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Popular TV show genres

By BBC Maestro

Whether you’re a fan of side-splitting comedies or nail-biting dramas, there’s no shortage of great television to choose from these days. But for aspiring television writers, the crucial choice is deciding the type of show you want to create. 

So, here’s everything you need to know about TV show genres to help you plan your next screenplay.

What is a TV show genre?

Simply put, genre is a way to categorise TV shows. Each television genre has its own themes and storytelling techniques that help audiences quickly figure out what kind of show they’re about to watch and what to expect. 

Yet, in today’s TV landscape, genre lines are becoming increasingly blurred. As Bill Lawrence notes in his BBC Maestro course, Writing Comedy For Television, “Back in time, you were either a comedy writer or a drama writer.” However, with the emergence of streaming platforms, there’s more creative freedom than ever, leading to a blur of traditional genre boundaries and the birth of innovative new formats. 

Now that we know what a TV show genre is let’s explore some of the most popular genres in television right now.

TV Dramas

At the heart of every compelling drama lies conflict—whether it’s the inner turmoil of the character you love to hate or the high-stakes tension of external forces like a looming war or natural disaster.

Often set in recognisable locations, television dramas are fictional recreations of real-life stories. From the opulent world of royalty in The Crown to the gritty underworld of Breaking Bad, dramas delve deep into the human experience, exploring themes of love, betrayal, and morality.

TV drama is a vast category with lots of sub-categories. Some of the most popular of these include period dramas, soap operas and teen dramas, to name a few.

Comedy TV shows 

The comedy genre brings joy and laughter to TV audiences, whether through slapstick antics, witty satire, or clever parody. From classic sitcoms like Friends to modern comedies like Ted Lasso, comedies aim to tickle the funny bone while delivering heartfelt moments of connection.

Evolving from traditional setups with multiple cameras to more nuanced, character-driven narratives, comedy continues to be a prevalent genre in the world of television. 

Writing comedy is challenging, but the payoff can be huge. As Bill puts it, “After all, a smile – a laugh – is a gift when we’re all one step removed from chaos and grief.”

Sci-Fi TV shows

The Sci-Fi genre has emerged as a critical reflection of our time. Short for ‘Science Fiction’, Sci-Fi deals with how technology or other scientific advancements affect human nature. 

Typically set in alternative realities, from expansive space operas to post-apocalyptical wastelands, the sci-fi genre presents characters grappling with new technologies and their societal or ethical implications.

A famous example of the modern sci-fi genre is Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Set in a near-futuristic context, Black Mirror interrogates the implications of technology through a dystopian lens.

A spaceship in a mountainous landscape with a futuristic building built into the rock

Fantasy TV shows

If you’re looking to escape the ordinary, fantasy is the genre for you. 

Whether it’s epic quests, mythical creatures or battles between good and evil, the fantasy genre has become a staple on our screens.

Drawing inspiration from mythology and folklore, TV shows like Merlin weave intricate tales of heroism and adventure, captivating audiences with rich world-building and storytelling.

With complex worldbuilding and intricate storylines, writing fantasy for television is an ambitious feat but one with massive rewards.

Crime

If you’re fascinated by the inner workings of the justice system, the crime genre might be right up your alley.

For those with a penchant for mystery and intrigue, crime dramas offer a thrilling ride into the dark underbelly of society — compelling cases, criminal masterminds and corruption all feature in this genre. 

A prime example is the gripping police procedural Line of Duty, created by Jed Mercurio. Packed with complex cases, flawed characters and stomach-turning cliff-hanger endings, its finale gripped the UK nation. It was crowned the most-watched episode of any drama, excluding soaps, since modern records began in 2022, according to The Guardian

 How do you create such compelling crime stories? Using real life as inspiration helps. “Before I worked on police dramas, I met police officers in real life and learned the realities of investigating a crime from them,” he says in his online TV writing course. “Always write from your own personal experience. If you don’t, I guarantee you will be influenced by other TV, and your ideas will collapse under the weight of their own clichés.”

Documentary TV shows

In a world saturated with fiction, documentaries offer a refreshing dose of reality. 

Through a mix of footage and interviews, documentaries shine a light on real-life stories and issues, from the wonders of the natural world in Planet Earth to the complexities of social justice in 13th

With their commitment to truth and education, documentaries give audiences a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Reality TV

Love it or hate it, reality TV has become a cultural phenomenon, offering a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of everyday people and celebrities. 

From competitive cooking shows to romantic dating competitions, reality TV creates a compelling mix of drama, conflict, and entertainment. 

While its authenticity may be up for debate, there’s no denying its power to captivate audiences and launch careers.

Why genre matters

Genre isn’t just about classification—it’s a powerful tool that shapes cultural and societal narratives. By understanding the tropes and conventions of each genre, writers can craft stories that resonate with viewers on a deeper level, sparking conversation and connection. 

But don’t be afraid to explore different genres and push the boundaries of storytelling. After all, as Bill Lawrence said, “One of the great things today is that there aren’t a lot of rules.”

Ready to dive into the world of television writing? Consider enrolling in Writing Drama for Television or tapping into your comedic talents with Bill Lawrence’s Writing Comedy for Television course.

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