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When we have a series of episodes where every one episode depends on and develops from the previous, we may call that a sequel, or maybe a continuum.

Now let us say that we have a collection of fables, episodes or anecdotes that have the same characters, the same milieu, and the same themes; yet, this time, the episodes are NOT interdependent. They don't depend on each other in that you can watch/read 'any' one of them be it (in terms of order) from a beginning, medial, or final season, without having to watch/read the previous to understand, appreciate, and enjoy it (the one you're watching/reading). What do we call the 'episode' in this case?

Examples: a sitcome comedy show, or show like Dr Who. Or, in literature, the novels of Sherlock Holmes.

Is there a specific term to describe the 'independent episodes' of these works?

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I'm not sure right now whether this will arrive at an actual answer, or just ramble through some musings & definitions… but if I can't shed at least a little light on an industry I actually work in, then I'll hang up my hat ;-))

Season
US uses 'season' for 'one year of a show's life', UK unfortunately uses series for both a single 'year' & also the entirety of the show's life, though this is changing & the UK is adopting the term season in recent years, so I'll use the US definition to distinguish.

Series
Several episodes making up a whole Season - consisting of either one long plot, several independent stories containing roughly the same characters, or even several completely independent stories. A documentary series would be a good example of this last form.
Even soaps have seasons - even if they broadcast 52 weeks of the year, but they are rarely advertised to the public as such.

Serial
Specifically, one long plot (or plot arc, which can be broken into sub arcs, to add excitement at episodes throughout the series rather than trying to save it all for the last episode); even if that plot digresses & has episodes that don't appear to form part of the whole. Doctor Who may be an example of this, where each story stands reasonably well alone, yet there is always some underlying long-plot usually only slowly revealed until the season finale.

Sequel
A term that can really only be applied if the previous incarnation, be it movie, single-episode or short-season drama, would appear to be final & complete at the time it finished; or alternatively, usually from an existing series of books etc., the term would apply, as nominally each book would be self-contained to an extent. Otherwise it is simply 'season 2'. To make it more confusing… Harry Potter has sequels, Game of Thrones does not. Star Wars has sequels & prequels.

… and finally… an answer… almost
If each episode is not part of an overall plot arc, or if the overall arc is not needed to watch any random episode without becoming lost as to what is happening, that show would simply be termed episodic. The Simpsons would be a good example.
I don't know of any single term that would describe 'one independent episode' as the OP asked; which is why we end up having to dodge & squirm, using 'episode', stand-alone' etc to try describe it.

NB - episodic can also be used to describe a show that is written to be a long plot, yet the makers concentrated more on the individual plot of each episode at the expense of the long plot. Such use is slightly derogatory.

  • Can you answer me this: why in the USA a single season (that produced in one year) of a typical prime time show has about 20 episodes, whereas in the UK it is often only 6 to 8, for example? – user6951 Dec 1 '14 at 14:29
  • Simple. Budget. – Tetsujin Dec 1 '14 at 14:37
  • Though 24 only had 12 episodes this year, whilst Eastenders had approx 400, Doctors 236, Holby City 52 & Casualty 48. – Tetsujin Dec 1 '14 at 14:40
  • Budget can mean differ things. E.g., ITV only had enough money (in its budget) to make 4 episodes of Inspector Morse each season, even though ITV wanted to make 22 each year, which is the US norm. Or, ITV's annual budget for Morse was £x because that is how much it typically costs to produce 4-5 episodes, which is all they wanted to produce that year, because that is the norm in the UK. So I am back to my original question. – user6951 Dec 1 '14 at 15:06
  • Budget means 'how much do I have to spend on this show'. Simple answer is the US has massively more to spend. It also turns out a lot more channel-fillers, that cost relatively little to make. You can't really compare a UK flagship show - Morse/Lewis/Endeavour, Dr Who, Downton, Selfridge, Midwife - which are a 6 month shoot for those 6 or 8 episodes, to a churn-out UK show like Eastenders, or to the US show Elementary & dozens more like it, as their shoot schedule is perhaps 1/10th of a flagship show, even if they do shoot 48 weeks a year on constantly revolving crews. – Tetsujin Dec 1 '14 at 15:21
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In some cases (for example a lot of sitcoms), episodes being independent of one another is normal. If you want to make it clear that this is the case for the work you're talking about, "standalone" can be used or it can be said that the episode "stands alone".

For example, something which is related to other works but works as an independent episode might be described as:

A standalone episode set in the same universe as [name of other series]

A series which has links between episodes but where you don't need to watch every episode to get what's going on:

There are a number of recurring themes, but each episode in the series stands alone.

For a book, film, etc, in a series which could be read or watched by itself:

It's technically a sequel, but I think it works as a standalone.

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I don't have any reference, but still it will be an episode only. That is because in the context of broadcasting, an episode belongs to a series, and 'Series' does not necessarily mean a sequel of episodes that depend on each other.

No matter what, they are still called as series in the context of broadcast. [In InE, we call it a serial, and we have many serials you can start watching from any episode. Each episode will have its separate story ending in that episode only]. You don't need to having watched the first episode to understand the second because they are independent but made on the same subject (say, comedy) taking same characters.

Cambridge Dictionary defines it:

a set of television or radio broadcasts on the same subject or using the same characters but in different situations.

Another reference from OALD

[countable] a set of radio or television programmes that deal with the same subject or that have the same characters.

This is a good question.

  • 1
    "[S]eries [does] not necessarily mean [a] sequel of episodes that depend on each other"--exactly right! Series basically means a set of similar things. In other words, the OP's "series is a collection of interdependent things called episodes" (my paraphrase) is a false assumption. (By the way, I'd probably write one another, but each other is, I think, okay, too.) – Damkerng T. Nov 25 '14 at 9:38
  • You're welcome. I had no intention to correct your phrase, but I wrote "exactly right" and then felt a little odd! By the way, I wrote [S] not because I think it had to be in uppercase, it was just at the beginning of that sentence; that's all. Sorry if I confused you a bit! – Damkerng T. Nov 25 '14 at 9:52
  • Not at all. I'm all open for any learning, provided it should come from ELL! :P haha – Maulik V Nov 25 '14 at 9:53

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