Joanna Cohen spent five years as a writer on the daytime soap All My Children. She’ll miss the show, and its unique vocabulary:
I collected a list of “soapisms,” the peculiar and hilarious terms we use in stage direction. No one is ever shocked at the end of a scene. They are “klonged,” “gut-punched” or “pole-axed.” No one has an epiphany. They are “hit by a Mazda.” There is lots of “eyelock” and “liplock.” It would not be unusual to get an e-mail from the editor saying something like, “Josh will no longer be buried alive in trunk. We are going with a wooden coffin. Please track accordingly.”
Unlike feature screenplays, scripts for an ongoing TV show can afford to indulge in some in-jokes and esoterica. After all, the writers know exactly who will be reading them and what they’ll find funny.
Over time, many shows develop a house style. The scripts for Lost, for example, rely heavily on the f-word. “Two for the Road,” an episode written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Christina Kim, uses “fuck” 96 times.
INT. HATCH – ARMORY – DAY 11
TOTAL DARKNESS as THE DOOR SLIDES OPEN, casting a SHAFT OF LIGHT on Henry, sitting on the COT.
Henry is not only bound by his wrists, but he is also TETHERED to the bed. And fucking TIGHTLY, too.
ON LOCKE. Backlit. Very fucking NOIR. Just looking at Henry. Trying to... make sense of him. The silent moment PLAYS. Then --
If you’ve come to apologize, I forgive you for hitting me with your crutch.
I’m glad my head didn’t break it.
Boy, is he fucking smug. And Locke ain’t one bit amused --
Now there’s a broad question.
Would you write this way in your spec pilot? Almost certainly not.
But it became the house style of the show, to the degree that “fucking” became the principal adverb: fucking huge, fucking dark, fucking terrifying. Omit the word and you’d lose something, even though the audience never heard it.