How to write a script for a TV documentary

Buy any of the numerous “Write a Best Seller in Seven Days” software titles and you’ll be presented with a novel-writing template that requires you only to invent some characters to populate it with, then sit back and wait for your JK Rowling-like fame, and fortune of course.

Just to save you having to purchase such software the plan to writing a best selling novel goes something like this…

1. Introduce your hero
2. Introduce your anti-hero
3. Place hero in peril against anti-hero
4. Resolve peril with miraculous escape
5. Insert twist to story with “son of anti-hero”
6. Resolve peril with son of anti-hero
7. Happy ever after

Sounds too simple doesn’t it, think about those stages the next time you’re reading a crime novel or a Chris Evans biography.

The master plan also works fine with TV programme making too, in fact it works so fine that Channel 4 and Ch5 stick rigidly to the format in their most popular documentary make-over shows, you could for instance watch any episode of “The Secret Millionaire” or “The Hotel Inspector” after missing the first five minutes and you’d still know what the time was without referring to a clock simply by what stage the programme was at.

Both of these programmes use the hour long format with three advert breaks and both use the same script for every episode, for instance “The Hotel Inspector” goes like this…

First Quarter Hour – introduce family who own the hotel, demonstrate that they are lazy, inefficient and totally hopeless at hotel-ing by means of showing dirty rooms, untidy clutter and poor food.

Second Quarter Hour – introduce Alex Polizzi, or Ruth Watson, or indeed any random self proclaimed hotel expert, to bring peril and anger into the equation, said presenter patrols hotel showing off bad examples of hotelier-ship, refuses to eat breakfast, refuses to sleep in tatty bed, gives hoteliers a right old bollacking just before the second advert break.

Third Quarter Hour – Hotel family sent packing somewhere while TV company does a makeover of one public room and one bedroom using a pot of paint and the services of a skip company to get rid of crap from said rooms.

Fourth Quarter Hour – invite guests or a proper hotel inspector (rather than a self proclaimed one) to come and have a look at the two new rooms but ignore all of the remaining shit ones and declare the event a huge success, Alex Polizzi (or whoever) leaves with big smiles and happy music plays in background but TV company are careful not to reveal what the family did next or whether one good bedroom and one nice public room really did turn around the fortunes of the hotel or whether they filed for bankruptcy shortly after the TV appearance fee ran out

“The Secret Millionaire” on the other hand goes like this …

First Quarter Hour – introduce the person here for after referred to as “The Secret Millionaire”, gloss quickly over the reason for their millionaire status and send them quickly on their way to Middlesborough, most Secret Millionaire programmes are filmed in Middlesborough, so much so that the people of Middlesborough now welcome strangers into their busom most enthusiastically just in case they turn out to be a Secret Millionaire, especially if they have a film crew in tow.

Second Quarter Hour – take the Secret Millionaire to three projects who work with the poor people of Middlesborough in a way that requires only money to make the whole thing better again, what these people need is a Secret Millionaire to fix all of society’s ills. or at least the ills in that street and they welcome the Secret Millionaire into their busoms and pretend that they haven’t guessed that this is Channel 4 filming another episode of Secret Millionaire, not even with the film crew following The Secret Millionaire around everywhere he goes.

Third Quarter Hour – Upset the Secret Millionaire in some way by showing him some poor people trying to do things without money whereas if they had lots of money like The Secret Millionaire then they wouldn’t have to do these things, remind The Secret Millionaire that they have a dirty secret and once upon a time someone in their family was also poor and had to do things without money and would have been so much better off with lots of money.

Fourth Quarter Hour – the reveal, The Secret Millionaire goes back to say goodbye to the three projects and at this moment they know for certain that he is a Secret Millionaire for no other volunteer that they have ever taken on has come to them after five days to tell them he is leaving and could he bring along a film crew to film his leaving “do”. The Secret Millionaire hands over a cheque for several thousand pounds despite the fact that most banks don’t deal in cheques these days there are lots of tears and then its time for bed.

Now, where’s that old Sony Videocam I once had, can you still buy the film and do the batteries still charge up ?


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