Now that we got you in a good mood and all, let's get you writing.

First of all, you have to know what a sitcom is. It should be easy; you've seen enough of them. But there are specifics. Quite simply, a sitcom is a story told in jokes. Just as an opera is a story told in songs, characters in a sitcom communicate through funniness. A sitcom script is about 22 minutes long (commercials take up the other 8 minutes). While many sitcoms are trying to break away from the standard boring format, most sitcoms are structured in the exact same way: each week, a familiar group of people (like a family, or co-workers) are faced with a humorous situation that is resolved in a humorous way. Every good story can be summarized in one sentence: Drew gets fired, Frasier loses a contest, Al Bundy gets a raise.

So, let's get started.


Spec script

In Hollywood, you're already at a disadvantage if you don't know the lingo. You'll hear the words below all the time, so you better get familiar with them.

Usually called a "spec," this what the script that you write for a show is called. If you want to become a writer for a show, you have to prove that you're a good writer, so you have to write a sample script of a show that already exists and that people are familiar with . . . a spec script.

When you write a spec, it's supposed to look exactly like a normal TV script looks, complete with language, conventions, and stage directions. It should look as close to professional as possible, as if it were an actual script for that show ready to go to production. So in order to write a proper spec, you have to know exactly what a script should look like. We'll help you with that later.

Set up This is the unfunny part of a joke meant to set up the upcoming funny part. Often, one character delivers the set up and another character gets the punch. Punch

This is the funny part of the joke.

LAVERNE: It's Thursday, we should take the trash out.
LENNY and SQIGGY enter: Hello!

Laverne's line is the set up, and Lenny and Squiggy's entrance is the punch.


Just like a play, a sitcom is usually broken into three acts. The break between the acts occur at the commercials.

Scene Again, just like a play, there are scenes within the acts. There could be one long scene or several short scenes. Cold open This is that part of the show at the very very beginning, before the credits begin. Sometimes it sets up part of the overall story, and sometimes it's an unrelated funny scene. A cold open is also called a "teaser." A & B stories

Each show has more than one story going on, there's always the main plot, but sometimes there are subplots. The main plot is called the A story, and the subplot is called the B story. If there are more subplots, there can be C or D stories too. The A story is the biggest and most important one, and usually involves the main character, while a B story might be a spinoff of the main plot and involve secondary characters.

Here's an example. For The Drew Carey Show, an A story might be that Drew won the lottery. A possible B story would be that Oswald and Lewis like the same girl. A C story might be that Kate has a new date. They are labeled A, B, or C according to how much of the show they're given.


This is the problem that is established. In other words, at the climax, the audience should be asking, "How are they going to get out of this one?" In a sitcom, there are two climaxes. The first is at the end of Act 1, right before the first commercial (ya gotta keep 'em watching!). Act 2 shows the character trying to get out of that predicament and making things worse. At the end of Act 2, is the second climax, which is like, "I would so never want to be in that situation."

Using the example above, a climax after Act 1 might be that Drew can't find his ticket. A the climax after Act 2 might be that he finds the ticket, gets to the lottery office, and they arrest Drew for impersonating Drew Carey (because Mimi stole his wallet and replaced his pictures with somebody else).


This is Act 3. In one final scene (or couple of scenes), everything gets worked out for our stars.

Keeping with our Drew Carey example, it might be that Kate's date is the new guy in Drew's pictures, so the lottery is awarded to him. Then the girl that Oswald and Lewis liked decide to go with Kate's now lottery-rich date, and Drew, Lewis, Oswald and Kate are back to the normal living situation.

Choose a show

Now it's time for you to pick a show and write a spec of your own. First of all, write for a show that's been on TV for 3 and 5 seasons. This is because the people that are reading your script will be familiar with the show and its characters, but not completely sick of them. This means that you should not write a spec for Friends or Frasier. Also be sure that the show you write is still on the air. No agents or producers would read a Married . . . with Children or I Love Lucy.

Currently (at least, as of May, 2000), there are a lot of King of the Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will and Grace, Dharma and Greg, Just Shoot Me, The Drew Carey Show, and Sex and the City scripts that people are writing as specs.

Why not write for a brand new show? Two reasons:

  1. Who knows if it will be a hit? If it doesn't come back in the fall, you've got a spec that no one will read, and that doesn't do you much good.

  2. It's so new, the people reading your spec won't know if you captured the voice because the show is unfamiliar. However, Everybody Loves Raymond is a show with which people are generally more familiar, so the reader will get a good sense of your ability.

Write for the show that you like the most and feel you'd write the best script for. Your enthusiasm will really shine through. But keep in mind that you won't get hired to write for the show that your spec is about. In other words, don't send your Sex and the City script to the producers of that show. There are three reasons: 1- the producers aren't allowed to read it for legal reasons (you might claim that they stole the idea from you, when they really thought of it on their own), 2- that show already has enough writers, and 3- they know their own show so well that you could never live up to their expectations. So if you want to write for a particular show, make sure that your spec is NOT of that show.

Watch the show

So you've chosen your show, eh? Before you start writing for it, you should absorb every detail you can get about it. If you want to write Just Shoot Me, tape every episode you can and watch them all several times. Learn the backstories. To learn about the history of shows and characters, it's a great idea to do some web searching and look at some Internet fan pages. Also see if you can find synopses of shows that series has already filmed. You'd be quite embarrassed if the show you write had already been written two years ago.

Get your hands on a script

And get a copy of the show's written script if you can. It helps to see it in print, and you're going to have to match their style EXACTLY. Scripts are available from Script City in Hollywood (323) 871-0707, but you can also find tons of scripts at Script-o-rama.com and Sitcom Format 101.

Read the scripts. Read them again. And again. You need to know how many scenes and acts the show has, how long it should be, and what the format is. Is it double spaced or single? Is it written like a film script (like Sex and the City) or a traditional sitcom (like Drew Carey)? You need your spec to look and sound as if were written by a writer on staff.