Current TV Show Formats

Ahh. The good old days. Three TV networks, two TV formats; 30 minute comedy and 60 minute drama, 26 episodes per season.

Ahh. the good new days; 5 terrestrial TV networks, 500+ cable channels, 5 online VOD providers; seasons ranging from 8 to 26 episodes and 5 TV show formats. Throughout this chaos emerges a new chaotic world order.

The two key scripted formats are still broadly classified as comedy and drama.


These are your typical TV network sitcoms. They have a 4-5 camera setup; few sets (mainly fixed) and have a theatrical feel to them. They are dialogue heavy gag machines and often feature 4-6 main characters talking in a living room. They have a fast snappy editing style and tend to have 26 episode seasons.


These are your typical cable network comedies. As their name suggests, they are filmed with one camera and have a more cinematic storytelling feel to them. They tend to have fewer characters and are more character rather than joke driven. They often have shorter 8-13 episode seasons. They may also be comedy/drama hybrids rather than strictly comedies.


I cannot think of any 60 minute TV comedy formats, other than anthologies, sketch or stand up comedy shows, which aren’t strictly scripted TV. 60 minute formats lend themselves to drama. A series is defined as a self-contained A story per episode. These are typically police, legal or medical procedurals with a crime, case or medical case of the week. Their B (and sometimes C) story lines lend themselves to ongoing story lines. Series are often 26 episode seasons.


A serialized drama is characterised by ongoing A story line which span several episodes. They are a looser format, often on cable, and may span 8-13 episodes per season. In the good old days, serialized dramas were more difficult to sell. The rationale being that series could be screened out of order and broadcasters were not committed to screening an entire season. However, with the advent of binge TV watching, broadcasters are increasingly inclined to invest in event serialized series.


This is a modern variant of the serialized drama. The main feature of these event dramas is that the A story spans the entire season.  These tend to be crime or mystery shows like “True Detective”. They have the time to more intricately explore both character and plot in each season. Season procedurals like “American Horror Story” and “True Detective” may have storytelling quirks like replacing the main cast in subsequent seasons, or even killing off main characters within a season.

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