A television program is the content of television broadcasting. The content of an individual broadcast may be referred to as a television program (US English), television programme (UK English) or television show. A program may be a one-off broadcast or, more usually, part of a periodically returning television series. A television series that is intended to air a finite number of episodes is usually called a miniseries. Americans call a short run lasting less than a year a season; Europeans call this a series. This season or series usually consists of 10-24 installments of the series. A single instance of a program is called an episode, although this is sometimes also called a "show" or "program". A one-off broadcast may be called a "special". A television movie is a movie that is initially aired on television rather than being released in movie theaters or direct-to-video, although many successful television movies are later released on video.
What television programming is
The content of television programming may be factual (e.g. documentaries, news or reality television) or fictional (e.g. comedy or drama).
A drama program usually features a set of actors in a somewhat familiar setting. The program follows their lives and their adventures. Many shows, especially before the 1980s, maintained a status quo where the main characters and the premise changed little. If some change happened to the characters lives during the episode, it was usually undone by the end. (Because of this, the episodes could usually be watched in any order.) Since the 1980s, there are many series that feature progressive change to the plot, the characters, or both.
Common TV program periods include regular broadcasts (like TV news), TV series (usually seasonal and ongoing with a duration of only a few episodes to many seasons), or TV miniseries which is an extended film, usually with a small pre-determined number of episodes and a set plot and timeline. Miniseries usually range from about 3 to 10 hours in length, though critics often complain when programs hit the short end of that range and are still marketed as "minis." In the United States, regular television series have 22 episodes per year. Dramas usually last 44 minutes (an hour with commercials), while comedies last 22 (30 with commercials). However, with the rise of cable networks, especially pay ones, series and episode lengths have been changing. Cable networks usually feature series lasting thirteen episodes. Many British series have significantly shorter yearly runs.
Old television shows begin with a title sequence, show opening credits at the bottom of the screen over the beginning of the show, and include closing credits at the end of the show. However, in the 1990s shows began cold opening with a "teaser" (a short beginning to the episode, designed to catch the viewer's attention), followed by a title sequence, and a commercial break. More plot-driven shows begin with a "previously" (a short introduction to past major plot events through excerpts), even before the teaser. And, to save time, some shows omit the title sequence altogether, folding the names normally featured there into the opening credits.
While television series appearing in TV networks are usually commissioned by the networks themselves, the real revenue for the producers is typically when the product is sold into syndication. However, with the rise of the DVD home video format, box sets containing entire seasons or the complete run have become a significant revenue source as well.
Common television program formats
How programming is made
- What follows is the standard procedure for shows on network television in the United States.
Someone (called the show creator) comes up with the idea for a new television series. This consists of the concept, the characters, usually some crew, and sometimes some big-name actors. They pitch it to the various television networks, hoping to find one that's interested. If a network is interested, they will order a pilot (a prototype first episode of the series).
To create the pilot, the structure and team of the whole series needs to be put together. If the network likes the pilot, they will pick up the show for their next season (UK: series). Sometimes they'll save it for midseason or summer. And other times they'll pass entirely, leaving the show's creator forced to shop it around to other networks. Many shows never make it past the pilot stage.
If the show is picked up, a run of episodes is ordered. Usually only 13 episodes are ordered at first, although a series will typically last for at least 22 episodes (the last nine episodes sometimes being known as the back nine, borrowing a term from golf).
The show hires a stable of writers, who usually work in parallel: the first writer works on the first episode, the second on the second episode, and so forth. When all of the writers have been used, the assignment of episodes continues starting with the first writer again.
On other shows, however, the writers work as a team. Sometimes they will develop story ideas individually, and pitch them to the show's creator, who then folds them together into a script and rewrites them.
The executive producer, often the show's creator, is in charge of running the show. They pick crew and cast (subject to approval by the network), approve and often write series plots, and sometimes write and direct major episodes. A whole host of other producers of various names work under him or her, to make sure the show is always running smoothly.
Once the script for a show is written, a director is found for the episodes. The director's job is to turn the words of the script into film. They decide how scenes should be staged and where the cameras should be placed; they also often coach the actors, including any guest stars who may be in the particular episode. On television shows, directors are often interchangeable, mainly serving the dictates of the writer.
A director of photography takes care of making the show look good, doing things with lighting and so on.
Finally, an editor cuts the various pieces of film together, adds the musical score, and assembles the completed show.
The show is then turned over to the network, which sends it out to its affiliates, which air it in the specified timeslot. If the Nielsen Ratings are good, the show is kept alive as long as possible. If not, the show is usually cancelled. The show's creators are then left to shop around remaining episodes, and the possibility of future episodes, to other networks. On especially successful series, the producers sometimes call a halt to a series on their own like M*A*S*H and end it with a concluding episode which sometimes is a big production called a series finale.
If the show is popular or lucrative, and a number of episodes (usually 100 episodes or more) are made, it goes into syndication.