Like books, the story in a tv show needs to be cut down to skip non-vital scenes and to speed up the action. Even individual actions need to be cut down. Ever seen something recorded in real time? It’s sooooo slow. We can’t stand to sit through it. We want shows to be fast-paced. At the same time, we want them to have good plots and characters.
Don’t ask for much, do we?
From a writing perspective, it’s a serious challenge. In an hour-long slot, about 40-45 minutes ending up being show, and in half an hour, the average is 22 (that’s about 22 pages of properly formatted script). That means that no story gets cut down quite like that of a tv show. They have to have just enough hints, red herrings, characterization, conflicts, resolutions and whatnot to make a good story without getting bogged down or ending abruptly (oops – we spent too much time there. Time for a deus ex machina!).
The very sparseness combined with the limited time-frame is what makes them such excellent teachers for getting down to the bare bones (at least, the good ones are). You can learn a lot from what they decide to leave in. What better excuse for watching tv? (You’re welcome.)