A Film and TV School Student’s Guide to Serial Vs Episodic Television

Posted on February 12th, 2016 - Written by: L'Institut Trebas

film school

The golden rule of television used to be that by the end of an episode, everything would go back to the way it began—conflicts would be resolved, mysteries would be solved, and the character s would be ready to begin a new adventure in the following episode. This is because TV networks wanted casual viewers to be able to drop in and start watching at any time, so complex narrative structures were eschewed in favor of simplicity and familiarity.

However, rules are made to be broken, and the past few decades have seen television embrace serialized storytelling, which has not only been welcomed by audiences, but helped elevate the medium to new heights. Freed from restrictive episodic formats, writers have been able to create compelling, cinematic programs that are as highly regarded as Oscar-winning films.

Are serialized shows the way of the future for TV? Read on to find out how television storytelling has grown over the years, and what the future holds for television production college graduates.

The Evolution Of TV Storytelling Explained For Television Schools Students

In television’s early days, episodic format became the dominant storytelling method largely out of necessity. Networks wanted to appeal to the broadest audience possible, and simple, self-contained storylines were easier to follow. Episodic shows could also be shown out of order, which was preferable for syndication.

Gradually, though, writers began to experiment with serialized storytelling. Film and TV school students might be surprised to learn that it was the success of soap opera-style shows like Dallas that helped network executives realize serialization could create “can’t miss TV,’ as viewers anxiously awaited the latest installment.

Nineties dramas like The West Wing added a cinematic credibility to the format, attracting coveted viewers that normally looked down on television, while even sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld found success incorporating longer story arcs.

Early TV writers followed a strict episodic format.

Early TV writers followed a strict episodic format.

What The Rise Of Serials Could Mean For Film And TV Schools Graduates

Today, serialized structure is more common than ever. The popularity of ‘binge-watching’ means viewers are hungrier than ever for stories that unfold over time, while streaming services like Netflix mean producers don’t have to worry about them missing episodes .

For aspiring writers and filmmakers in television schools, serialized narratives offer a lot of advantages. Unfolding the story more slowly will allow them to take viewers on a richer, more novelistic journey, building towards bigger climaxes, as seen in acclaimed shows such as The Wire and Breaking Bad. Writers will also have more room to add subtle story beats and character details.

Why Students Enrolled Television Schools Shouldn’t Dismiss Episodic Format

Is episodic format still relevant in modern television? While serialization can allow more freedom for filmmakers, it also brings its own problems. Shows, such as Lost and How I Met Your Mother, have suffered from serialized arcs that dragged on too long, with payoffs that ultimately left fans disappointed.

It’s also worth noting that some of the most successful shows in recent times incorporated both serialized and episodic elements. Individual episodes of dramas like The Sopranos and Mad Men were strong enough to stand alone as self-contained stories, while still advancing series with long plot arcs. Combining both gave the creators even more freedom to produce compelling work.

Film students can experiment with story structure.

Film students can experiment with story structure.

Are you looking for courses in courses in television production?

Visit Trebas to learn more about our training programs or to speak with an advisor.

Write a Comment

Comments are closed.