Friday, February 22, 2008

Break It Down - Gossip Girl

My secret shame: I watch Gossip Girl.

Actually, my secret shame is that I'm not really that ashamed because it's a pretty decent show. It does have the requisite teen show melodrama and a few times I've questioned the choices characters made (in terms of whether those choices were really in character, not whether they were good or bad), but overall it's relatively smart with fun, generally-not-too-cliche plots and snappy dialogue...Kristen Bell's voice overs notwithstanding. Could they please get rid of them already? I love the Bell as much as anyone, but those voice overs are absolutely the worst part about the show.

For our Extension class this week, part of our assignment was to read the Gossip Girl pilot, so I thought I'd have fun and break it down for all of you because I know you're dying to know how the show is structured.

If you'd like to catch up on other breakdowns I've done, look here, here and here.

But back to Gossip Girl. Interestingly, this is one of the more complicated shows I've broken down, which is not what I was expecting. This is due to the fact that it's more of an ensemble show, so there are more storylines going on at once. Fun!

This should be obvious, but there will be spoilers below.

Episode 101 - Pilot

Short Description

In the pilot, Serena returns home to her super-ritzy Upper East Side life after leaving suddenly about a year ago; much teenalicious scandal ensues. Dan deals with his mom leaving home and gets a surprise date with Serena, the girl of his dreams. Nate and Blair face problems in their relationship (hint: Serena just might be involved). Jenny, Dan's little sister, tries to climb the social ladder with her super calligraphy skills, only to discover that she's in over her head.

Story Threads

This is a fun one. I'm saying there are A-, B-, C-, and D-stories, but it could easily be argued that the Rufus relationship stuff is its own story. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, this is probably what I should have done, but I'm too lazy to go back now. Those beats are folded into Dan's story.

A - Serena comes home after leaving suddenly a year ago and faces social repercussions. She also has to deal with her suicidal brother; the fact that she betrayed her best friend Blair by sleeping with Nate, Blair's boyfriend; and goes out with and starts to fall for Dan.

B - Dan tries to be there for his dad when his mom leaves the family and helps out Jenny when Chuck Bass is an ass. He also gets a surprise date with the girl of his dreams, Serena.

C - Blair and Nate must face the problems in their relationship when Serena returns home and reopens old wounds. Also, Nate and Chuck smoke weed.

D - Jenny wants to be popular so much that she does calligraphy - that's dedication. Unfortunately she gains the attention of Chuck Bass who we learn is not just an ass, but a potential date rapist.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 10 pages, 11 scenes
Act I - 12 pages, 6 scenes
Act II - 8 pages, 6 scenes
Act III - 7 pages, 8 scenes
Act IV - 13 pages, 10 scenes
Act V - 9 pages, 12 scenes

54 scenes in 59 total pages, with a teaser and five acts. Pagewise, Act IV is the longest and Act III is shortest, though Acts I&II actually have fewer scenes than Act III. 10 pages is also a long teaser--it's longer than three of the Acts! You can also see--based on the number of pages vs. the number of scenes--that most of the Acts consist of short, quick scenes. The lone exception is Act I, which slows down and spends its time introducing us properly to the main characters.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-Story - Serena Comes Home (22 beats/scenes)
B-Story - Dan (19 beats/scenes)
C-Story - Nate & Blair (12 beats/scenes)
D-Story - Jenny (12 beats/scenes)

Teaser - A, A, C/A, A, B/A, C, A, C, A, B, A
Act I - A, B/D, A/C, A, B, A/D
Act II - B, A, C, D/B, C, A
Act III - D/B, A, C, A, A, C, A, B
Act IV - B, C, B, C, A, B, D/B, C, B/C/D, D
Act V - B, C, D, B, D, B, D, B, A, D, D/A/B, B, A

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C or D is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

It looks like A and C are preferenced heavily in the beginning and then largely disappear later on, but this is somewhat misleading for A, as it folds into and is absorbed by the B-story. Something interesting here is that the show doesn't hesitate to begin and end Acts on the B, C or even D storylines. Story beats also aren't as clumped together here as they are in many shows. They comfortably alternate between plotlines for a scene at a time without fear that the audience will lose track of where a story is. This also seems to reflect the quick, staccato pace of the show as a whole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Im an aspirin screenwriter myself. And I DO have the secret 'shame' If one may call it that of watching GOSSIP GIRL.

I too think it's an amazing show, and I am also into writing this spec script for the show right now. So, yeah, it was nice to read your post and find someone within the same confines of my understanding of this pretty good show.


from Puerto Rico