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Is it a TV Show, a Limited Series, or a Movie?

Imagine the movie Home Alone as a TV show: the parents go away, leaving Kevin home alone. Episode after episode, Kevin is home alone. But when the parents come back, then what? Kevin's not home alone anymore. So do they go away again? (Well, yes, they do in the sequel, but that's not the point.)

How would you make Home Alone a TV show? You wouldn't. Because it's not.

Sure, you can make anything a TV show if you alter it enough (you can also turn a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into a stew, but I wouldn't recommend it.) There's a bigger difference between a movie and a series than just where audiences watch it.

Home Alone is a movie because it has a beginning, middle, and an end. Friends is a TV show because it's ongoing. Big Little Lies and White Lotus are limited series because, like Home Alone, they have an ending point, but they're longer than a feature film.

But what about Breaking Bad? Doesn't that have an ending point? Doesn't Walter White have cancer? Doesn't he have to either get caught or die at some point? First of all, no. Secondly, his story can go on for years before either of those things happen. In the case of White Lotus, you can only stay at a beach resort for so long before you get sick of shellfish. In order to be a TV series, it needs to be able to go on for years. A studio doesn't want to make a show that will have to end after a year or two. It also needs to have relatively endless options for episode topics. Abbott Elementary takes place at a school. Lots of students, admin, faculty, staff, etc. There are tons of opportunities for story lines. Procedurals, like cop shows, and hospital dramas? Also perfect for TV. Pretty Woman? Not so much.

White Lotus, which was intended to be a limited, one-season mini-series, has turned into an anthology series. It could be a regular, ongoing TV series, but it would have to be changed into something more like The Love Boat, where our focus on resort guests is limited to each episode, and the staff would be the only constant.

If you want your movie script to be a TV series, that's fine! But get ready to do some reconstructive surgery on more than just your format- you might have to reconfigure your concept.


Caroline Gordon-Elliott offers online and in-person classes, private coaching, script consulting, blog, resources for writers, and video lessons and tips for beginning and advanced screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists. Book your 1-on-1 session or join Caroline's next Writers Workshop:

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