Tom Schreck, author of Getting Dunn, A Kindle July deal for $2.99
I've been studying plotting and after reading Alexander Sokoloff's book on screenwriting for novelists I started watching television more carefully.
In the Schreck household Law and Order is the default TV show--it's what we watch when we don't want to think about what to watch.
After studying ten or so episodes the formula has become very clear. It goes like this:
Opening-- We're dropped into the middle of the discovery of a crime. No backstory, no explanation. The cops come and we go to a commercial. For the next 12 minutes the investigation starts.
At :13 the first plot twist occurs sending the viewer in a different direction and we go to a commercial. When we come back we go for another 12 minutes of investigation.
At :27 the plot takes a more surprising twist taking us in yet a different and more dramatic direction. We go to commercial and when we come back the legal team starts their work.
At :43 the legal team faces a challenge and we are faced with another direction change and the crisis of how it will be resolved. We get sent off to commercial not knowing how it will be fixed.
We come back and at :57 Jack McCoy (or someone else) does something to wrap things up pretty neatly and leave us all feeling fulfilled.
Sometimes Jack dumps a bunch of exposition to tie things up in a bow for us but let's give him a break, he only has about 42 minutes to solve this mess.
Isn't this how mysteries should go? Beginning, middle and end, chase someone up a tree, figure out how to get 'em down, then get them down and all that crap?
The thing is this guarantees us no quality. The quality comes in the plot points, the believability of the turns and the nuance of the story.
Still, it is a worthy outline to study.
I bet you are humming the theme song, aren't you?