If you are a writer of fiction or a watcher of episodic TV, or both, check out Kung Fu Monkey, the blog of TV and movie screenwriter John Rogers. (He wrote the much-vilified Catwoman, but he seems otherwise meritorious, and he’s quite funny.)
He’s posting these days about his involvement with Eureka, a sci-fi show in development. The first post: Meeting 1 with the show’s six writers, during which he pitches his episode idea and hopes they’ll like it enough to work with him on it:
Every good television episode is revelatory of the characters. The sci-fi McGuffin should serve to illuminate character relationships. If, when you get to talk to your first executive producer, you focus on how your ideas will focus on reflecting some aspect fo the characters, you can’t go wrong. The room will come up with the plot bullshit — you need to bring the heart. If in particular you’re able to showcase some characters who are not always used to their maximum effect, aces. You are there to solve the exec-producer’s problems. Sometimes problems he didn’t know he had.
And also this:
This may reveal my old pulp roots, but for a sci-fi/genre show, my rough stucture is:
1.) Wow, have we got a problem. It is Very Bad.
2.) Whoops, no, we have an entirely different problem, and it’s far worse.
3.) That problem? Yeah, that’s going to kill us.
4.) Solve the problem. Marvel at the emotional wreckage. Prep for next week.
Really, you’ve got 48 minutes. 6 two-minute scenes an act. TV isn’t haiku, but it’s damn close.
By the way, those four points neatly summarize the structure recommended for the basic novel. TV is fiction-lite.