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What Are TV Serials?

TV serials are captivating, episodic dramas or comedies that unfold over multiple episodes, inviting viewers into a world of continuous storytelling. They offer a blend of character development and plot progression, keeping audiences hooked week after week. Each episode builds upon the last, creating an intricate tapestry of narratives. Ready to explore the allure of these serialized adventures? Join us as we unravel their magic.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

TV serials are television programs which involve a long narrative which slowly unfolds over the course of an entire show, from the pilot episode to the finale. They are designed to be watched in order, with viewers turning in each week to get the next installment of the story. The serial has very old roots, with many famous novels such as Great Expectations originally appearing in a serialized format, and TV serials are quite varied and diverse, including comedies, dramas, science fiction, and other genres.

The primary thing which differentiates a TV serial from an ordinary television show is the existence of plot arcs. Many serials have a plot arc which extends over the entire show, along with a number of smaller arcs which are played out over the course of a season or a block of episodes. To keep track, viewers of TV serials must watch the episodes in order, and they will quickly lose track of what is going on if they miss or scramble episodes. In some cases, the show may be a miniseries, with a finite end date, and in other instances, the show may have no specific date planned for the finale.

Certain TV shows attract die-hard fans by having a long narrative that plays out over the course of several episodes, or an entire season.
Certain TV shows attract die-hard fans by having a long narrative that plays out over the course of several episodes, or an entire season.

Before streaming services, which offer a way to watch tv without an antenna or cable, there were very few options to catch up if you missed new episode premieres. Some avid television fans would tune in later in the week, hoping the network would air the episode again, while others resorted to recording the serial on a cassette tape in the VCR. 

Unfortunately, for those who were away during the programming, the latter option required someone to manually record the episode, as automated scheduling via DVR was yet to be available.

"Dr. Who" has a mix of serialized and non-serialized elements.
"Dr. Who" has a mix of serialized and non-serialized elements.

By contrast, episodic television involves episodes which can be watched alone. New viewers may have trouble adjusting to the characters and setting, but they will be able to follow the story and enjoy the plot of the episode. This type of television has become increasingly popular, since some networks fear that viewers have trouble following the extended plots of TV serials.

Soap operas are perhaps the epitome of the TV serial, with plots which stretch over the course of years and decades. Shows like Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Galactica could also be considered serials, since they have complex, involved plots which require weekly attention from viewers. By contrast, police procedurals and “case of the week” medical shows can be followed much more easily, as viewing order is not essential.

Although TV serials have been designed for television, they have thrived in the DVD format. Many serials have die-hard fans who purchase seasons as they come out on DVD so that they can watch again, both to keep up on the plot and to appreciate the serial, re-watching favorite episodes and analyzing the characters. Some television franchises which have only performed moderately well on air have gone on to thrive on DVD, which would seem to suggest that viewers are, in fact, intellectually capable of following and enjoying serial television. Fan campaigns to save and promote TV serials have also illustrated the depth of involvement with the characters which can develop over the course of a long-running show.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a TV serial, and how does it differ from other television programs?

A TV serial is a show with a continuous plot that unfolds over multiple episodes or seasons. Unlike episodic television where each episode stands alone with a self-contained story, TV serials follow a narrative arc that develops with each installment. This format allows for deeper character development and complex storytelling, engaging viewers to follow the story over a longer period. According to the Writers Guild of America, serialized storytelling has become increasingly popular in the "Golden Age of Television," as it allows for more intricate plots and character arcs.

How long does a typical TV serial run?

The length of a TV serial can vary greatly, ranging from a single season to multiple seasons spanning years or even decades. For instance, some of the longest-running TV serials, like 'The Simpsons,' have been on air for over 30 years, according to Guinness World Records. On average, a TV season might consist of 10 to 24 episodes, with each episode typically lasting around 30 minutes to an hour.

What impact have TV serials had on popular culture?

TV serials have had a profound impact on popular culture, influencing everything from fashion and language to societal norms and values. Iconic shows like "Friends" or "Game of Thrones" have become cultural touchstones, with phrases entering everyday language and fan communities forming worldwide. According to a study by the Norman Lear Center, TV shows can significantly shape public opinion and cultural trends by reflecting and sometimes challenging societal issues.

Can TV serials be watched on platforms other than traditional television?

Yes, TV serials can be accessed through various platforms beyond traditional broadcast television. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, viewers can watch TV serials on-demand, often with the option to binge-watch entire seasons at once. The convenience and flexibility of streaming have revolutionized how audiences consume TV content, as reported by a Nielsen study on the shifting media landscape.

What are some of the most critically acclaimed TV serials?

Some of the most critically acclaimed TV serials include "Breaking Bad," "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Mad Men," among others. These shows have been lauded for their writing, acting, and innovative storytelling. They have received numerous awards and recognition, with "Breaking Bad" holding a Guinness World Record for the highest-rated TV series, and "The Sopranos" often cited as a pioneer in modern television drama, as noted by the Television Academy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Certain TV shows attract die-hard fans by having a long narrative that plays out over the course of several episodes, or an entire season.
      By: Innovated Captures
      Certain TV shows attract die-hard fans by having a long narrative that plays out over the course of several episodes, or an entire season.
    • "Dr. Who" has a mix of serialized and non-serialized elements.
      By: Maisna
      "Dr. Who" has a mix of serialized and non-serialized elements.