by Maria Notarianni
Sheree Guitar, now CEO of Sheree Guitar Entertainment, began as a television writer for series, such as Roseanne. Her experience with sitcoms led her to start her own company and share her skills in both writing and pitching a pilot with upcoming writers. During her lecture at Script DC, Guitar shared her tips and experiences as well.
Structuring the Comedy
The thirty-minute comedy involves a basic structure:
- A story: the primary story of a show
- B story: the secondary story of a show
- Runner: a side character story (e.g. Kramer’s story in Seinfeld)
- Season-long story: a reoccurring story (e.g. ugly naked guy in Friends)
The “A story” involves the shows protagonist, and ultimately the other stories will revolve around them. Using the example of Roseanne, Guitar recalls an episode she wrote called “One for the Roads.” In the episode, Roseanne and Dan Conner’s oldest daughter, Becky, gets drunk with one of her friends while her parents are out of the house. Although Becky receives the most screen-time during the episode, the climax of the episode is when Roseanne and Dan talk about Becky’s drinking incident and how this reflects on them as parents. Guitar’s example is telling of the structure of a television series: the story revolves back to the “A story,” answering broader questions about the leading characters rather than the plot would have viewers assume.
21st Century Television
When television series (including Roseanne) were airing in the ‘90s, there was common knowledge about what was on television, and people would discuss the shows at work the next day; a practice Guitar called “water cooler talk.” Now, with platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, common knowledge has dispersed into niche markets. Niche markets allow for consumers to have a larger selection of genres to choose from, and thus, writers have a broader range of topics for which to write.
Consistency in Comedy
Even in a changing market, there are still staples to writing a comedy, specifically the comedy’s characters. An example Guitar uses is Modern Family. The show, whose namesake comes from evolving times, revolves around a large family that consists of three immediate families. Collectively, they are an unconventional, television family. Individually, they are a family of running stereotypes. Guitar advised: Create a new and unique show with familiar characters.
Selling Your Script
For all of Guitar’s lessons to be put to use, writers need to know how to sell their scripts. Thanks to websites like YouTube, people have a platform that can serve as a starting point for getting picked up by a television network, as has been done with shows such as Broad City. There are many directions a writer can go to get their pilot recognized, and putting content online is only one option. Going to events like Script DC offers blooming writers a chance to meet people in “the business” and discuss their ideas firsthand. The experience offered by getting to personally connect with someone is a great way to begin networking.