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07/14/2001 - What?s At Stake?
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Teleplay Tips & Tricks

What's At Stake?

Long before I got into the business, back when I was a television viewer, I would go off on a rant about cop shows at a moment's notice. "Why are people's lives always in danger?" I would shout. "Why does TV always have someone looking down the business end of a gun?"

Now that I've been writing awhile, I know the answer. The reason television gives us so many cop shows and medical shows and lawyer shows is that in those situations something very important is always at stake-usually someone's life. You don't get higher stakes than that, and without the risk of a very big loss, all the audience can do when it sees your hero being agitated is yawn and say, "Who cares?"

Drama occurs when someone has a need that must be filled and must overcome obstacles to fill it. Wanting something is not enough. The situation has to be an absolute "must have or else" or the audience clicks that remote. When you design your story, remember that the more serious the danger the more involved the audience will get. If your hero is a millionaire, and he stands to lose a thousand-dollar bet, that ain't enough. But if your hero is broke and stands to lose his wife and kids unless he comes up with a hundred bucks to save the day-well, now you've got something that will hold the viewers' attention!

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