Standardized formatting has evolved in Hollywood, and if you’re not using up-to-date industry-standard formatting in your script, it could be perceived as amateur and unprofessional. In the fast-paced world of TV where new drafts of scripts need to be sent out to an entire production team on a dime, and changes need to be tracked and drafts need to be read and budgeted and scheduled, it’s absolutely crucial that formatting remains intact so that everyone is literally on the same page.
Using examples provided by the industry-standard screenwriting software Final Draft, here’s how to format a TV sitcom script. Launch Final Draft screenwriting software and go to File > New from Template > TV Templates; choose the Half-Hour Sitcom TV template. Type out a Scene Heading, Action and a few lines of Dialogue and you’ll notice that Scene Headings are underlined, Action is all caps and dialogue is double-spaced; this template follows the industry standard for multi-camera sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory:
In this example taken from Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady’s pilot script for The Big Bang Theory pilot, character names are also underlined when first introduced and a cast list is included directly underneath the Scene Heading. In Final Draft, you can toggle through and change Elements in the Elements bar found at the top of the document in Final Drat 11, or at the bottom of the document in Final Draft 10.
The formatting of each individual Element can be edited by going to Format > Elements (or Element Settings on Windows), choosing the Element that needs to be edited and making said edits either in the Font or Paragraph tab (Element styles are done in the Font tab and spacing is done in Paragraph).
Many TV sitcom scripts also have additional information in the Header and sometimes the Footer of the document. The default setting in Final Draft is for the Header and Footer to not display on the first page (although this setting can be changed by going to Document > Header & Footer > Options > Show Header on first page).
The Header has the following information displayed on the first line: the episode name, the draft of the script and the page number. The second line of the Header contains the following information: the episode title, the date and lastly, a label containing what will either be the act and scene number, or in this example, the cold opening and its accompanying scene letter. Note that this script has two cold openings; thus, the need for a “CO/A” and “CO/B” label.
Once in the Header menu (Document > Header and Footer) place your cursor where each data marker needs to be, e.g., the label should be formatted to the right of the second line and click on the corresponding data marker from the menu at the top to insert it into the Header field.
To fill out the information that needs to be displayed in the Header label, go to Insert > Label. Using the Big Bang example, if your label needs to read CO/A on one page and CO/B on the next; place your cursor in the last line of the page before the page that needs to be edited and type in the correct information in the Insert > Label field.
Other Elements to be keenly aware of in TV sitcom writing are the Cold Opening, New Act and End of Act Elements. These are uniformly formatted in the same manner: centered and underlined in all caps. However, in some sitcom scripts, such as The Big Bang Theory, they are formatted a few spaces below the Header. Again, this can be edited by going to Format > Elements > New Act > Paragraph and changing the “Space Before” to the desired setting. The default in Final Draft is 11 spaces but The Big Bang Theory appears to be roughly half of that amount.
Single-camera TV sitcoms generally break away from multi-cam formatting to where they more or less look like a basic feature screenplay script. In Final Draft, go to File > New from Template > TV Templates and choose One-Hour TV Drama. Although designated as the standard drama template, this template can also be used for single-camera sitcoms such Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
Some of the major differences in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine example include bolding New/End of Act Elements as well as having regularly formatted lines of Action and Dialogue. Some tweaks are made to the formatting in the Header text, including using brackets around the episode number and bolding the series title as well. In another example from the sitcom Black-ish, it’s easy to note that much of the formatting is pretty standard, albeit for Scene Headings, which are bolded (Format > Elements > Scene Headings > Font > Bold).
To access additional Final Draft templates, such as the ones used in this article, go to File > New from Templates and choose “Download more templates” located at the bottom of the templates window.
Andrew Schwartz is a marketing professional and script reader working in the entertainment industry. He has written and read for outlets such as The Blcklst, BlueCat Screenplay, Final Draft and more. Find him on Twitter at @writingshorts or his Instagram page dedicated to The Sopranos, @sopranosgram.