A television program (British English: programme) is a segment of content intended for broadcast on over-the-air, cable television, or Internet television, other than a commercial, trailer, or any other segment of content not serving as attraction for viewership. It may be a single production, or more commonly, a series of related productions (also called a television show).
A limited number of episodes of a television show may be called a miniseries or a serial or limited series. Television series are without a fixed length and are usually divided into seasons (U.S.) or series (UK), yearly or semiannual sets of new episodes. While there is no defined length, U.S. industry practice has traditionally favored longer television seasons than those of other countries.
A one-time broadcast may be called a “special”, or particularly in the UK a “special episode”. A television film (“made-for-TV movie” or “television movie”) is a film that is initially broadcast on television rather than released in theaters or direct-to-video.
Television programs may be fictional (as in comedies and dramas), or non-fictional (as in documentary, news, and reality television). It may be topical (as in the case of a local newscast and some made-for-television movies), or historical (as in the case of many documentaries and fictional series). They could be primarily instructional or educational, or entertaining as is the case in situation comedy and game shows.
A drama program usually features a set of actors playing characters in a historical or contemporary setting. The program follows their lives and adventures. Except for soap opera-type serials, many shows especially before the 1980s, remained static without story arcs, and the main characters and 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 be broadcast in any order. Since the 1980s, there are many series that feature progressive change to the plot, the characters, or both. For instance, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere were two of the first American prime time drama television series to have this kind of dramatic structure.[better reference needed] While the later series, Babylon 5 is an extreme example of such production that had a predetermined story running over its intended five-season run.
In 2012, it was reported that television was growing into a larger component of major media companies’ revenues than film. Some also noted the increase in quality of some television programs. In 2012, Academy-Award-winning film director Steven Soderbergh, commenting on ambiguity and complexity of character and narrative, stated: “I think those qualities are now being seen on television and that people who want to see stories that have those kinds of qualities are watching television.”
When a person or company decides to create a new series, they develop the show’s elements, consisting of the concept, the characters, the crew, and cast. Then they offer (“pitch”) it to the various networks in an attempt to find one interested enough to order a prototype first episode of the series, known as a pilot. Eric Coleman, an animation executive at Disney, told an interviewer, “One misconception is that it’s very difficult to get in and pitch your show, when the truth is that development executives at networks want very much to hear ideas. They want very much to get the word out on what types of shows they’re looking for.”
To create the pilot, the structure and team of the whole series must be put together. If the network likes the pilot, they pick up the show to air it the next season (usually Fall). Sometimes they save it for mid-season, or request rewrites and father review (known in the industry as development hell). Other times, they pass entirely, forcing the show’s creator to “shop it around” to other networks. Many shows never make it past the pilot stage.
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, etc. When all the writers have been used, episode assignment starts again with the first writer. On other shows, however, the writers work as a team. Sometimes they develop story ideas individually, and pitch them to the show’s creator, who folds them together into a script and rewrites them.
If the show is picked up, the network orders a “run” of episodes—usually only six or 13 episodes at first, though a season typically consists of at least 22 episodes. The midseason seven and last nine episodes are sometimes called the “mid-seven” and “back nine”—borrowing the colloquial terms from bowling and golf.