What is a Teaser in Television Screenwriting?

Vintage television sets tacked on top of one another

When studying television screenwriting, you will often hear the term “teaser” thrown around. But what exactly is a teaser? The answer you get to this question is likely to vary depending on who you ask, but generally the term "teaser" refers to the opening sequence of a four-act television drama (1-hour). Typically, it is a short, attention-grabbing scene designed to hook an audience’s attention and draw them into the narrative. In this article, I’ll explore how a teaser can be used to set the scene for the rest of your episode and the importance of starting off strong.

When it comes to crafting your teaser, think of it as a mini act that should be no more than 6 or so pages and comes right before the opening credits. It’s an essential part of any 1-hour and will be the first thing viewers see so it’s important that it makes a strong first impression. The best teasers will keep the audience from changing the channel or choosing to rewatch The Office for the 100th time. These first pages should clearly set the tone for the rest of the episode and give audiences a general idea about where the story is headed.

Now, you may be wondering how a teaser differs from a cold opening, another term often tossed around in television writing. A “cold opening” is generally used when writing television comedies (or ½-hours) and will include a scene unrelated to the rest of the episode. See where this is going? A teaser, like the name implies, teases the main action of the story. Therefore, after audiences watch the teaser, they should have a fairly good sense of what central question the episode will explore. Nonetheless, there are varying types of teasers found in television that are implemented depending on what genre of television show you are currently writing.

Related: How to Write a Television Drama 

Here are just a few examples of teasers you may come across. As you read through these, think back to a drama you have watched recently. What type of teaser was used?

The Action Teaser
Action Teasers are exactly what they sound like. They begin with exciting action sequences like car chases, fight scenes, or some other form of high-octane action. It's designed to get the audience's adrenaline pumping and create a sense of urgency. Plus, if you start with intense action, audiences are bound to stick around and see what else is in store for your protagonist.

The Mystery Teaser
Mystery Teasers may be the most common television opening on network television and are religiously used in crime-solving procedurals. These teasers will present the mystery or puzzle of the week that the audience will want to solve by the end of the episode. For example, a teaser like this might reveal a character receiving a mysterious package or a crime being committed without revealing the perpetrator.

The Emotional Teaser
Emotional Teasers focus on the emotional stakes of the episode. In this opening, the writer should make the audience care about what the characters are going through https://yourscreenplayguy.com/products/character-questionnaire. They could be dealing from the emotional fallout from a previous episode or feature the start of something new that the protagonist will have to deal with throughout the episode.

The Comedic Teaser
As the name implies, a Comedic Teaser is designed to make the audience laugh. How you decide to do this will depend on the general tone of your series and the typical humor found in the show. It might feature a comical situation or a character behaving in a humorous way. You can use a comedic teaser to set a light-hearted mood for the rest of the episode and put the audience in a fun mindset.

No matter which type of teaser you choose, it’s important to keep it compelling and engaging to keep the audience from moving on. When the opening credits roll, you want the audience to stay put; eager to see what happens next. You might not get a second chance.

More: Putting Together a Series Bible Explained

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