Accord to my knowledge of American English, people ask

What's you favorite TV show?

and it can refer to anything,even the nightly news.

Is this understanding correct?

Can TV program and/or TV series be used in the above sentence? If so, is there a change in meaning? That is, are the three terms always interchangeable? When might they not be interchangeable?

In your experience, does this usage represent any change over the years, say from the seventies to now?


They are not interchangeable. I almost never use or hear other people use the word 'program' to refer to a TV show. This might be a regional thing. (I live in the Midwest of the US.)

A TV show can refer to something like the news. However, you would not use "show" to refer to a special, or something that doesn't come on TV regularly.

A TV series would be any show that has seasons. (which in British-English are called 'series') A news show or late night show doesn't have seasons in the same way that a comedy show or something like American Idol does.

  • I have heard 'program' used for TV shows, but only from my grandmother so this may me a generational usage. That and: "Now back to our regularly scheduled program." – Michael Dorgan Jul 16 '15 at 21:09

This is my experience (Texas-influenced English). with these three concepts:

  1. TV Program is used for anything shown on television. This is the master set of all "programming" including everything from paid programming (those extended ads all about some product or service) to feature-length movies and other shows. This is the broadest category, and it includes the next few within it.

  2. A TV show is a television program that exists mainly in recurring 30 minute or 60 minute time slots. The show usually refers to the set of related showings/episodes. This includes series (see below), cooking shows, infotainment, and talk shows. They are typically scheduled at the same time daily or weekly. Paid programming is excluded, and I also generally exclude news and sports events from this category.

  3. TV series is a fictional (or at least dramatized) show whose episodes are part of a broader story-arch. Typically, each episode will have its own plotline that resolves within that episode, and it will often also advance the broader series-level story-arch. This category excludes cooking shows, talk show, and the like since there's really not anything connecting the individual episodes together.

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