Dawn of the New Serial


If you’re making a television show, you’re probably better off making a series rather than a serial.  Or are you?

First, let’s go over the difference.  A series is a show wherein the characters and settings are the same each episode, but each episode is also its own closed story.  You could watch them in any order and it would still make sense.  A sitcom, for example, is done as a series.

A serial, on the other hand, is a long, continuous story that is broken up over many episodes.  You have to watch them all in order for the story to make sense.  For example, a soap opera is a serial.

There’s also a grey area in between where there’s a series that has a degree of callbacks and continuity elements that mean it’s much better to see the whole thing in order.  Usually, you’re best off keeping all the way to the “series” end of the spectrum.  The reason for this is that you have no control over when and how the network is going to air your show.  Serials and even series with serial-like characteristics don’t do well with that.*

At least, that’s assuming your show is going to be seen on a traditional TV network.  However, that may be changing.  Audiences now have the option of buying seasons of TV shows on DVD (or downloading them) and watching them whenever they want.  Fans will want to watch their favourite show as it was meant to be seen, whereas networks don’t necessarily care about continuity.  The rise of the webseries and other web-based forms of distribution put episode release timings in the hands of the creator.  Because of new technologies, creators and consumers control when and how the episodes are watched.  That means we can take a risk on serials again.

The benefit of serials is that you can get into longer and more complicated stories.  This, in turn, makes room for deeper characterization, more worldbuilding, and more of an opportunity to create an in-world mythos.  The drawback, even if the story is delivered intact, is that you need a dedicated fanbase that will keep up with all the twists and turns.  A casual viewer an enjoy a series, but it takes a hardcore fan to truly appreciate a serial.

Both series and serials have their place.  It’s up to you as the creator to decide what kind of story you want to tell, and make sure you can deliver it in a way that showcases it best.

*Apparently, they CAN take the sky from you.

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One comment on “Dawn of the New Serial

  1. Pingback: Marathon Training | The Geeky Manifestos Blog

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