Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Mystery of the 52nd Minute

Just past the 52nd minute....

The Mystery of the Fifty-second Minute

Sounds like a great title, doesn’t it? “The 39 Steps”, or “Sixth Sense”?  Throw a number in the title, and you create a question and a grabber.

This is how TV shows always play out. It doesn't matter the genre of the show. Code Black (ER with quality actors; good show)? Elementary (modern Sherlock Holmes in NYC; good show)? Bones (now in syndication, FBI meets forensics; good show as well)? are all good examples.

I have observed that at the 52nd minute, stuff happens. There are 8 more minutes left. Factor in 2 or 3 commercials about 1 minute + each, leaving 5 more minutes.  These allow things to be wrapped up with all sorts of ruminations, memories, self-doubt, and finally resolution. 58 rolls around, show ends at 58.5, and then there are previews of the next show, along with more commercials. The 60 minutes ding,  and Bob's Your Uncle.


At this site, Guide to writing TV scripts the process is broken down in this way:

Any script should come in 5 steps. First there is the "Teaser" which supposedly catches the viewer. Commercial break kicks in, indicating movement onto......  

"Act One" which presents the problem to be addressed. A commercial break appears, leading to....

"Act Two" has the characters facing down the problem, figuring things out, but meeting up with all sorts of brick walls in their discoveries.  Another commercial break interrupts, and then there is....

"Act Three" finds the characters' frustrations overwhelming and bad guys making headway. Another blasted commercial break, leading to....

"Act Four" is the big event, where basically it is all figured out. (THIS is where the 52nd minute heralds the Ah-Ha moment).Yet another commercial break happens, and....

"Act Five" allows for closure and maybe "wait, look over there, OH NO..." 

Somehow, knowing this format makes it all less irritating. Being able to identify "Oh this is Act Three." sets up the next bathroom run.



What spurred this interest? "A Team", old show from late 70s.  This show was textbook on predictability. My nephews explained it to me and I saw their logic. 

I could write these scripts.

We all could write this type of script. But, the question is could we all factor in the 52nd minute?


18 comments:

  1. It will be interestng to view the 52nd minute of our lives won't it?

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  2. It was predictable, but we still watched The A Team.
    I assume thirty minute sitcoms play along the same lines.

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    1. Depends which sitcom, I think. But, I guess so.

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  3. I subconsciously knew this, sometimes even thought of it consciously, but now that you've written it in white-on-blue, I may never again be able to watch those shows without thinking of which step they're up to. Of course it plays out a little different on DVDs where there are no ad breaks, but I bet I can now spot where an ad break would occur.

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    1. Even with this knowledge, I will still watch. It becomes a mind game, playing with "Oh, here is act 3!"

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  4. Yeah, they all hit the same beats. Even if a show is different, say 24, the show itself hits the same beats. And you can almost always guess who the bad guy is, it's the guy that shows up for 2 mins of screen time in the second act somewhere.

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    1. The bad guy is always the most recognized actor who has some screen time in other shows.

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  5. I've subconsciously noted the routine. I guess they go with what works. :)

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  6. Hi Susan - I'm certain there's a template (as such) ... but they were totally enjoyably fun, or awful ... and still appeal for a quick break from 'doing something useful'! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Oh yes. We still watch and enjoy, even knowing the stages that come next.

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  7. The trick is to defy expectations while adhering to the formula. It's funny how a formula can make people more creative sometimes.

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  8. Yes! I am always amazed by the problems the Enterprise crew can solve in the last ten minutes.

    It is formulaic and yet, I feel too much of the world has forgotten how to tell good stories. I love all of the geeky movies coming out these days but will be the first to admit they're driven by character and flash rather than plot. Television at its best, with its restrictive format and its need to resell itself every week, still delivers.

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    1. I love that sense of closure as well. Even so I am really looking forward to Aquaman and the future DC/Marvel inspired movies with their character driven movies.

      Any news on next S.Trek movie? I heard that Patrick Stewart May be in the next one.

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    2. Even better, he's going to be in a new series! Unfortunately, it will be on CBS Access but better Picard on streaming service than no Picard at all.

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    3. I will check CBS Access and see if we can access it here. Picard is the best captain, altho my husband disagrees with me.

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Go ahead...it won' t hurt...I'd love to hear what you think!