Chad Gervich, author of Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business, recently shared his breakdown of what he sees as the four genres of television dramas. He also discusses how these generes can be mixed. Here’s an excerpt:
Procedurals are shows that derive their stories from a specific procedure, such as NCIS, House, or Criminal Minds. Each episode begins with the introduction of a problem, which our main characters must solve using their unique procedure. CSI uses forensics, The Practice used lawyers and the legal system, etc. Procedurals traditionally tell standalone stories — stories that have a complete beginning, middle, and end in each hour.
Soaps are shows that derive story from the relationships of their characters, like 90210, All My Children, or Dynasty. As a result, stories are “serialized,” often stretching over many episodes, weeks, months, or even years.
These shows fall somewhere in between soaps and hard procedurals, or standalone shows; they ask viewers to invest in the ongoing lives of their characters and relationships, but they also have some semblance of “standalone-ness.” Grey’s Anatomy, for instance, delves deep into the soapy lives of Meredith, McDreamy, Little Grey, Christina, etc., but each episode also has its own standalone medical “mystery,” or dilemma, for the characters to solve. (Each episode also begins and ends with Meredith’s voiceover, which helps it stand alone as well.)
Event dramas tend to be highly serialized shows, like soaps, where everything is building from or towards one specific event. (Although to be fair, that term was probably originally coined just as a marketing term; still, it’s how these shows work.) Everything on V, for example, happened because of one particular event: an alien invasion (as well as Threshold and Invasion — if anyone remembers those shows).