The answer to the question “What is a teleplay” is both interesting and easy to find. In the late 1950’s, Playhouse 90 was a television series, which ran for 90 minutes. Right from the earliest times there were two broad categories of shows for television – drama and variety shows. The ancestry of dramas for the TV can be traced back to radio dramas. Down the years, the concept of teleplays underwent many changes and today it has come to stand for a screenplay written or adapted exclusively for the small screen. In a broader sense, a teleplay is merely a script, a composition to be used for production of films, stage plays or television shows. A teleplay has all the elements and shape that will fit the television screen better and is written with descriptions, directions, and dialogue to suit the television industry. By now you should have at least part of an answer to the question “What is a teleplay?”
Another part of the query, “What is a teleplay” has to do with its conventional act structure and format. Both are basically consistent in all episodic television shows. The one characteristic that sets a teleplay apart from screenplays for films and theatrical plays is the necessity to intersperse the entire dramatic writing with commercial breaks. Television has been hailed as the largest mass medium for advertising since over half a century. It is the quickest way to reach out to the masses, and this prominence has not been deterred even by the introduction of the Internet. The targeting ability of advertising over the television is due to the impact created by its sound, sight, and motion. Advertisers have come to depend on television to create awareness about their products. Teleplays are structured with built-in time allocated to commercials. Writers seeking to acquaint themselves with an answer to “what is a teleplay” must read as many TV scripts of popular shows as they can.
Determining what is a teleplay and how best to entertain viewers have been subjects of contention since the evolution of television. It has been estimated that man’s span of attention lasts for about 15 minutes at a time. Teleplay writers keep this mind while planning the commercial breaks. Since a page of script equals a minute of airtime, writers ensure that, after every 14-15 pages, they culminate the scene, preferably on a dramatic cliffhanger. This keeps the viewers glued to the teleplay in progress, without switching over to some other channel. The excitement draws them to find out what occurred in the storyline next.
The jigsaw puzzle of determining what is a teleplay will be solved when you begin to write specs for different programs already on air. Watch these shows carefully and if possible read the scripts. Study the style of all the characters, how they speak, what they do, and how they act and interact. The increase in the number of channels with their individual style of airing the programs has expanded the market place for budding, new and talented teleplay writers.