Hey, everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. I’m answering some viewer mail today. Here’s the question someone sent. Does a teaser count as an act or does that fall into act one? The answer is, it really doesn’t matter. So when we break a story, we figure out on the board what the beats of the story are, we always break it into three acts: act one, act two, act three, because that’s just how it feels. It feels good and there are certain moments that you have to hit in each act for your story to feel compelling and engaging. This doesn’t matter whether you’re writing an hour-long drama, a half-hour sitcom, or a feature or a novel. It just feels right to break into three acts because there’s something about it that feels good.
So traditionally on an old network show, at the end of every act they would sell toilet paper. We’d go to commercial break and we’d sell toilet paper. So the moments before each act break had to have a certain cliffhanger feel so that people would come back after they bought their toilet paper. But now with shows on streaming and cable, sometimes they don’t have commercials, and so I would still break the story into three acts.
Now, does it matter if your teaser is in Act One or if it’s its own thing? I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter. It depends on what the network tells you what they want to do. Sometimes the network will say, “Hey, we want to have a teaser, and then go to commercial because we want to sell more commercials.” Sometimes a network will say, “Well no, we don’t really care.” So it’s really up to you if you’re writing something original. If you are writing a spec of an existing show, then you need to do it the way the show does it. Sometimes they go to commercials and that will be part of it.
So the question that you really want to ask is, is your teaser on-story or off-story? For some shows like Cheers, back in the day, they would do a teaser that was off-story, which was just a funny downbeat. Norman would enter the bar. “Hey, Norm. What do you want today?” He said whatever. He’d have a joke and then they’d go to that pedal sequence. So you could always cut that teaser. In other words, it’s not necessary for the story. In some shows the teaser is on-story, which means you’d actually need to just watch it to understand what’s going to happen next.
So there’s your answer. It really doesn’t matter. It just depends on what you’re writing.