How to Write a Script for a TV Show

For students who want to learn how to write a script for a TV show, there’s no better example to learn from than Sylvester Stallone’s script for Rocky. Yes, it’s a movie and not a TV show, but the same story concepts still apply.

If you remember, Rocky Balboa was picked from obscurity to fight the champion, Apollo Creed in a publicity stunt. Up until then, Rocky had fought a couple of times in a some amateur matches, but he soon gave up and became a debt collector for a loan shark. Basically, Rocky was a street thug. Or as Mickey would later describe him, “a bum.” Rocky knows he doesn’t stand a chance against the champ, but he also knows he can’t say no to this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Breaking down this script will help you better understand how to write a TV show. To refresh, a story recounts the struggle of a hero, fighting an obstacle, to achieve a goal. The hero in this script is Rocky. His goal is to win the fight. The obstacle is Apollo Creed. Like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, Apollo is the perfect obstacle. He’s strong, fast, handsome, exceptionally smart, and he’s a shrewd  businessman. He’s so perfect, that he’s even named after a god. His only flaw is that he underestimated Rocky’s desire.

As I mentioned in this article, every story can be divided into two components: plot and emotional story. I just described the plot of Rocky, but what’s the emotional story of this amazing screenplay? Well, it’s revealed in a scene that was almost never shot. The producers wanted to cut it because there was no action in the scene. There was no boxing or training. But Stallone new that the scene was critical to telling the emotional story of the screenplay, and and fought to keep. The scene I’m referring to is the famous bedroom scene. In it, Rocky and Adrian are lying in bed, the night before the fight. Rocky quietly confesses that he has no hope of winning. Despite all his training and improvement, he doesn’t stand a  chance in hell against Apollo. But if he can just go the distance… if he can go all those rounds, and suffer punch after punch and still remain on his feet at the end of the fight, then in his mind, he will have won. He’ll no longer be a bum. That’s the emotional story of the script. What Rocky really wants, is to no longer feel like a bum. That’s how this boy will finally become a man.

This is why, at the end of the movie and Rocky is still standing, despite not having won the fight, we cry tears of joy for him. And it’s why Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1977, and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

So here’s the kicker: Rocky and the classic fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk are essentially the same story. They are both stories of a boy who needs to become a man. At the core, every story is about a boy becoming a man. (Or a girl becoming a woman.) It’s about a character discovering their weakness and striving to overcome it. Does it matter if they succeed? No. But it’s critical that they try.

Understanding this distinction between plot and emotional story is crucial, and it will help you write your own television script. For my next script writing online lesson click here.

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Author Details
For the past 25 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.