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As I learned from Wikipedia and some other sites/forums, there is a difference between series and serials:

  • A series contains the same characters throughout, but each episode is a different story. So, you can start watch series from any episode (Martial Law, NYPD Blue, Friends, Colombo);

  • but, if you want to watch a serial, you should start from the first episode, because each episode is a continuation of previous one.

Also (just a guess from my side) serials are usually consists from a larger number of episodes.

So, I can't understand why some soap operas, namely Dallas and Santa Barbara are mentioned in Wikipedia as series, not serials.

Probably the term "series" (aka "tv series") is wider?

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    Dallas was broken into distinct seasons - serials are like the UKs Coronation Street - a soap that has run effectively continuously since 1960 and now broadcast six episodes a week. You can't effectively start watching from the beginning - its just something that you pick up. – iandotkelly Mar 5 '18 at 23:27
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    @iandotkelly Hm. Not sure I completely understand. "You can't effectively start watching from the beginning" - why? – john c. j. Mar 5 '18 at 23:49
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    @johnc.j.OK, You can start watching watching from the beginning, but (a) you have to find a source of recorded episodes and (b) it's been running for over 50 years so, to put it mildly, you'll have a fair bit of catching up to do. Most people would just find it easier (and much cheaper, if you're not a pirate) to just jump in wherever the show currently is and go from there. – Steve-O Mar 6 '18 at 0:33
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    Yeah, precisely - even if you could get all of them, there are 9388 episodes to date (according to google) of average 24 minutes excluding adverts. If you watched these as a 40 hour a week job, it would take 93 weeks - excluding breaks, or effectively 2 years with vacation time. In that time of course 600 further episodes would be added, since they are now broadcasting 6 a week. – iandotkelly Mar 6 '18 at 1:48
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    @iandotkelly Okay, I understand, thanks for this explanation. But, back to my question, the question itself was about the terminology, i.e. about the difference between terms "series" and "serial". Is it correct that both Dallas and Santa B. are serials, not series? – john c. j. Mar 6 '18 at 9:08
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The words in general terms are closely related, "a serial list of items forms a series" for example. However they are essentially only loosely related terms when applied to television.

Series. A TV show broken into groups of episodes. Each group is usually broadcast at a regular (often weekly) interval or released simultaneously on streaming services. Each group is released with a significant gap between each. In the USA each group of episodes is called a season, in the UK each group is what is called a series.

Serial. When the story arc of any episodic content spans multiple episodes (of television, but can also be applied to magazine stories or comics for example).

So, something can be a Serial but not be broken into Series. Like a long running soap opera that runs for years with no gaps and where the story is continuously developing.

Something can be a Series but not Serial. This could include shows like police procedurals where each episode has common characters but each story is self contained. It can also include non fictional content like a gardening or wildlife documentary show.

Some are both Series and Serial. Like your example of Dallas. You seem confused as to why it doesn't mention "serial" in the Dallas wikipedia page but the term isn't a particularly common label, whereas "series" or "television series" is a much more common and broader term. Series is the more common term as the majority of TV content is broken into groups like this, with exceptions like soap-operas, news and current affairs.

  • Excellent answer. I see no way of how I could learn it somewhere else except here. As I understand, Coronation Street - serial, but not series (not sure, just assumption). Game of Thrones, as well as already mentioned Dallas - both series and serials. CSI, Friends - series. Everything is correct here? :-) – john c. j. Mar 6 '18 at 15:08
  • @johnc.j. ... yes, those examples I would agree with. There is loosely some episode linkage in Friends, the evolving relationship between Monica and Chandler, for example but its not essential to watch in order to enjoy an episode of it. Watching two episodes of Breaking Bad in the wrong order or skipping episodes would very much damage the experience. – iandotkelly Mar 6 '18 at 15:16
  • Hm. As I discovered now, there is still something what I don't understand. From your answer it is following that Coronation Street doesn't have any "seasons" - because it runs with no gaps. However, here is a long list of episodes, grouped by seasons: myseries.tv/coronation_street/episodes. Just as example, here is also a link to single episode, which have reference to it's season: myseries.tv/coronation_street/episodes/season_58/episode_234 – john c. j. Mar 6 '18 at 17:24
  • @johnc.j. they are arbitrarily grouping the episodes by year of broadcast. these are not seasons, just a convenient way to be able to refer to them. When you have nearly 10,000 episodes its an understandable convenience. The show itself doesn't refer to or market any seasons. Its just continuous. – iandotkelly Mar 6 '18 at 17:42
  • Probably there is a typo here: "In the USA each group of a series is called a season" - should be "each group of episodes"? – john c. j. Mar 6 '18 at 19:50

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