3 Kinds of TV?


A couple of lunchtime thoughts led to an idea for a blog post:

Thought 1: “I enjoyed What About Brian? last night but it’s not turning out to be must-see TV which I thought it might. It’s kind of a soap with jokes.”

Thought 2: “Hmm, most TV is either soapy or procedural. Or a sitcom. Or a combination of the three.”

So, can most TV be categorised as either Soap, Sit-Com or Procedural?

I guess I mean fictional TV since there’s news, sports and documentaries that don’t fit that. Now that I think about it you have to exclude TV movies, one-off dramas and mini-series as well. Though they sort of fit a fourth category – (Melo)drama.

But in terms of on-going series – hourly or half-hourly regular fictional programs, I think most hit my 3 or combination of the same. What do I mean by these three terms:

Sitcom: Primary purpose is to amuse, to make jokes. Value is obvious – everyone likes to laugh.

Procedural: Cop/lawyer/doctor/forensic shows are the obvious, but not only, examples. Problem(s) and/or Mystery(s) is defined, explained and resolved. Value is in the sense of closure.

Soap: On-going story lines using, and hopefully developing, the same characters. Value is that investment with story and characters is greater and so pay-offs can be bigger. Sense of attachment to characters, caring about their problems and triumphs, is greater IF characters are developed.

Soaps divide into real (or traditional) soaps and pseudo- soaps. The former tend to be plot-driven and the “churn” rate for both storylines and characters is so high that it tends to be unrealistic. A character that lasts any length of time in a real soap will have been through any number of relationships, breakups and dramatic life-events. So much that you hardly recognise who they are. Pseudo-soaps tend to have less episodes than real ones – they’re not on year round and have only one episode per week when they are. They can still be plot-driven but have the space to be character-driven because the “churn” is slower.

Seems to me that in the old days there was a strict divide between Sitcom and Procedural, and Soap. The former two had to reset at the end of every episode, which allowed for out of context, out of order viewing (popular with schedulers). However now most shows are mixtures. Desperate Housewives is basically a sitcom-ish, plot-driven pseudo-soap. Bones is procedural with on-going elements and character development.

It’s tempting to think our favourite shows aren’t so easily categorisable but I think they are. Buffy, for example, started out as a procedural – find and kill/stop the monster of the week – it grew into more plot-driven soap – season long story “arcs” – and always kept developing the characters. Of course there was always a strong strand of humour, and outright sitcom episodes in some cases.

I don’t know how profound all this is. Like many before me I’ve probably just created a classification system and squeezed everything I can think of into it, without really explaining anything.

Anyway that’s what I was thinking about at lunchtime. 

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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