Magoosh English Lesson: TV Show Format

Welcome to the next lesson in this series of Magoosh’s free English classes

This series will advance your English skills while learning about American Television! In the previous lessons, we explored the mechanics and technical history of how television transmits from a network to a screen. In this lesson, we’ll look at how individual shows are formatted and how those formats evolved over time.



  • Learn terms related to the world of television
  • Explore the format of TV shows and how that came to be
  • Learn the technical aspects of shooting a TV show
  • Learn about the use of a parenthesis in grammar


Difficulty Level: Advanced

Time: Approximately 20 minutes


TV Show Format

At this point, you’ve probably watched a little television before in your lifetime (I certainly hope so as this is the fourth lesson in the series…). What have you watched? Something funny? Dramatic? A game show? The news?

It’s crazy to think that at one point, none of those shows existed! People first had to think of things that they wanted to show on television. They also had to show things that would draw an audience. After all, what’s the point of creating a television show if no one is watching?

Remember, that no matter how boring, stupid, enlightening, or amazing you think a TV show is or was, the life of a tv show is related to one thing: the audience. This is the fundamental purpose of a television show format.

In the 1930s, the broadcast range and audiences (number of people with televisions) were extraordinarily small compared to today. So, most broadcasts were of world events where TV technology could be showcased to the masses. The 1936 Olympics, the coronation of King George the VI, and the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City are examples of the types of events broadcasted at the time.

World War II broke out shortly after the fair, and most television development ceased until after the war. But in 1947, The World Series inspired many Americans to buy their first television. Not long after, a popular radio show, The Texaco Star Theater, was altered into the first televised variety show. It was the first show to draw the attention of many advertisers and made television a staple in American homes.

After the variety show, fictional comedic and dramatic shows began airing on a regular basis. Comedy shows were typically based on contemporary situations and eventually became known as sitcoms. Many dramatic shows were based on historical eras and events.

Up until the 1980s, most television shows (except for soap operas) stuck to a format where a story was resolved by the end of the show (21 or 42 minutes long before advertisements). The concept of a story arc didn’t arrive until television technology caught up with the medium. This was done so that shows could be broadcast in any order, and the audience would still be able to understand the story.

By the year 2000, most tv formatting as we know it today had been done. TV shows run for 20 – 26 episodes per season with some more expensive productions that run for only 10 12 – episodes. Each episode is released nearly every week between September and May. There are also miniseries and tv movies that are released from time to time. 

The newest tv show formatting change came with the arrival of TV streaming. Online networks began releasing entire seasons of tv shows at the same time. This led to the practice of binge watching which is now the new normal in the world of television. But with the evolution of television accelerating every year, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the next big change in tv show formatting will be.


Word Focus

  • Game Show – (noun) – TV show where contestants compete for prizes.

The Price is Right is the longest running game show in TV history.

  • Draw (attention) – (verb) – to cause a specific response as in attention, attraction or attendance.

The 2020 Super Bowl drew 102 million viewers which was up from last year.

  • TV Show Format – (noun) – The structure and/or narrative of a TV show.

There is a wide variety of TV show formats that have evolved over the past 90 years.

  • Variety Show – (noun) – A TV show consisting of a variety of acts like musical performances, sketch comedy, magic, and acrobatics that is introduced by a host.

Sábado Gigante was the longest running variety show in television history. It ran from 1962 to 2015.

  • Staple – (noun) – A key, important, or essential element of something.

Milk became a staple of the American diet in the early 20th century.

  • Contemporary – (noun) – Happening or occuring in the present time.

Many authors write about contemporary issues within a society.

  • Sitcom – (noun) – Sitcom is a short word for the term Situational Comedy. A TV genre based on life situations of a fixed set of characters.

Seinfeld, Cheers, and Friends are some of the most popular sitcoms in history.

  • Soap Opera – (noun) – A dramatic series that focuses on the daily events of a group of people. The stories continue from episode to episode.

General Hospital is the longest running soap opera in television history.

  • Story Arc – (noun) – A continuous or continuing storyline in an episodic television show.

A story arc in a TV show is revealed over the course of multiple episodes.

  • TV Episode – (noun) – A part of a narrative within a larger story. An episode on television is like a chapter in a book.

The most watched TV episode in television history was the final episode of M*A*S*H with over 50 million viewers.

  • TV Season – (noun) – A collection of episodes from a TV series that run for a specific time period. The definition of a TV season has changed over time.

Friends ran for 10 seasons.

  • TV Miniseries – (noun) – A TV program that runs for a predetermined and limited number of episodes.

Roots was the first miniseries that was a huge success. The finale drew 130 million viewers.

  • TV Movie – (noun) – Any full-length motion picture that is created to be released on a television network instead of at a movie theater.

Traditionally, TV movies were lower budget and had lower quality, but in recent years, they’ve grown in stature.

  • Binge Watching – (phrasal verb) – Watching multiple episodes of a TV series in one sitting.

John and I binge watched four seasons of Friends last weekend.


Grammar Center

Read this sentence from the passage below:

Up until the 1980s, most television shows (except for soap operas) stuck to a format where a story was resolved by the end of the show (21 or 42 minutes long before advertisements).

The writer uses parentheses twice in this sentence to add additional information. As you read more advanced texts, you’ll find that writers will sometimes want to give a little additional information about a topic (especially in informative texts). See what I mean?

Would the sentence above have been grammatically correct if the writer had used commas instead of parentheses? Let’s see.

Up until the 1980s, most television shows, except for soap operas, stuck to a format where a story was resolved by the end of the show, 21 or 42 minutes long before advertisements.

Yes, the sentence is still grammatically correct. However, when read, the sentence is wordy and doesn’t flow. The idea of a parenthesis is to give additional information that could be left out of a sentence and still make sense. Look at the sentence without the information in parenthesis.

Up until the 1980s, most television shows stuck to a format where a story was resolved by the end of the show.

The sentence makes perfect sense without the additional information, and in fact, that’s how you can read any sentence you see with information in parenthesis. The idea is that you can go back and read the additional information if you choose, but it isn’t necessary to make the sentence grammatically correct.

  • Up until the 1980s, (most television shows except for soap operas) stuck to a format… Incorrect
  • Up until the 1980s, most television shows (except for soap operas) stuck to a format… Correct

That’s the first rule of using a parenthesis. The second is that punctuation that applies to the sentence stays outside the parentheses and punctuation that applies to the phrase or statement inside the parentheses remains within.

  • a story was resolved by the end of the show (21 or 42 minutes long before advertisements.) Incorrect
  • … a story was resolved by the end of the show (21 or 42 minutes long before advertisements). Correct

As you advance in your English writing skills, you will eventually need to use parentheses from time to time in order to provide information on a topic. Be sure to bookmark this lesson if you need a reference on how to properly use them in a passage.



1. According to the writer, the life of a tv show is directly related to what?

A. The show
B. The story
C. The format
D. The audience


2. Why did networks limit the use of story arcs before the 1980s?

A. They were too complex for viewers.
B. They wanted to be able to broadcast shows in any order.
C. They didn’t want to pay the actors.
D. They only aired live broadcasts at the time.


3. What is the key difference between a TV Season and a TV Miniseries

A. The miniseries has a limited, predetermined number of episodes.
B. A season is aired throughout the year.
C. A miniseries is a higher-quality production
D. A season is for a show guaranteed to have another season.


4. A story arc involves a storyline that is continuous

A. False
B. True


5. Which of the following sentences uses correct punctuation with a parenthesis.

A. I didn’t know what to do (as though I ever do)! that day when my mom called.
B. I didn’t know what to do (as though I ever do!), that day when my mom called.
C. I didn’t know what to do (as though I ever do!) that day when my mom called.
D. I didn’t know what to do (as though I ever do!). that day when my mom called.


6. A sentence that uses a parenthetical phrase should be grammatically correct if read without the phrase.

A. True
B. False



  1. D
  2. B
  3. A
  4. B
  5. C
  6. A
Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at You can follow him on LinkedIn!
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp