A story: The most important story in an episode, which takes up the most screen time.
act out: A cliffhanger or emotional whammy that happens just before the show cuts to a commercial, so the audience will stay tuned in to the show. “We make our money on teasers, tags and outs.”
act: Everything between two commercials.
action: Everything that happens that isn’t people talking.
attractive fantasy: A life situation in which the star of a series finds him or herself that we’d like to be in. Part of the template.
B story: The second most important story in an episode, which takes up a medium amount of screen time.
baby writer: A writer without a lot of professional experience, regardless how old.
backstory: A character’s personal history before the episode or series begins its onscreen chronology.
beat sheet: The whole story of an episode told beat by beat, in order.
beat: A unit of storytelling, in which one significant thing happens.
bible: A document that theoretically tells you everything you need to know about the show in order to write it, and practically almost never does.
bit: A series of related jokes.
blacks: The action description. So called because it makes big nasty chunks of black text on the page, while dialogue is nice and sparse.
bottle show: An episode that takes place in a physically restricted set using a limited cast, or takes place only on the standing sets using only the series regulars, to save time and money.
breakdown: A brief sketch of the episode’s stories, showing acts and act outs, teaser and tag.
breaking story: Finding the acts and act outs in a story, often done in the room by the writing staff
breaking the frame: Drawing attention to the fact that the events are taking place on a tv show, not in real life.
bumping: Being annoyed by a plothole. “I’m bumping on how they got to the transporter device.” “That’s what you’re bumping on???”
button: A particularly neat bit of dialogue (a single line or a couplet) that ends a scene sharply. Also used as a verb: “That buttons the scene rather nicely, doesn’t it?”
C story: The third most important story in an episode, which takes little screen time.
callback: Dialogue that refers to earlier dialogue, often twisting its meaning into something new.
character-based: A drama in which the stories arise primarily from conflicts between the characters. All comedies are character based.
civilian: someone who does not work in show business.
clip show: An episode that relies on lots of footage from previous episodes. Used to save money or, more often, time. Naughty, naughty, naughty.
co-executive producer: Title given to indicate a writer-producer who ranks just below an executive producer.
co-producer: Courtesy title given to a veteran story editor who ranks below a producer but above an executive story editor.
comedy: Anything that is supposed to be consistently funny.
comic drama: A sub-genre in which the story structure and stakes are dramatic but the situations and dialogue may be played for laughs. Usually single camera.
core cast: The characters who are supposed to be in every episode.
couplet: Two lines of dialogue in a row, in which one character’s line answers the previous line. “How do you sleep at night?” “I don’t.” A couplet that neatly ends a scene is called a button.
demographics: What sort of folks watch the show.
dialogue: Characters talking.
dopplering: Describes the sound of a car passing by offscreen.
draft: A version of a script. Defined in the standard Guild contract, but more flexible in real life.
drama (1): A tv series that isn’t comedy or reality. Usually one hour.
drama (2): What happens when two people come into physical, emotional or moral conflict;
drama (3): A tv show genre about characters going through emotional issues.
dramedy: A comic drama. No one uses this term seriously any more, so just forget it. Not to be confused with dromedary, which is a perfectly fine word for a camel with two humps.
echo: Repeating a line we’ve heard before in the episode.
ep: An episode. No one can be bothered to write the word “episode” over and over again.
episodic: Describes a show in which nothing that happens on one episode significantly impacts later episodes; compare to serial.
executive story editor: Title that indicates a veteran story editor who outranks story editors but ranks below writer-producers.
executive producer: The top title on a show. Traditionally given to the showrunner, but not exclusively so.
expo: Exposition, that is, when a character explains stuff the audience needs to know. “So how does this machine work, exactly?”
free lancer: A writer who is hired on a per script basis.
gilding the matzah: Belaboring a joke to where it’s not funny any more.
going to pages: Writing the script.
go out on: To end a scene or act with. “Let’s go out on Jasmine deciding whether to kill him or not.”
Guild: The Writer’s Guild of America or the Writer’s Guild of Canada. Your first line of defense against producers messing with your credit or money. (Nothing prevents producers from messing with your words.)
handwaving: Story material that sounds great in a beat sheet or treatment, due to the writer’s clever prose, but leaves major story issues unresolved. Handwaving will cause pain to whatever poor bastard actually has to write the pages.
hang a lantern on: To draw attention to a story element so the audience doesn’t miss it; also called hanging a sign on.
head writer: The highest ranked writer below the showrunner. May have a title of anything from executive story editor to co-executive producer depending on the structure and size of the writing staff.
hook: A series premise that makes people want to tune in to watch at least one episode.
Joss: the dark god of writers. Black lambs are slaughtered to him at the new moon.
laying pipe: Giving technical information now so we’ll know it later when a story point turns on it.
like-a-joke: A comic bit that has the rhythms of a joke, and is followed by laughter on the sound track, but is not actually funny.
make a moment: Drawing attention to the moment in which a character is saying or deciding something important.
negative fantasy: A life situation which the star of a series finds him or herself in that we’re glad we’re not in. Part of the template.
on the nose: Dialogue that says exactly what the character means. Characters should usually avoid speaking on the nose.
out: An act out.
pages: The script.
pass: A writer’s pass through a script, writing or rewriting a draft of it. A draft may represent several passes by one or more writers. “Pass” suggests that the current version will likely be critiqued and/or story edited before anyone outside the writing room sees it. “Draft” implies it’s being shown to non-writers. Freelancers are only supposed to do two drafts, but nothing limits how many passes they do before they show their work to anyone.
plothole: A logical flaw in the story.
point of view character: A character through whose perspective the story is told, whether the hero or not.
pop: When a scene ends with a bang that propels you into the next scene.
premise pilot: A pilot episode that shows how the core cast first get together or the basic situation first arose.
procedural: A drama in which external events provide the stories. Medical, law and police shows are typical procedurals.
producer (1): A courtesy title given to veteran story editors.
producer (2): A salesman who sells a package of some creative material and some talent to organizations with money, such as networks and studios.
pushing: Giving the audience story faster than they can absorb.
reality show: A show that pretends not to have a script, in order to avoid paying the writer scale. The WGA is addressing this issue.
recurring cast: Characters who reappear in the series without being core.
room: The writing room. The magic place where the writing staff break story. One of the best places in the world to be, if you’re a writer. Non-writers in the room usually kill the magic.
runner: A recurring bit of action, like a running gag, not necessarily containing all the elements of a story, and therefore not a C or D story.
scale: The minimum payment allowed for a piece of writing under a Guild contract.
schmuck bait: A promised story turn that only a schmuck would believe will ever actually happen, like the hero dying (or in a science fiction show, the hero dying permanently).
script timing: The process of estimating how long an episode will play on screen.
segue: How you move from one scene to another. Sometimes misspelled “segway,” which the brand name of a sort of scooter that balances itself on two wheels.
serial: A show in which the plot develops from episode to episode; compare episodic.
series regulars: The actors who are contracted by season rather than by episode.
serving a character: Giving a character something to do in an episode.
shoe leather: Dialogue or action that exists purely to fill in a plothole.
showrunner: The person responsible for all creative aspects of the show. Everyone on the crew is responsible to the showrunner; he is responsible only to the network (and the production company, if it’s not his production company). Usually a writer. Your job is not to make a good TV show; that’s his job. Your job is to make the showrunner’s life easier.
sitcom: A half hour comedy, often three camera, usually one that tries to provide three laughs a minute, which exists solely for the sake of the humor.
soap: A character-based drama with a serial plot line. Not necessarily an actual daytime soap opera.
soapy: Describes a show with serial plot elements.
spec pilot: A sample episode of a nonexistent series, written either to showcase your originality, or actually to sell the show to a network.
spec script: An episode of an existing series written to showcase your writing skills and get you a job, not intended to actually be sold or produced, though that has happened often enough to give some people false hope.
springboard: An episode idea in a nutshell.
staffing season: The annual cycle in which shows are optioned, pilots are shot, shows are funded and writing staffs are hired.
staff writer: A freelancer who works in the office writing his or her own scripts.
standing sets: Studio sets that stay up all season. Cheap to shoot in. Scenes that take place on standing sets make production managers happy.
story editor: A writer who works on staff, writing his or her own scripts, breaking story, and rewriting other people’s scripts.
subtitles for the nuance impaired: Prose inserted into a treatment or script to make sure the reader gets the point. Only considered cheating if the audience won’t get the point, either. The difference between the reader not getting it and the audience not getting it can be explained by referring to the terms directing, acting, cinematography, editing and music.
tag: The scene or scenes that appear after the last commercial, to tie up any loose ends or, alternately, to untie one loose end so the story can continue next week.
taking the curse off: Making a story point not feel like a cliché without changing the story point itself.
teaser: The scene or scenes that appear before the titles and the first commercial, to “tease” the audience into watching the episode. Normally sets up the episode story but doesn’t have to.
telegraphing: Giving the audience too heavy a hint where the story will go.
template: The deep structure of a TV show. The template encompasses all the things that every episode in the series must do.
templing: When a character puts his fingers together thoughtfully, forming a temple.
the long term: Next season.
three-camera: Series shot on a sound stage with three cameras constantly recording the action. Three-camera series are often shot in two performances on a single day. Opposed to single-camera.
tracking: Following a character's personal story line to make sure it makes sense by itself. "Josh's story doesn't track."
treatment: A beat sheet expanded and polished for delivery to people who haven’t heard the verbal pitch, such as network executives. Often contains subtitles for the nuance impaired.
two hander: A dialogue scene between two characters. Production managers love these.
writer: A godlike man or woman, worthy of worship and offers of marriage, fantastic in bed, whose every fault is simply adorable.