Course Title: Write television comedy

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2013

Course Code: COMM7323

Course Title: Write television comedy

School: 345T Media and Communication

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6125 - Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting

Course Contact : Professional Screenwriting Administration

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 9925 4815

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

Required Prior Study

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

Course Description

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

National Codes, Titles, Elements and Performance Criteria

National Element Code & Title:

ASWCOM610A Write television comedy


2. Write a bible for a comedy series

Performance Criteria:

2.1A synopsis for the bible is developed that introduces concept, premise, genre, format and major storylines in an engaging style
2.2More detailed characters and character arcs are developed
2.3Treatments that effectively summarise the story are written for several episodes


3. Write a pilot for a narrative based comedy series

Performance Criteria:

3.1A dynamic story for the pilot episode is structured, with reference to the approved series synopsis
3.2Characters are introduced and character arcs are woven into the action

3.3Conflict between characters is explored in a comedic and dramatically satisfying way
3.4Scenes are developed in order to advance the story and reflect themes
3.5Dialogue is written that reflects and demonstrates character
3.6Comedic techniques are applied to resolve storylines


5. Write an episode of a sketch comedy

Performance Criteria:

5.1The requirements of the comedy show are established
5.2A sketch opening is written that establishes character and location
5.3Script for the sketch, that shows the development of the established comic premise, is written
5.4Work is undertaken to agreed brief and deadlines, and punctually incorporates any agreed changes


1. Develop a concept for a narrative based comedy series

Performance Criteria:

1.1A sustainable comic premise is established
1.2Dynamic, active characters with potential for ongoing conflict are devised
1.3Market(s) for series is identified
1.4Genre and format are clarified
1.5Major story arcs appropriate to the genre and format are developed
1.6Principles of narrative humour and comic structure are applied


4. Develop a sketch comedy concept

Performance Criteria:

4.1Market(s) and major decision makers for a sketch comedy concept are identified
4.2A strong comic premise is created
4.3Characters with strong comic potential are developed
4.4The series concept is pitched clearly in an appropriate format

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to write narrative and sketch comedy for television..

Details of Learning Activities

In this course, you learn through:

1. In-class activities:

  • lectures
  • 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
  • online and other research

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.

 Semester 1
Class contentAssessment dueElements
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)

 Sem 1; Formative assessment #11,2
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

 Mid-semester break April 1 to April 5
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

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

Sem 1: Formative assessment #2
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

 Sem 1: Formative assessment #31,2,3
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

Sem 1: Summative assessment #43,4,5

Semester break : June 10 to July 6


Semester 2 Class content Assessment due Elements
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. Sem 2: Formative assessment #1  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.
 Mid Semester Break September 23 - October 4  
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.  Sem 2: Formative assessment #2<!--EndFragment-->   4,5
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. Sem 2: Summative assessment #4  4,5

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

Assessment tasks in this course are either formative or summative.
Formative tasks provide the basis for ongoing feedback and can be considered as essential building blocks for the more substantial summative assessment tasks.

Summative assessment tasks in this unit are graded. To demonstrate competency, you will need to complete the following pieces of assessment to a satisfactory standard. You will receive feedback on all assessment.&#8232;&#8232;

SEMESTER 1 &#8232;&#8232;

Formative assessment for the first semester of this course comprises three in-class exercises. In order to successfully complete this unit, you will need to have done all of these exercises to a satisfactory standard.

Assessment 1. Sitcom Character Creation :  Due Week 5 (March 13)

  • CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS: &#8232;After devising a team of 3-4 major characters, write concise character notes for each of your characters. &#8232;&#8232;
  • CHARACTER PROFILE GRAPHS: &#8232;For each character, complete a Character Profile Graph (a graph detailing fears, desires etc., discussed during the course). &#8232;&#8232;

Assessment 2. Narrative Gags in Action : Due Week 12 (May 8)

  • WRITE A SCENE WITH JOKES:  &#8232;Put your characters into action in a 2-minute Sitcom scene or sequence. (No more than 3 pages in approved industry format.) &#8232;Apply narrative and self-contained gag principles to the scene or sequence.
  • IDENTIFY YOUR JOKES &#8232;: Include a brief Joke Description detailing which gag-types you have used and where you have applied them. &#8232;

Assessment 3. TV Sitcom Pitch : Due Week 14 (May 22)
Using the characters you’ve already developed, create a proposal for a TV sitcom. No more than 2 pages in approved industry format.


The following assessment will be graded and will determine your final results for this unit.
Assessment 4. Create a Sitcom Bible : Due Week 16 (June 5)

Tell Your Story. Together with your characters and sitcom pitch, create a synopsis for a half hour pilot episode. Combine characters, pitch and synopsis into a bible.


Formative assessment for the second semester of this course comprises three in-class exercises. In order to successfully complete this unit, you will need to have done all of these exercises to a satisfactory standard.

Assessment 1. Individual portfolio of 2 sketches.: Due Week 7 (August 21)

You are to submit an Individual portfolio of 2 sketches. (Makeup of portfolio to be described in class)&#8232;&#8232;

Assessment 2. Partnership portfolio with a minimum of 3 sketches: Due Week&#8232;12 (Oct 9)

You are to submit a partnership portfolio with a minimum of 3 sketches. (Makeup of portfolio to be described in class)&#8232;&#8232;


Assessment 3. Class workshopping and Writers’ Room input. As scheduled by teacher


The following assessment will be graded and will determine your final results for this unit.

Assessment 4. Group proposal for Comedy Sketch Concept : Due Week 16 (Novemer 6)
Group proposal. In groups, you will develop a pitch for a comedy sketch concept and pilot episode and present them in class.

Grades used in this unit are as follows:
•HD Competent with High Distinction
•CDI Competent with Distinction
•CC Competent with Credit
•CAG Competency Achieved - Graded
•NYC Not Yet Competent
•DNS Did Not Submit for Assessment

For further information on the assessment and grading criteria, 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

The major learning experience involves studio based exercises, demonstration and production. It is strongly advised that students attend all sessions in order to engage in the required learning activities, ensuring the maximum opportunity to gain the competency.

Cover Sheet for Submissions
All students must complete a submission cover sheet for each piece of submitted work.

RMIT has a strict policy on plagiarism. For more information on this policy go to Academic Integrity

All students have access to the myRMIT copyright shell. The myRMIT copyright shell contains information on copyright, plus also examples on how to use copyright works as part of your projects and assignments.

Special consideration Policy (Late Submission)
All assessment tasks are required to be completed to a satisfactory level. If you are unable to complete any piece of assessment by the due date, you will need to apply for an extension. Please refer to the following URL for extensions and special consideration:

Student Progress Committee
This committee promotes the early identification of students who are not achieving acceptable academic performance. The committee provides identified students with assistance and seeks to ensure such students are aware of the range of support services available to them at the University. Student Progress Committee (SPC)

Student Feedback
Students are offered opportunities to provide feedback through a variety of mechanisms including online surveys conducted at the end of each course or semester, student complaints and Student Staff Consultative Committees



Course Overview: Access Course Overview