TV Structure Made Easy For New Writers – Niceole R. Levy

Film Courage: Is there a standard structure for television?

Niceole R. Levy, Screenwriter/Author: Yes it can vary, especially depending on what outlet you’re writing for. When you’re staffed you’re writing to whatever the network or the streaming service does. There’s a variety of different structures that brings about, for instance most of the ABC dramas that I know of, I will not say all about any of them, are written in six act structure. What six act structure means is that basically everything’s a little symmetrical. You’ve got this many pages here, this many pages in each act get building to those acts out through those commercial breaks and because it’s so act out driven it really changes the pacing of the show. If you watch most ABC shows, you will feel like they move very quickly and it’s because of that symmetrical nature of the acts.

Shows on CBS are often teaser four is the structure, it’s also often called five act structure. It just depends on who’s referring to it but what it does is allow you to write a longer teaser that can sometimes be more luxurious and get more of your story set up and then use the following four acts to complete your storytelling. Shows that I will say I think have done that or like The Good Wife would sometimes have those really long opening setups before the title card so that’s your long luxurious teaser and then the rest of the show is the 5x structure. That’s the main stuff, six act, teaser four or five act. Five act tends to have a shorter teaser that basically starts act one. It’s like a short teaser, title card, the rest of act one as opposed to being a separate entity like teaser four is. Those are the varying different things and if you can get a hold of scripts for different shows you can research how they did it. In streaming shows when you read our scripts there won’t be any act designations because there are typically no commercial breaks, although now that Netflix is going to have an ad tier, I don’t know if that’s going to change or they’re going to ask us to tell them where the commercial breaks are like we do in broadcast, TBD [to be determined]. Again to something I spoke about earlier that I think is really important, breaking the story as if those act breaks exist will help with your storytelling and help with the emotional ebb and flow of the episode so that it doesn’t feel like you’re waiting until the end of the show to do all the really important things. I think what happens is people are like well we can have all these nice long conversations or we can have this great big huge set piece…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

See it on Amazon here

BUY THE BOOK – THE WRITER’S ROOM SURVIVAL GUIDE: Don’t Screw up the lunch order and other keys to a happy Writers’ Room by Niceole R. Levy



After growing up near China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Niceole escaped to the bright lights of Los Angeles. While studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she realized her true love was writing stories, not playing them out. She worked as a police dispatcher to pay her way through USC undergrad and then completed the Master of Professional Writing program, also at USC. An alum of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program, NBC’s Writers on the Verge, and the WGAW Showrunner Training Program, Niceole has written on “Ironside,” “Allegiance,” “The Mysteries of Laura,” “Shades of Blue,” “Cloak & Dagger,” “Fate: the Winx Saga,” “S.W.A.T,” and “Graymail.” She also co-wrote a feature, “The Banker,” with former “Allegiance” showrunner and director George Nolfi, available on AppleTV+, and is now writing “Spark,” a film inspired by the life of Claudette Colvin. Niceole is currently a co-executive producer on an upcoming Netflix series and has several TV and feature projects in development. Her first book, “The Writers’ Room Survival Guide,” will be released in October of this year. 






Advertisement – contains affiliate links 

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)


More affiliates:


Camera we use for interviews –

Editing system –

Sound we use for interviews –

Writers, try Final Draft free for 30-days –

Other books on Amazon that Film Courage recommends –