Types of TV Shows

By Carl Macek

Updated September 22, 2017

TV shows fall into two basic types: scripted or unscripted. Each of these categories has many distinct sub-groups. Programs made for television are either created on film or recorded to tape via digital cameras.

Unscripted TV Shows

Examples of unscripted television shows are sporting events, game shows, reality shows and news. However, unless they are broadcast live, these "unscripted" TV shows are manipulated and edited to fit a particular running time and a predetermined outcome. Reality shows make up the broadest group and can include talk shows (for example "The Tonight Show," "The View"); newsmagazines ("60 Minutes,""Dateline NBC;" "Nightline"); game shows ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire," "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader"); reality competitions ("American Idol," "Survivor," "The Amazing Race"); how-to shows ("The Barefoot Contessa," "This Old House"); awards shows (for "The Academy Awards," "The Grammys"); commentary ("The O'Reilly Factor," "Hardball") and specialized reality programming such as "Extreme Makeover" and "Ice Road Truckers.".

The large number of specialized channels available to viewers who subscribe to cable television or satellite services has dramatically increased the number of unscripted programs available. This rapid proliferation of unscripted TV shows is due in part to the fact that they are cheaper to produce than scripted shows and can be put together in a relatively short amount of time.

Scripted TV Shows

Scripted TV shows account for the remainder of TV programming. They can take the form of documentaries ("48 Hours"); made-for-TV movies or miniseries ("Lonesome Dove"); situation comedies ("30 Rock," "Hung"); dramas ("Lost," "CSI") and variety shows ("Saturday Night Live").

Daytime Drama - TV Soap Opera

A particular type of popular daytime TV show which owes it roots to the early days of radio is the serialized soap opera seen Monday through Friday. Unlike most scripted dramas, soap operas are rarely ever rerun or syndicated. Their increasingly sensationalized story lines deal with such subjects as incest, amnesia and past life.

Types of TV Show Production

Television shows can be produced live, live-to-tape or on film. Each has a distinctive look.

It is hard to mistake a scripted program for an unscripted one. However some cross-over can occur in the documentary and variety show category. Some situation comedies, and documentaries and all variety shows are recorded-to-tape with (digital) television cameras.

Most if not all dramas as well as some comedies are produced on film.

New Media - Webisodes

Webisodes are a new type of TV show being produced initially for the Internet. While not strictly falling into the "broadcast" category, some of these webisodes have crossed over into broadcast venues. These programs are usually run five minutes and deal with serialized story lines. They are posted on sites such as YouTube and Hulu. Some can get massive exposure. It is theorized that in the coming years a great deal of programming will be created as webisodes for people with little time, short attention spans and a proclivity to "channel surf."