Course Title: Write television comedy

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2012

Course Code: COMM5932

Course Title: Write television comedy

School: 345T Media and Communication

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6088 - Advanced Diploma of Screenwriting

Course Contact : Professional Screenwriting Administration

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 9925 4368

Course Contact

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Teacher: Tim Ferguson (Semester 1)

Teacher: Vin Hedger (Semester 2)


Nominal Hours: 140

Regardless of the mode of delivery, represent a guide to the relative teaching time and student effort required to successfully achieve a particular competency/module. This may include not only scheduled classes or workplace visits but also the amount of effort required to undertake, evaluate and complete all assessment requirements, including any non-classroom activities.

Pre-requisites and Co-requisites

Enrolment in this course at RMIT requires you to have completed all first year courses.

Course Description

This course aims to develop the skills needed to create narrative and sketch comedy for television.

National Codes, Titles, Elements and Performance Criteria

National Element Code & Title:

VPAU663 Write television comedy


1. Develop concept for a narrative based comedy series

Performance Criteria:

Devise a group of dynamic, active characters with potential for ongoing conflict
Accurately identify market(s) for series
Clarify genre and format
Develop major story arcs appropriate to the genre and format
Apply principles of narrative humour and comic structure


2. Write a bible for a comedy series

Performance Criteria:

Develop a synopsis for the bible which introduces concept, premise, genre, format and major storylines in an engaging style
Develop more detailed characters and character arcs
Write treatments for several episodes, which effectively summarise the story


3. Write a pilot for a narrative based comedy series

Performance Criteria:

Structure a dynamic story for the pilot
Explore conflict between characters in a dramatically satisfying way
Integrate themes into story
Weave character arcs into the action
Create surprising but believable plot reversals
Resolve storylines in a clear and satisfying way


4. Develop a sketch comedy concept

Performance Criteria:

Accurately identify market(s) and major decision makers for a sketch comedy concept
Create a strong comic premise
Develop characters with strong comic potential
Pitch the series concept clearly in an appropriate format


5. Write an episode of a sketch comedy

Performance Criteria:

Work within show’s requirements
Work effectively in a creative or production team
Write to the agreed brief and deadlines
Incorporate any agreed changes into work punctually

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to write television comedy in a variety of formats.

Details of Learning Activities

In this course, you learn through:
1. In-class activities:
industry speakers
teacher directed group activities/projects
peer teaching and class presentations
group discussion
class exercises to review discussions/lectures
workshopping of students’ own projects
analysis/critique of writings

2. Out-of-class activities:
independent project based work
writing and reading assignments
online and other research
independent study

Teaching Schedule

Teaching schedule
Please note: While your teacher will cover all the material in this schedule, the weekly order is subject to change depending on class needs and availability of speakers and resources.

Class contentAssessment dueElements
Semester 1    
Week 1

Course overview
Definition of comedy
Nature & function of humour
Self-referential humour
Comedy & drama – the two masks
Comic principles (Jokes)

Week 2 

Introduction to sketch comedy  1
Week 3

Principles of comic character
Obeying gag principles
Incongruous juxtapositions
Comic perspective
Limited world-views
Lightbulb jokes
Obvious humour

Week 4
Principles of comic character combination
Character profile graphs
Comic archetypes (greek, roman)
The ‘most’ principle
Aristotle & comedy
Shakespeare & comedy

Week 5
Characters at work
Narrative negations
Observation humour
Absurdist humour
Literal humour
Overlapping underlying incongruities
Wordplay (neologisms, double-meanings, euphemisms)

 Sitcom Character Creation assessment due1,2
Week 6
Narrative humour & gags
Comic distortions
Comic re-interpretation
‘who’s on first?’
Standup comedy principles

Week 7 
Comic cover-ups
Comic inverted proportion principle
Active comic character principles

Week 8 

Comic story structure
Tv sitcom structure (21 & 30 min. Formats)
Knowledge differentials
Panic & overreaction

Week 9 

Imperatives of gags
Observation conversation
3-act structure
Sex in sitcom
Comic context
Comic subtext

 Mid-semester break (5/4 – 11/4)  
Week 10 

Situation creation
The hope-against-hope comic principle
Building audience assumption & expectation
Building/paying-off surprise
Men & women in comedic storytelling

Week 11 

Comic metaphor
Theme development
Concept development
The journey from eureka! To a pitchable product
Comic crime & punishment principles

Week 12 

Creating a series bible
Poignancy in comedy
Tragedy in comedy
Romantic comedy
Dramatic/comic irony & sarcasm

Narrative Gags in Action assessment due
Week 13 

The 3 comedy macro-genres
The 3 story macro-genres
The 4 imperatives of commercial storytelling
Comedy & film genres
Week 14 

Identifying your audience
Making your audience bigger than you
Why fitzroy is not an audience
Believability & coincidence in comedy & tragedy

Week 15 

Misunderstandings & malapropisms
Flawed logic
Identifying your own sense/s of humour
Mathematical comedy equations

Week 16 

The unassailable laws of comedy
Funny to you -v- funny to them
Funny business – why comedy pays better
Applying comic priciples to improve your drama
Surviving editing

 Tell your story assessment due3,4,5
Week 17 

Assessment Week - No class
Semester 2   
Week 1
 Introduction to Non-narrative comedy writing. Outlining the objectives of the semester, including the objective of creating a ‘writers’ room’ atmosphere in class to introduce students to real working conditions in Australian Television. Assessing the levels of ability of all class members through discussion.  4,5
Week 2

 The basics. Using a didactic study of the history of non-narrative TV comedy we introduce the students to the world of comedy that existed from the beginning until the present day. The ‘writers’ room’ will then take a simple story from the media and turn it into a one line joke.   4,5
Week 3
 Slight expansion. Historical analysis progressing through the years. Then an introduction to the ‘Blackout’. ‘Writers’ Room’ will proceed to tackle creating a blackout from scratch.   4,5
Week 4
 Characters part 1. Historical analysis progressing through the years. ‘Writers room’ will be asked to create characters for non-narrative comedy. This is the life blood of all comedy shows and the one with the most room for prospective compensation.   4,5
Week 5

 Technical Analysis. Continuing the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. Then its lecture time with a run down on many technical aspects of working in the Australian TV industry. How to format, look for work, manage yourself, how to not get fired, how to get fired and maintain dignity etc… etc…   4,5
Week 6

 The TV show. We continue the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. Then its back to the ‘Writers’ room’ to break down the successful and not so successful elements of Non-narrative TV comedy. We Begin the process that leads to our final project for the semester.   4,5
Week 7
 The Non-sketch based elements of TV comedy. We continue the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. Then the ‘Writers Room’ looks at the 90% of Television that requires comedy writing and we attempt to practically re-create the first day of work on a show that needs to be on air in a week. Individual portfolio assessment due  4,5
Week 8

 The Tricks of creating Sketch. We continue the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. We look at some techniques for creating fresh sketches on a daily basis. We also look at how to use knowledge of other non-Television equipment and applications to create Television.   4,5
Week 9

 The structure. We continue the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. The ‘Writers’ Room’ will then look at overall structures, and potential res-structuring, of a non-narrative Comedy program with a view to creating something desirable for the marketplace of 2012.   4,5
Week 10

 The Industry. We continue the historical analysis of Non-Narrative TV comedy. Then we look closely at the Television and allied industries as they stand in 2011. We talk about hierarchical structures. Who’s who , what’s currently being bought, what’s on the nose … and, most importantly, what the future will be.   4,5
Week 11

The Big Idea. We conclude our historical analysis of Non-narrative TV Comedy. The class then begins life as small production company and it development department. We brainstorm ideas we feel will create a TV program that will be an on-air success in 2012. We come up with as many ideas as we can with the view to begin working on one or more of them from Week 13.
Week 12

 The Development begins. The class as a whole decides on which idea or ideas they feel they can pursue and create a proposal for. This proposal is meant as a genuine document to be presented to production companies and Networks for serious consideration and purchase. Development groups separate from each other and structure themselves as Head writers, script editors, producers and writers in order to complete the task.  Partnership portfolio assessment due<!--EndFragment-->   4,5
 Mid Semester Break September 24 - October 5
Week 13

 Each Development group continues to turn their ideas into a proposal as a real production company would. This includes deciding on which demographic to target, which target production company and networks to present to and all the preliminary details needed to begin.   4,5
Development Continues on proposals with a first draft of the document expected during this week.
 The Development is refined and presented. The groups are then expected to put finishing touches on proposal.   4,5
 The Development groups present their final product and decide how to progress to actual presentation. Group proposal assessment due   4,5
 Assessment Week - No class  

Learning Resources

Prescribed Texts

Extracts, readings and additional references are provided throughout the course. In addition to hard copy handouts, some readings are made available on the class website, Blackboard, and others can be accessed via the web. Recommended books will be discussed in class.




You are advised to look at the course Blackboard site for ongoing updated information.

Other Resources

You require access to a computer and to the internet for this course

Overview of Assessment

Assessment for this course is ongoing throughout the semester. Your knowledge and understanding of course content is assessed through participation in class exercises and through the application of learned skills and insights to your writing tasks.

Assessment Tasks

To demonstrate competency in this course, you will need to complete the following pieces of assessment to a satisfactory standard. You will receive feedback on all assessment.

Semester 1

1. Sitcom Character Creation  (30%) Due 7th March 2012
After devising a team of 3-4 major characters, write concise character notes for each of your characters.

For each character, complete a Character Profile Graph (a graph detailing fears, desires etc., discussed during the course).

Assessment 2. Narrative Gags in Action (30%) Due 2nd May 2012
Put your characters into action in a 2-minute Sitcom scene or sequence. (No more than 3 pages in approved industry format.)
Apply narrative and self-contained gag principles to the scene or sequence.

Include a brief Joke Description detailing which gag-types you have used and where you have applied them.

Assessment 3. Create a Sitcom Story (30%) Due 30th May
TELL YOUR STORY - Create a synopsis for a half-hour episode of your TV comedy. 

Assessment 4. Class exercises and workshopping (10%)

Semester 2
Assessment 1. Individual portfolio of 2 sketches. (15%) Due 15 August
Individual portfolio of 2 sketches. (Makeup of portfolio to be described in class)

Assessment 2. Partnership portfolio with a minimum of 3 sketches. (25%) Due September 19
Partnership portfolio with a minimum of 3 sketches. (Makeup of portfolio to be described in class)

Assessment 3. Group proposal. (30%)
Group proposal. (The assignment will be judged as a whole based on viability and creativity with mark variances for each class member’s input and role in creating the proposal) Due October 31



Assessment 4. Class workshopping and Writers’ Room input. (30%)

Grades used in this course are as follows:

80 – 100% HD High Distinction
70 – 79% DI Distinction
60 – 69% CR Credit
50 – 59% PA Pass
Under 50% NN Fail

For further details on these assessment tasks and the grading system and criteria used, please refer to the course blackboard site.

Assessment Matrix

The assessment matrix demonstrates alignment of assessment tasks with the relevant Unit of Competency. These are available through the course contact in Program administration

Other Information

Submission of Assessment Tasks
You are required to submit all assessment tasks in hard copy with a completed School of Media and Communication cover sheet. You are expected to keep a copy of all assignments submitted.

Late Submissions
If you are unable to complete any piece of assessment by the due date, you will need to apply for an extension before that due date..
Please refer to the course blackboard site for information on late submissions and on applying for an extension.

You will receive both spoken and written feedback on your work. Where appropriate, this feedback will also include suggestions on how you can proceed to the next stage of developing your projects.

Academic Integrity
Academic Integrity is about the honest presentation of your academic work. Presenting work that fails to acknowledge other people’s work within yours can compromise academic integrity. For further information on academic integrity and plagiarism, please refer to the following URL.;ID=kkc202lwe1yv

Special Consideration Policy
Please refer to the following URL for information on applying for special consideration:;ID=qkssnx1c5r0y;STATUS=A;PAGE_AUTHOR=Andrea%20Syers;SECTION=1

Course Overview: Access Course Overview