1/25/2007

Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica Podcast for "Rapture" (which aired Sunday, January 21) contains all manner of insights into the mechanics of television narrative. Moore discusses how telephone calls can cover for patches in exposition (a Hitchcockian trick), how plot points have to work around production constraints (avoiding location shooting in favor of studio shooting), and how scenes are moved around during writing and editing to get a good rhythm and avoid having acts shorter than six minutes. He says that the teaser and first and second acts are extended to keep audiences from changing channels during commercials (though DVD viewers won't care about this), so later acts end up being short. At the same time, every act ideally should culminate in a cliffhanger act-out, with the third act-out having the strongest moment of suspense. (I have found that many shows have weak third-act endings, but this observation is totally casual.) The podcast humbly points out various ways that the episode could be stronger and many of his points address the ways that writers have to manage audience expectations. Some plot inconsistencies he mentions might be the sort of thing that most viewers won't catch, but "if you're listening to the podcast," he says, "you want to know how the sausage was made."

3 comments:

OneEar said...

Ha. You said Hitchcockian.

Anonymous said...

So given that there aren't just three ad breaks every fifteen minutes like in the old days, and now it's more like six ad breaks, with longer ones in the second half, are TV shows now structured into six acts rather than the traditional four acts? Or is it still just four, but with the latter two chopped into mini-acts?

michael z newman said...

I think there are two ways of looking at it. There is dramatic structure and there is segmentation by commercial breaks. Writers might call something six minutes long an "act" because it goes between two commercial breaks, but if the commercials don't come at moments that mark a significant dramatic shift then these are acts in a rather superficial sense. (Jane Espenson might have discussed this at some point in her blog.) I got a strong sense last season that some shows were inserting commercials at points that the writers clearly hadn't intended as act breaks (I have in mind Commander in Chief especially, but other shows like The O.C. were doing this too, and Fox was a pioneer in shoehorning in extra spots). I haven't noticed these very short acts as much this season, though.