I checked back through Joss Whedon’s body of work. And guess what? The guy always writes in 4 acts, although usually with a teaser up front.
Here are some stats:
Buffy: teaser and 4 acts (pilot and regular episodes)
Angel: teaser and 4 acts (pilot and regular episodes)
Firefly pilot: teaser and 7 acts (2 hours)
Firefly episodes: teaser and 4 acts
So a straight four act pilot without a teaser is a bit of a change of pace for Joss.
Fitzgerald told us: “There are no second acts in American lives” – he obviously never had to write for television.
Whedon’s writing has always struck me as not just clever and compelling but also very human – no doubt this is in part to his listening to a story telling rhythm which contradicts “the norm” and speaks, instead, to the best way to tell a story.
I have no doubt there are a myriad of structures capable of containing a narrative flow – and none of them considered “the norm”. It’s nice to think that as the entire entertainment media industry shakes itself senseless we will re-engage with these disparate structures – discovering more about ourselves and how we tell of ourselves in story.
There have been a few pilots recently that did the “presented with limited commercial interruption” thing–Heroes, The Black Donnellys, Smith, Vanished, Reunion, Burn Notice–and several cable series that continue to have only two or three C-breaks in the regular episodes–The Shield, Rescue Me, Mad Men, Breaking Bad.
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