British Comedy Guide

Plot / Sub Plot Question Page 2

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glaikit

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:07pm [Edited]
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:00 AM GMT

Sounds good to me. And yeah, Father Ted was a very free-form show that just did its own thing, and all the better for it. Episodes of Ted were more like a collection of ongoing running gags than carefully plotted stories.

Totally.

Although, not to undermine my previous rant, I'd advise everyone not to use Father Ted too much as a guide for how to write sitcoms. That 'Speed 3' episode hinges on a brick that is introduced and used later on in such a comically ham-fisted way that it surely wouldn't work for any other show and any other writer - except other stuff by Linehan and/or Mathews! I'm not saying that it is lazy writing, more that it is so cheeky that no-one else would get away with it.

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steve by any other name

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:25pm [Edited]
  • Northampton, England
  • 832 posts

I had a sitcom in development with the BBC despite their criticism that my original script had too much going on. Each of the 4 main characters had their own story line. They also said it was too long. I tried to address this with the final submission.

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Marc P

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:32pm
  • England
  • 17,698 posts

I had a script editor complain to me once that a script was too hard to edit as everything was connected to each other.

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Matthew Stott

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:33pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:28 AM GMT

Rare to hear the complaint of "too much" happening in a script - at least it's always easier to cut bits of story than to try and add.

I've had that complaint with something recently; I purposefully had it quite packed, like a lot of American shows, but have had to take out stuff and focus on only one or two bits.

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glaikit

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:36pm [Edited]
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:09 AM GMT

Also - the few industry people I've spoken to have complained the number one weakness of sitcom scripts is "not enough plot", ie just page after page of weak banter.

So if you're going to throw away structure completely, and just have a single extended sketch for 30 minutes, you better be as clever and inventive as Graham Linehan.

I wouldn't agree that having one Group Plot A necessarily constitutes as throwing away structure completely. Rather, I'd say that it was a case of replacing 2-3 shorter, less developed (or slighter) plots with one strong plot that twists and turns in different directions before coming to a satisfactory climax.

When you get complaints about 'not having enough plot' (a horrible, unhelpful phrase in my opinion) I would say that it means that not enough is happening in the script as a whole (and you've just got people sitting around talking and not forwarding the plot) rather than you don't have enough plots . The Father Ted episodes I mentioned have plenty going on and the plot moves on in interesting ways, so I don't agree that they're essentially one extended 30min sketch.

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steve by any other name

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:38pm
  • Northampton, England
  • 832 posts

I was, rightly or wrongly, influenced by Friends in the way I'd structured my episode. Not sure that goes down too well over here.

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glaikit

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:45pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: steve by any other name @ January 7 2009, 10:38 AM GMT

I was, rightly or wrongly, influenced by Friends in the way I'd structured my episode. Not sure that goes down too well over here.

I'd say Friends is a perfect sitcom to analyse as far as plots go - week after week (or hour after hour if you watch E4 and Ch4) it almost always combines 3 distinct plots that come together in the end in a satisfactory way. Yes, it's often predictable and its had its rough patches over the years, but as a basic how-to structure plots it is fantastic. If you could manage to replicate its structure, but with original characters and a comedy style that feels fresh and new then I'd say you're on to a winner.

Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:41 AM GMT

No, I wasn't aiming that comment at you, having a single strong plot with lots of twists and turns isn't throwing away structure at all. It takes some skill to come up with a plot which naturally sustains a lot of twists and turns, rather than a picaresque series of events "this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this and then it finished". But if you can do it, good for you, go for it.

Nae bother.

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Matthew Stott

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:47pm [Edited]
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: glaikit @ January 7 2009, 10:45 AM GMT

I'd say Friends is a perfect sitcom to analyse as far as plots go - week after week (or hour after hour if you watch E4 and Ch4) it almost always combines 3 distinct plots that come together in the end in a satisfactory way.

Look at Seinfeld for that too.

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Mav42

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:56pm
  • Exeter, England
  • 76 posts

I grew up watching Friends.

Tremendously influential sitcom.

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Matthew Stott

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 3:57pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:55 AM GMT

Agreed, Friends is superbly plotted. And yet lots of comedy writers seem to turn their noses up at it, for reasons I can't fathom. Often they tend to accuse it of being "superficial" - because it has good looking people in it - and yet they're the ones judging it by the appearance of the actors...

Friends is one of the all time greats in my opinion; consistently funny.

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glaikit

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 4:49pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts

I went full circle with Friends - I loved it when it first came out on Ch4, then it got popular and I began to hate it, then I couldn't get Sky or Cable and so now it's consistently the only thing on worth watching on Digital.

Yes, it's got a good-looking cast, but there's some cracking plots (on a good day some of the ideas are worthy of Seinfeld) and fantastic comic performances in there.

No shame in liking Friends.

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Lee Henman

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 5:38pm
  • England
  • 5,183 posts
Quote: Marc P @ January 7 2009, 10:32 AM GMT

I had a script editor complain to me once that a script was too hard to edit as everything was connected to each other.

:D Jesus. Rolling eyes

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Lee

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 5:39pm
  • Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
  • 36,350 posts

I had a script editor complain to me once that shitting through the letterbox wasn't going to change their mind.

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Tursiops

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 8:27pm [Edited]
  • Welwyn Garden City, England
  • 9,788 posts
Quote: Griff @ January 7 2009, 10:41 AM GMT

No, I wasn't aiming that comment at you, having a single strong plot with lots of twists and turns isn't throwing away structure at all. It takes some skill to come up with a plot which naturally sustains a lot of twists and turns, rather than a picaresque series of events "this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this and then it finished". But if you can do it, good for you, go for it.

Interesting discussion. A thought that occurs to me is that older shows were often more linear than most modern sitcoms, with a single central premise being twisted and turned, rather than separate plot lines being intertwined. Galton & Simpson are masters of this, though capable of more complex plotting as well. Clement and La Frenais would sometimes come up with a premise and just riff on it without any plot twists (Bob and Terry trying not to hear the result, Fletcher trying to get some peace and quiet).

Even shows with an ensemble cast such as Dad's Army tended to rely on "Group Plots".

I wonder whether the current emphasis on subplots owes something to the influence of American shows such as Taxi and Friends, where ensemble casting and star egos meant everyone had to have equal screen time.

The influence of farce may also be a factor, earlier writers having come up through music hall and radio, and perhaps being less influenced by the theatre.