Types Of TV Shows

Business models define the creativity in TV. These vary between cable and terrestrial. Cable is subscriber-based, so advertiser income is secondary since the niche audience is already paying. Conversely, terrestrial TV is entirely funded by advertising slots and needs to be more mainstream to reach a wider audience. Most TV shows run at a financial loss until they hit the magical 100th episode, although this figure is being reduced. There is real money to be made when TV shows are sold into SYNDICATION. Figures can run into the billions.


Most TV shows are broadly defined as either half hour comedies or full hour dramas.

COMEDIES are generally broken down into these sub genres:

  • Workplace (eg The Office, Parks and Recreation)
  • Family (eg Family Guy, The Simpsons)
  • Romantic (eg Dharma and Greg, Mike and Molly)
  • Ensemble – Urban Tribe (eg Friends, Big Bang Theory)

DRAMAS are generally broken down into these sub genres:

PROCEDURALS – stories are derived from problems being solved according to predefined procedures eg mysteries, cop/detective shows (eg The Mentalist, CSI, Criminal Minds).

MEDICAL – stories derived from medical settings (eg House)

LEGAL – stories derived from legal settings (eg The Good Wife)

These types of comedies and dramas are typically standalone, book-ended stories that can be watched non-sequentially and still make sense. They might have a B or C subplot running through a series, but usually not enough to disrupt the flow of a random viewing order.

SOAP – These are highly serialized, continuous stories that span several episodes and must be viewed sequentially to make sense. (eg Desperate Housewives, Melrose Place, Entourage).

CHARACTER DRIVEN – These shows are a hybrid of standalone and serialized (eg Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife). The A story tends to be procedural and the B story serialized character based).

EVENT – These are highly serialized, tent pole, epic shows and are highly serialized (eg Game Of Thrones, V, Lost and Flashforward).


Aside from the length, shows were previously described as being either a series composed of standalone or serialized episodes.

Standalone shows are typically easier to sell because they can be broadcast out of order, repeated ad libitum, or incomplete. It is also easier to gain new viewers mid season for standalone shows.

Most TV shows often lie on a continuum and have elements of each.

SINGLE-CAM – These are produced similar to a movie in that scenes are shot multiple times from different angles before editing. They tend to have a slower pace (eg 30 Rock).

MULTI-CAM – These tend to be more theatrical and have a few key recurring sets. They have a faster pace since they are edited during filming. (eg Two And A Half Men, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond). The scripts for multi-cam scripts are double spaced and tend to be longer.


This is the basic over-arching story. It needs to define the conflict and how additional conflicts can be created over the course of the series. It must also indicate the thematic and emotional constructs of the show.


This refers to both merchandising, product tie-ins and spin off potentials. It is the factor which provides limitless story potential e.g location (hospital, morgue) or a job (detective, vampire slayer).


SINGLE LEAD – The story is told through the perspective of the main character (eg House)

ENSEMBLE – The story doesn’t have a set main character (eg Friends, The Big Bang Theory)

Character relationships drive a show, especially in terms of how they create conflict.

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