A note from the author...

eje211

New member
Hello, everyone. I'm Emmanuel. I wrote this script for a class in graduate school.

The teacher was meant to teach writing for computer games, but he said that writing for TV had the exact same requirements: the system for the story was determined before the story. In games, the levels are set before the writers comes in. On TV, the series has a system and writers must follow it. It's important, as he put it, not to "break the show." Examples of breaking the show could be in Lost (which I have not seen), characters gathering and saying, "But what do you think this island is?" Or, in Harry Potter, any of the three main characters asking the other two, "Hey! Why don't we use our powers to help all the muggles with disease, famine, and war?" Or in Once Upon a Time, someone could say, "But if nobody grows up except Henry, doesn't he outgrow his classmates every year?" Don't break the show.

We had to pick a series and the teacher had to approve it. There were a few rules, based on what he himself had worked on professionally:
  • American shows only (no Doctor Who).
  • Dramas only; half-hour shows are not written the same way.
  • You need to find a screenplay for the series.
I added a few rules of my own:
  • No focus on continuity. It should be easy to insert my episode in the existing flow.
  • No need to have specialist knowledge (no lawyers or doctors).
  • No swear words, excessive violence, or characters who are too mean, because I don't like that.
Moonlighting looked like a great candidate. Two-thirds into the semester, my teacher said he never should have approved it, but it was too late to come back on it. I think his issue was that the structure of Moonlighting was just too loose. Later on, I thought that if I had to take the class again, I would pick Chuck for similar reasons that the ones that made me pick Moonlighting.

The point of the class was to figure out the system of the show and then write an episode in the exact same style, include the way the script was written. That's why my script uses no italics. Moonlighting seems to have been written on physical typewriters. I have a friend who took the class and did Once Upon a Time. One of his draft outlines started with, "Regina takes Henry to the hospital to have a shot." I told him that did not work. The opening scene had to be a rushed dramatic moment. He said: what if he didn't feel like it? I pointed out that it may or may not be a good idea, but all (to that point, at least) episodes of Once Upon a Time started that way. We picked a couple of episodes at random on Netflix and they all started in a rushed, dramatic way. So he had his episode start that way. It turned out extremely well.

Moonlighting has comparatively few rules. Based on memory, they are:
  • There is an introduction to the story.
  • Maddie and David, are doing something unrelated to the case.
  • The client shows up. They meet him in either Maddie or David's office.
  • They always change offices.
  • They decide whether or not to take the case.
  • There usually is no B plot. (The Good Wife, for example, had plots A through E.)
  • The main theme is usually related to feminism, social class, culture or something similarly high-brow.
  • Usually, Ms. DiPesto answers the phone in verse.
  • There is usually one moment where David makes a fourth-wall breaking comment.
  • The solution to the mystery does not make any sense. My example episode was "Bride of Tupperman." The solution to the mystery makes absolutely no sense at all. Why would Tupperman ever go to L.A. to pick his bride in the first place? How would he bring her back? It does not being to add up.
  • The show must end with crazy chase. The crazier the better.
  • The very end of the show is a freeze-frame at the end of the chase.
My original plot (now lost) took place over a week. David had an affair with the (male) auctioneer's wife. The story actually made sense. I had to shorten it to its minimum and to make sure it was completely crazy and absurd in order for it to feel like an episode of Moonlighting.

Thinking about the show, there's one thing that I thought was very clever about it: how stable its conflict was. The way I saw it, Maddie was in love with David, but thought he was too goofy and unreliable. She thought that if she acted in an extra-professional way in front of him, he might wisen up. David was in love with Maddie, but thought she was too cold and rigid. He thought that if he acted extra goofy around her, she might loosen up. So each of their solutions to their problem in fact added to the conflict. That's great for generating more story. Compare that to Moonlighting's ancestor: Remington Steele. The more its plot moved forward, the less conflict there was.

So, what if one episode continued past the crazy chase? Then, it would be very difficult not to bring up the way Maddie and David were trying to fix each other. Even if you didn't, the way it was avoided would feel wrong. In my script, Maddie would have so say something like,"Maybe a man who looks like he behaves perfectly is not what I want." Maybe David would say, "I may act goofy, but you know you can always trust me." Conflict wise, we'd be treading very dangerous waters by doing that. The way she show is structured, they really never have an opportunity to bring it up.

No only adding an epilogue would mean not following the structure of the show, which was the point of the class, but it would, in all effect, "break the show."

That's why an epilogue was never an option.

What if I could write one. (It was over ten years ago, so I'm not really sure.) But I'd say I probably would have kept some of the reveal about the dead husband for the epilogue, in order to make a final reversal. That might have worked, but I very much think it would not have been a real Moonlighting episode. It was not supposed to look like fan fiction, but like an episode that could have been produced at the time.

If there is anything else you want to know, just ask.
 
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Emmanuel, first of all, welcome to this site! It's great to have you here.
Thank you so much for your really detailed analysis of the structure of the show. I enjoyed reading it, and most especially your analysis of their relationship and why they act the way they do.
Thinking about the show, there's one thing that I thought was very clever about it: how stable its conflict was. The way I saw it, Maddie was in love with David, but thought he was too goofy and unreliable. She thought that if she acted in an extra-professional way in front of him, he might wisen up. David was in love with Maddie, but thought she was too cold and rigid. He thought that if he acted extra goofy around her, she might loosen up. So each of their solutions to their problem in fact added to the conflict. That's great for generating more story.
I don't think anyone on this site thought about their relationship that way but this makes sense to me.
 
Hi Emmanuel, thank you, first for writing this script, and then for sharing your thought process. Over the last couple of years I have written a lot of Moonlighting fan fiction, but never anything in a script format. I'm sure that is quite the challenge. You are a wonderful writer.
 
Emmanuel,
Welcome to MoonlightingStrangers.com! We are so happy you are here and really appreciate your sharing the background story behind "A Detective and a Gentleman"!

If there is anything else you want to know, just ask.
At the moment, I have only one question:
Is there any chance you might be inspired to write another "easy to insert" episode? There are plenty of open slots in the timeline and/or "Available Concepts" listed for your perusal. :)
 
Emmanuel,
Welcome to MoonlightingStrangers.com! We are so happy you are here and really appreciate your sharing the background story behind "A Detective and a Gentleman"!


At the moment, I have only one question:
Is there any chance you might be inspired to write another "easy to insert" episode? There are plenty of open slots in the timeline and/or "Available Concepts" listed for your perusal. :)
Currently, I'm working on an original pilot and on a movie. They're going to be read in LA. (I'm paying for that. No one is paying to read or watch my work.)

Like I explained, this took a semester of grad school to write. I could absolutely write another script easily. But I don't think I could stick to the formula that make this one good without the class structure. It would end up looking more like (sorry) fan fic. Our teacher was very keen on keeping us away from anything that looked like fan fic.

Given how welcoming this community is, if I watch seasons 2 and 3 again (they're the only ones I really like), I'll see if an idea comes to mind.

I also love the name "Moonlighting Strangers." I'm a bit scared to read the "before" and "after" stories. What if they break the magic of who David and Maddie were? I'm also astonished that this many people still care about Moonlighting after all that time!
 
Currently, I'm working on an original pilot and on a movie. They're going to be read in LA. (I'm paying for that. No one is paying to read or watch my work.)
Welcome back to the site! First of all, I hope your movie does really really well!
Like I explained, this took a semester of grad school to write. I could absolutely write another script easily. But I don't think I could stick to the formula that make this one good without the class structure. It would end up looking more like (sorry) fan fic. Our teacher was very keen on keeping us away from anything that looked like fan fic.
I'm curious to know from your opinion what was your teacher's (and your) opinion about what makes fan fic?
 
Thinking about the show, there's one thing that I thought was very clever about it: how stable its conflict was. The way I saw it, Maddie was in love with David, but thought he was too goofy and unreliable. She thought that if she acted in an extra-professional way in front of him, he might wisen up. David was in love with Maddie, but thought she was too cold and rigid. He thought that if he acted extra goofy around her, she might loosen up. So each of their solutions to their problem in fact added to the conflict. That's great for generating more story.
With the new interest in the show, there was a new article this morning (very thorough and thoughtful in my opinion) with an interview with Glenn about the relationship between Maddie and David. He basically said the same that you did here.
What makes this interesting for me is that this is the very first time he actually described their relationship like that. Most of his (and other crew's) interviews are basically a rehash of what was said before (I think they relied on the Moonlighting Strangers fanzine a lot to help their memory).
Anyway, I'm wondering whether Glenn is lurking around here....
 


"you think, “This guy’s really clever and her fuse seems so short. How are they going to get past her short fuse and his inability to deal with anything with a measure of seriousness?”

Then you realize, “Maybe that’s what makes it perfect: Some of his joie de vivre would make her a happier person, and some of her seriousness would make him a deeper person.” You don’t know where the show was going. I didn’t know. I couldn’t honestly tell you this was the path of the show. I had a general sense."
 
Welcome back to the site! First of all, I hope your movie does really really well!

I'm curious to know from your opinion what was your teacher's (and your) opinion about what makes fan fic?
I'm really not an expert. But I guess that fan fic cares a lot less about structure than professional scripts. If you look at how fiction is made, particularly at how TV shows are crafted, they follow an extremely rigid system. I remember in every episode of the first three seasons of House, there was a first diagnosis, then, every single time (except for special, continuing-based episodes), the patient would be in crisis at the exact same time mark. I think it was 21 minutes in, showing that the original diagnosis was wrong.

There are rules that help shows meet our expectations. If it's a murder mystery, the murderer needs to be introduced very early on. In Bones, they usually hop from suspect to suspect, but the murderer ends up being a character they may briefly at the beginning. Fan fic cares less about that because the stakes are different. Shows that actually get to be produced complete for attention. They need to have a reliable system because they are asking people to invest advertising money or subscription money in them. That is not compatible with taking too many chances.

A real show must follow the original act-break system very carefully. Moonlighting had four acts. I wrote four acts. The fourth act was always shorter. I made mine shorter. A current network show would have more, shorter breaks. I think that The Good Wife was in six acts. Broadcasters like HBO and Netflix have no commercial breaks, so they have no explicit acts. In that way, they are like movies: the acts come from the structure of the story.

One of the first things that a producer will look for in a script, even before reading it, is: do the act breaks match what is expected? Recently, I've been told that there had to be three acts in a movie. (On the TV side, Frasier quite obviously had three acts.) Before that, I had learned about the five-act structure, and I see five acts in many movies. The rule for the five-act structure is: if act 1 is a given duration, acts 2 and 3 must each be twice as long, and acts 4 and 5 together must be as long as act 1. Act 5 can be extremely short. Five minutes to a few second. I only saw Vanilla Sky when it was released, but, based on what I remember, I think that all of act 5 was the line, "Open your eyes, David." It was maybe three seconds long.

For a 90-minute movie, that gives:
  • Act 1: 15 minutes
  • Act 2: 30 minutes
  • Act 3: 30 minutes
  • Act 4: At least 10 minutes
  • Act 5: At most 5 minutes
For a 120-minute movie, that gives:
  • Act 1: 20 minutes
  • Act 2: 40 minutes
  • Act 3: 40 minutes
  • Act 4: At least 15 minutes
  • Act 5: At most 5 minutes
One script page is one minute. So a producer will look at the last page to get the page count. If it's 90 pages, they will then skip to pages 15, 45, and 75, and look for an explicit transition moment there. If they can't find one, they usually won't read the script, unless they are explicitly recommended otherwise. (Based on what I've been told.)

The acts are not slices. Each act has a specific role to play. There has to be a reversal between each act. Stakes have to rise from one act to the next. For example, in my script, originally in both acts 1 and 2 Maddie didn't want to take the case and David wanted to take it. The other students felt something was wrong. I noticed my mistake. In act 2, Maddie is now the one who wants to take the case and David wants to drop it. I had to find a reason. It was simple: he was concerned for Maddie. And what about Maddie? I can just say she now feels challenged. If you look closely at these motivations, they don't really make much sense. Why would the way they were surprised by an assailant make them both change their minds? In reality, it most likely would confirm them in their opinions. I guess. I don't really know. But in a script, the dynamic has to be reversed. So I reversed it. That's part of what makes a script look professional.

These rules are so omnipresent in Hollywood cinema and even Independent American cinema that they become hard to see. They make movies more engaging. Easier. If you want to see a movie that does not follow these rules, you can try Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie by Luis Bunuel. (Or for the truly daring The Golden Age, also by Bunuel.) One major and obvious rule of Hollywood that both of these break is that none of the main characters change in any significant way during the course of the film. There is no clear resolution. (Hollywood movies can end well or badly. But an ambiguous conclusion usually does not work.) And I don't think that you can find acts inside of them. Drowning by Numbers, specifically, builds its suspense not on story (there are no surprises to speak of in the story) but in the structure. Neither of these attempt to be billion-dollar movies. A surreal film like Lost Highway still has a very clear three-act structure. Even if its meaning is blurry, it's absolutely obvious where the three acts are. I love Lost Highway, and Lynch is usually not considered a Hollywood director, but he still uses a lot of the Hollywood script continuity system, and there's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it's difficult to do. It's just that it's so omnipresent that most people don't realize that it's there and that it's actual work.

The main book about writing screenplays is the 1979 book Screenplay by Syd Field. He recommends extremely rigid rules, some of which I don't think apply to TV. But it's been a while since I've read it.

Anyway, fan fic does not care about all of that, or cares much less. One of the ways you can tell is that the main flaw people found in my script was the lack of epilogue, even though the Moonlighting formula made an epilogue completely impossible.

Some fan fic also have characters explaining the show. They also try to solve problems, when most shows are about creating problems. "But David, why are you so irresponsible all the time. If you just tried to be more serious, just a bit more serious, maybe life could be simpler." "Well, what if you tried lo loosen up a bit." "I think that I just feel responsible around here, you know?" This breaks the show. There is an episode where Maddie challenges David to behave more responsibly ("My Fair David"), but it's done in such a way that it leads to more problems.

I'm sorry to have made this so long. I was not sure how to explain it. Writing for the screen is not unlike writing is verse with rhymes and a very strict meter. You need to make the constrains lead you to more creativity rather than restrict you.
 
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I'm really not an expert. But I guess that fan fic cares a lot less about structure than professional scripts. If you look at how fiction is made, particularly at how TV shows are crafted, they follow an extremely rigid system. I remember in every episode of the first three seasons of House, there was a first diagnosis, then, every single time (except for special, continuing-based episodes), the patient would be in crisis at the exact same time mark. I think it was 21 minutes in, showing that the original diagnosis was wrong.

There are rules that help shows meet our expectations. If it's a murder mystery, the murderer needs to be introduced very early on. In Bones, they usually hop from suspect to suspect, but the murderer ends up being a character they may briefly at the beginning. Fan fic cares less about that because the stakes are different. Shows that actually get to be produced complete for attention. They need to have a reliable system because they are asking people to invest advertising money or subscription money in them. That is not compatible with taking too many chances.

A real show must follow the original act-break system very carefully. Moonlighting had four acts. I wrote four acts. The fourth act was always shorter. I made mine shorter. A current network show would have more, shorter breaks. I think that The Good Wife was in six acts. Broadcasters like HBO and Netflix have no commercial breaks, so they have no explicit acts. In that way, they are like movies: the acts come from the structure of the story.

One of the first things that a producer will look for in a script, even before reading it, is: do the act breaks match what is expected? Recently, I've been told that there had to be three acts in a movie. (On the TV side, Frasier quite obviously had three acts.) Before that, I had learned about the five-act structure, and I see five acts in many movies. The rule for the five-act structure is: if act 1 is a given duration, acts 2 and 3 must each be twice as long, and acts 4 and 5 together must be as long as act 1. Act 5 can be extremely short. Five minutes to a few second. I only saw Vanilla Sky when it was released, but, based on what I remember, I think that all of act 5 was the line, "Open your eyes, David." It was maybe three seconds long.

For a 90-minute movie, that gives'
  • Act 1: 15 minutes
  • Act 2: 30 minutes
  • Act 3: 30 minutes
  • Act 4: At least 10 minutes
  • Act 5: At most 5 minutes
For a 120-minute movie, that gives'
  • Act 1: 20 minutes
  • Act 2: 40 minutes
  • Act 3: 40 minutes
  • Act 4: At least 15 minutes
  • Act 5: At most 5 minutes
One script page is one minute. So a producer will look at the last page to get the page count. If it's 90 pages, they will then skip to pages 15, 45, and 75, and look for an explicit transition moment there. If they can't find one, they usually won't read the script, unless they are explicitly recommended otherwise. (Based on what I've been told.)

The acts are not slices. Each act has a specific role to play. There has to be a reversal between each act. Stakes have to rise from one act to the next. For example, in my script, originally in both acts 1 and 2 Maddie didn't want to take the case and David wanted to take it. The other students felt something was wrong. I noticed my mistake. In act 2, Maddie is now the one who wants to take the case and David wants to drop it. I had to find a reason. It was simple: he was concerned for Maddie. And what about Maddie? I can just say she now feels challenged. If you look closely at these motivations, they don't really make much sense. Why would the way they were surprised by an assailant make them both change their minds? In reality, it most likely would confirm them in their opinions. I guess. I don't really know. But in a script, the dynamic has to be reversed. So I reversed it. That's part of what makes a script look professional.

These rules are so omnipresent in Hollywood cinema and even Independent American cinema that they become hard to see. They make movies more engaging. Easier. If you want to see a movie that does not follow these rules, you can try Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie by Luis Bunuel. (Or for the truly daring The Golden Age, also by Bunuel.) One major and obvious rule of Hollywood that both of these break is that none of the main characters change in any significant way during the course of the film. There is no clear resolution. (Hollywood movies can end well or badly. But an ambiguous conclusion usually does not work.) And I don't think that you can find acts inside of them. Drowning by Numbers, specifically, builds its suspense not on story (there are no surprises to speak of in the story) but in the structure. Neither of these attempt to be billion-dollar movies. A surreal film like Lost Highway still has a very clear three-act structure. Even if its meaning is blurry, it's absolutely obvious where the three acts are. I love Lost Highway, and Lynch is usually not considered a Hollywood director, but he still uses a lot of the Hollywood script continuity system, and there's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it's difficult to do. It's just that it's so omnipresent that most people don't realize that it's there and that it's actual work.

The main book about writing screenplays is the 1979 book Screenplay by Syd Field. He recommends extremely rigid rules, some of which I don't think apply to TV. But it's been a while since I've read it.

Anyway, fan fic does not care about all of that, or cares much less. One of the ways you can tell is that the main flaw people found in my script was the lack of epilogue, even though the Moonlighting formula made an epilogue completely impossible.

Some fan fic also have characters explaining the show. They also try to solve problems, when most shows are about creating problems. "But David, why are you so irresponsible all the time. If you just tried to be more serious, just a bit more serious, maybe life could be simpler." "Well, what if you tried lo loosen up a bit." "I think that I just feel responsible around here, you know?" This breaks the show. There is an episode where Maddie challenges David to behave more responsibly ("My Fair David"), but it's done in such a way that it leads to more problems.

I'm sorry to have made this so long. I was not sure how to explain it. Writing for the screen is not unlike writing is verse with rhymes and a very strict meter. You need to make the constrains lead you to more creativity rather than restrict you.
Emmanuel, thank you so much for breaking this down clearly for me. I really appreciate the time you took to answer ny question wo thoroughly. I had no idea that there were such 'rigid' rules for screenwriting!
I understand now what you mean by no epilogue allowed, and how that sets the scene for further tension in the next episodes. In fanfic we feel the need to explain (to our own satisfaction) everything that was wrong in that relationship, and how Maddie and David could have solved it.
 
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