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22 Different Types of TV Shows

22 Different Types of TV Shows

Attempts to make a machine that could project images and moving pictures started in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until around 1920 that the first television came into existence. And by ‘first television’, we mean a rotating disk that had holes arranged in a spiral pattern. What started out as an ‘electric telescope’ (according to a German inventor), developed into a cathode ray device that was groundbreaking technology at that time, we now call a TV. Today the television industry is worth approximately $100 billion!

While technological advancements revolutionized the device, the phenomenal success of television wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the sheer entertainment it provides to viewers of all ages. Innumerable TV shows based on different themes or subjects cater to the varied tastes of audiences all over the world.

In a broader sense, TV shows can simply be categorized into either scripted or unscripted, but did you know there are actually more than 50 types of TV genres in total?

Take a look at the different types of TV shows that are rolled out each year.



Woman sobbing while watching a drama TV show in the living room.

This type of TV show refers to the portrayal of fictional or semi-fictional stories that are set in a particular place and follow a general theme.

The word ‘drama’ was coined back in the 16th Century when Greeks used it to refer to a theatrical play that had quite a neutral act, being neither a comedy nor a tragedy. With the invention of the television, this term was adopted by the industry in a similar context. However, as the industry developed with more varied TV shows being produced, the defining boundaries of this genre blurred to encompass several different tones. Today, ‘drama’ includes various subcategories such as comedy-drama, teen drama, legal drama and many more.

In a broader sense, drama TV shows comprise of any narrative so long as it is fictional or semi-fictional and tells the story through characters that are brought to life by real actors. The following are the types of TV shows that all come under the expansive term ‘drama.’

Comedy DramaSad and happy masks on red silk.

A comedy-drama is what you get by bringing comedy into a drama. However, since it is a type of drama nonetheless, a fine balance is maintained between the humorous and serious parts. Jackie Cooper’s military-themed series Hennesey is believed to be amongst the first American series in this genre. Room 22 that aired during the late ‘60s is another famous example that combined humor with serious subjects such as race, politics, and ethics.  Boy Meets Girl, Orange is the New Black and Gilmore Girls are some of the more notable examples of famous comedy-dramas that aired over the past few years.

Teen Drama

As the name implies, the teen drama is a type of TV show that is centered on teenage characters. Although the settings involve their residential places, neighborhood, and the likes, most of the action happens in a secondary school that the teens attend. This genre gained popularity due to the early ‘90s series, Beverly Hills, 90210, which was aired on Fox. If you are a millennial, then it goes without saying that teen dramas such as The O.C., Gossip Girl, My So-Called Life, and Pretty Little Liars were and continue to be your go-to TV shows after school hours.

Romantic dramaLow shot of a man and woman surrounded by pigeons and with a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower.

The romantic drama is a type of TV show that primarily focuses on elements of love and romance between characters of the opposite genders. Usually, it is combined with other sub-types such as comedy, mystery, thriller, fantasy and even sci-fi to create an intriguing plot and reduce the cheesiness that would stem otherwise. For instance, The Affair, Degrassi: The Next Generation and Love are some well-received romantic dramas.

Family Drama

Needless to say, family dramas are the ideal selection if you want to spend a lazy weekend with your entire family. Heartland and The Fosters are two great family TV series.

Medical Drama

Medical drama TV shows revolve around the lives of medical students and doctors, portraying the dealings of their profession and the likes. You must know a lot about this genre if you have ever watched Grey’s Anatomy or House.

Legal Drama, Crime Drama, and Police Procedural DramaYellow tape with the label "Crime Scene Do Not Cross"

The theme of these TV shows includes criminals, the police, detectives, law enforcement agencies and the overall legal system. A new case might be presented in each episode or the same case may progress for several episodes. The plot is based on how crimes are solved, how investigations are carried out, how the findings are processed and how the trials are executed.

The CSI series, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order are some of the TV shows belonging to these genres that have the audience hooked on finding out who the real criminal, robber or murderer is.  Other versions may comprise of a mix of elements of romance or comedy. For example, You, launched last year is inclined towards the courtship side whereas Brooklyn Nine-Nine blends humor and romance alongside solving crimes. Psych is another example of a detective comedy-drama.

Horror DramaThree teenage women reacting as they watch a horror TV drama.

Horror dramas often overlap with the fantasy, science fiction, and thriller as well as supernatural subjects. They are aimed to induce fear and dread in the viewers by featuring trapped or imperiled characters and the mental, physical and emotional struggles that they go through in dealing with the terrorizing being or conditions. Needless to say, the evils in these stories are the unseen supernatural forces, demons and witches, extraterrestrials, vampires, serial killers or even psychopaths with a history of dysfunctional family relations, a lifetime of failures and so on.

The Whisperers in the Walking Dead must have got you hiding under the blanket while Supernatural, Hannibal, and The Haunting of Hill House would have surely given you the chills.

Historical Drama

Do you watch The Crown?

Not intended for the future-oriented viewers, historical drama, as the name suggests, refers to a drama set in the past time period. It may follow other themes like romance and adventure but the backdrop will be of historical times and any dramatic events that have taken place in the years past. Downtown Abbey is the ultimate example of a historical drama that is an early 20th Century chronicle of the lives of a British aristocratic family called Crawley.

Space Drama

Remember Doctor Who where the Doctor explores the universe in the TARDIS, his time-traveling space ship to save civilizations and help the distressed by warding off an array of villains every now and then?

This is exactly what a space drama is all about. Space dramas can also be considered a subgenre of science fiction as it relies on space warfare, interplanetary battles, and outer space adventures. Firefly, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 TV series), and Battle Star Galactica are other TV shows where you can witness an epic space battle.

Political drama

Political dramas focus on a politician or a series of political events. They are normally a rendition of the author’s, producers’ or the scriptwriter’s own political views and opinions. House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal and the west wing are some of the hit examples of contemporary political dramas.

Musical Drama

This interesting genre features songs sung by the main characters. These symphonies are then interwoven with the narrative as the actors dance and sway to the beats. Glee is now a gleeful memory as one of the best musical comedy dramas of all times.

DocudramaBehind the scenes of a shooting crew.

A portmanteau of ‘documentary’ and ‘drama,’ docudrama refers to a type of television program in which an event is acted or reenacted by professionals hired for the job. It is different from a documentary in the sense that the latter uses pictures and videos recorded in real time as well as interviews with the actual people involved in a real-life event. These are then compiled into a factual report aimed at raising awareness or for increasing the general knowledge of the viewers. On the other hand, docudrama features trained actors in a life-like setting that has been dramatized a bit to spice things up. It does adhere to historical facts but makes up for the gaps or lack of information in some areas by the dramatic retelling.

Some popular examples include the hair-raising I Shouldn’t Be Alive series, the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Obsession: Dark Desires, and Heroes and Villains to name a few.

SitcomBlue TV tube with the label "Situation Comedy."

“So, no one told you life was gonna be this way?”

Don’t worry, sitcoms have got you covered.

Short for ‘situation comedy,’ sitcom is a TV show genre that is always high in demand because of its humor and hilarity. What defines this popular type of TV show is affixed set of characters that are featured in every episode. The show is set in the regular world and focuses on the lives and everyday routines of the characters. Laughter and giggles erupt from the way these characters interact with each other as they go about doing their daily chores.

Situation comedies are often recorded in front of a live studio audience but this is dependent on the production format of the program. Laugh tracks are usually added later on during final editing to imitate or enhance the effect of live studio viewers. Sitcoms must not be confused with comedy-drama because a comedy-drama is any story that has a happy outcome or a touch of humor here and there. A sitcom, on the other hand, is centered on real-life situations that have a funny outcome.

Despite countless reruns, you are unlikely to watch any sitcom repeatedly other than Friends, but if you ever need a ‘break’ like Ross did, we suggest these ones: The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two and a Half Men, The Millers and 2 Broke Girls.

Reality TV

This type of TV shows involves ordinary people who are continuously filmed as they go about living their usual life or on a special set with a group of others functioning as the same. It is meant solely for entertainments purposes and not for any superior knowledge or informative uses.

In other words, the camera documents supposedly ‘unscripted’ real-life situations. Reality TV gained popularity in the late ‘90s and further exploded into the early 2000s with the world-wide of shows such as  Survivor, Idols and the more famous (or rather infamous depending on your preference), Big Brother.

If may also include segments of an interview conducted with the participants later on in which they express their views, voice their thoughts or provide explanations and justifications for their actions. This automatically serves as the shows’ narration.

Game show

Game shows are a type of TV genre in which contestants play a game in order to win prizes. Depending on the type of game, people may participate individually or as a team. The games include answering questions, solving puzzles or various other activities that lead to rewards such as checks, gift hampers, monetary prizes, trips and travel tickets and several other goods and services provided by the show’s sponsors.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Price is Right, Deal or No Deal are just a few examples of the most hit game shows of all time. Some might be theme-oriented for example The Singing Bee and Beat Shazam revolve around music-themed games.

Soap OperaBack view of a woman watching a soap opera TV show.

Everybody loves soap operas, but have you ever wondered where did the term originate from?

Interestingly, soap opera gained its name from the fact that the initial radio dramas were sponsored by actual soap manufacturers. The Archers broadcasted on BBC’s radio platform in 1950 holds the record for the world’s most elaborate radio soap opera.

In television, soap operas are an ongoing drama serial that is made up of the lives of numerous characters and their relationship with others. Some of the best American soap operas include Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful, All My Children, As the World Turns and Guiding Light.

Animated SeriesThe Simpsons family

Animated series refers to a set of hand drawn or computer generated art that are normally linked with each other. The different episodes share the same lead characters and a fundamental theme. Various secondary characters might be introduced on a need basis from time to time.

A common misconception surrounding animated series is that they are only for children. But true TV show fans will be very well aware of the fact that animated series have several target audience including both children and adults.

From Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse Club, Daria, and Recess to, American Dragon, and Final Space, animated series have entertained children and their parents alike. As for animated TV shows mainly for adults, the list includes The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Venture Bros, and Thundercats.

Television Serials

TV serials hold true to the definition of the word ‘serial’ – they are a continuing plot that follows a sequential order as the events unfold episode by episode.  TV serials usually pursue an extended storyline also called story arc that covers the whole season or even the entire run of the serial. What makes the viewers keep coming back for the next installment is the clever portrayal of events that does not reveal the complete story or the full meaning of the plot. Each episode often contains a short recap of the previous one to renew the suspense and make the serial more intriguing.

Game of Thrones is the most popular example of a contemporary TV serial.


A telenovela is quite similar to a TV serial or soap opera except that it runs for a very limited period of time. The word is derived from television and ‘novela’ which is the Spanish word for the novel.

American Heiress and El Alma herida are US TV series that were based on a telenovela.

Factual TV or TV DocumentaryBehind the scenes while shooting an outdoor scene.

Unlike most other TV shows that follow an imaginary or self-created plot, factual TV shows are exclusively real as is evident by their name. It is a type of non-fiction TV program that documents actual events and people. Prominent factual TV shows and documentaries include Top Gear, COPS and Rescue 911.


Mockumentary, derived from the combination o the words ‘mock’ and ‘documentary’ is the exact opposite of factual TV shows or a documentary. Although it follows a documentary filming style, what sets it apart from the other is that the events presented are completely fictional. The purpose of mockumentaries is to analyze or comment on real events occurring in the world by portraying them in a fictional setting.

American Vandal originally aired on Netflix is a well-known American mockumentary.

On-demand TV and Streaming TVChannels for streaming TV.

A 9 to 5 office job followed by grocery shopping and endless household chores ultimately means that you miss out on the TV show that you have been thinking about all day long. But this is the era of digital technology. Smart TVs allow you to record your favorite shows so that you can watch them at a later date. But recording entire episodes of different TV shows is not a feasible option. And this is where on-demand TV proves to be the hero.

TV broadcasters are now making most of their shows by making them available on the internet. And this is what on-demand TV basically is – it lets you watch your desired TV shows whenever you want to.

Many of the shows listed above are available off the internet. So, if you want to watch any of them, head over to the topmost internet television providers such as Netflix, ABC, Fox on Demand, Hulu and Youtube TV. You are likely to find the show that you are looking for on these platforms.

This comprehensive list covers all the major different types of TV shows that you might come across. Some TV shows, especially dramas might be classified into more than one of the subgenres discussed above because of their theme and subject matter.

Now that you know about all the different TV programs available, which one are you going to watch next?