Earlier this week I posted a portion of a CHEERS outline and it prompted a couple of Friday Questions. Many of you also asked to see more of the outline so I’m providing that too.
B.B. Callow asks:
Why is the outline so detailed if it's only an outline? If you kept all the dialogue from the teaser and formatted it to script form, it would be very close to what the finished teaser would look like.
Is there really any advantage to creating an outline when you could simply go at a first draft instead? I suspect the amount of plotting/planning would be about the same for both.
A detailed outline helps the writer really think through the story. You catch logic problems, you discover exposition traps, you realize if a scene has nothing funny going on, and when you get to good comedy scenes you can really connect the dots. The producer and staff can determine whether the story still needs some tweaking. In short, it saves everybody a lot of time to make story modifications at the outline stage and not the script stage.
Composing a detailed outline also gives you a better idea of how long it will take to tell the story. Everyone pitches it out in the room, it seems like the right length, but once you get it down on paper you realize you have way too much story. Or not enough.
Or the A story works but the B story isn’t as funny as it was in the room.
And even with a ten-to-fifteen page outline, you may think you have all the jokes but once you start writing you find you only have about 30%, and a lot of those get discarded as you write.
But some do remain. And when you set off to write the draft it’s nice to know you’ve got some great jokes in your hip pocket.
It’s like driving a race car. You come to a spot in the outline where you can transcribe off the page and it’s like coming out of a turn into the straightaway.
Nowadays, detailed outlines are mandatory because they have to be approved by studios and networks. We never had that on CHEERS. The great David Lloyd would write things in his outline like “Carla says something stupid” or “here’s where I get out of this scene somehow” and we didn’t care because we knew he’d deliver on the draft. But you couldn’t turn that in to a network.
From Tom Quigley:
Since we don't see the full 11 pages, were there any major story changes that were decided upon by the producers or writing staff between turning in the outline and writing the first draft of the script?
In the outline Frasier discovers Lilith has a rat in her purse while Lilith is there. We decided it would be more fun if she wasn’t there initially. It allowed for more discussion and fun reactions.
At the end of the show we wound up losing a lot of the tenuousness of life discussion. And Frasier’s exit line worked so well we ended the show there. You’ll see here a more elaborate ending that was never filmed. These are the last two pages of the outline.
If you have questions, please leave them in the comments section. Thanks. Now more of “Rat Girl.”