a screen story: images, action, sound effects, and dialogue.

What should a good script include? ›

  • 10 traits of a great script. Up to 100.000 scripts are submitted in USA every year. ...
  • Properly formatted. Producers hire professional readers to save their time. ...
  • Fresh concept. ...
  • Gripping. ...
  • Visual. ...
  • Strong main character. ...
  • Escalating conflict. ...
  • Snappy dialogue.

What do producers look for in a script? ›

A Clear Genre

Distinct genres have specific audiences. If a producer can clearly tell what the genre of your script is, they will know to who and where they can market. Different producers will prefer different genres, but all will seek a film with a clear genre normally determined by the logline.

Are TV shows italicized? ›

Titles of movies, television, and radio shows are italicized. A single episode is enclosed in quotation marks. Formal names of broadcast channels and networks are capitalized: The Discovery Channel offers a variety of programs from health to the environment.

How long is a script for a 30 minute show? ›

Thus, a sitcom script is generally between 25 and 40 pages long. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C). Sitcoms usually have three main acts (divided by two commercial breaks), as well as a teaser scene in the beginning.


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3. MC3306 How to Write a TV News Package 2: The Script
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