Regular network television broadcasting began in the US in 1946 and television became common in American homes by the mid-1950s. These days, most American homes have at least one TV but many households have two or more.

Television shows have always had great cultural significance in America. People bond over their favorite shows and will discuss what’s going on with their favorite characters or debate the direction of the plot. New styles and catch phrases often originate from TV shows, like the “Rachel hairdo” of the mid-90s {Friends), or the common use of the phrase “is that your final answer” (Who Wants to be a Millionaire).

Network television can be watched for free, all you need is an antenna. The networks are NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, The CW, and PBS (the actual channel varies by city). Some local channels are also available for free.

If you want more channels, you can order cable, Dish Network, or DirectTV. This will give you access to specialty programming such as, lifestyle (Lifetime, Oxygen), family friendly (ABC Family, the Disney Channel), music (MTV, VH1), sports (ESPN, the NFL Network), news (CNN, Fox News), and movie (AMC, FX) channels.

Situation Comedies (Sitcoms) are a popular genre for television programs, though they have become less popular more recently.

Sitcoms consist of recurring characters and main scenes take place in a common setting, such as the home or office. Typically a sitcom will introduce a specific situation and resolve it all in the same episode, which is usually a half hour. Often, the situation will arise because of a common premise: a character is out of their element, a misunderstanding, etc.

Most sitcom characters are archetypes, like the wacky neighbor for example, but writers will usually add more depth to their characters the longer the show runs. Even though Americans still watch, a sitcom rarely cracks the top ten of top viewed television shows these days.

Reality TV
Reality television has surged in popularity in the past twenty years or so.
The term, Reality TV, actually incorporates several different styles of programming, including elimination/game shows (American Idol. The Bachelor, Survivor, Biggest Loser), self-improvement/makeover shows (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, What Not to Wear), talk show's (The View, The Tonight Show), and special living environment show's (Big Brother and Duck Dynasty).

Most critics say that “reality” is an inaccurate label for these shows. They argue that the situations, and people’s responses, are manipulated in that producers place people in exotic locations or abnormal situations, and episodes are edited in such a way as to portray the most sensationalistic aspects of the show.

Each season, many new reality shows are introduced to the television audience although most of them do not make it past their first season.

There are two basic types of dramas on television, the procedural drama and the serialized drama.

A procedural drama would have a problem introduced, investigated, and solved all within the same hour-long episode. Procedural dramas typically do not focus on character development and plots rarely involve situations outside of the characters’ jobs.

In contrast a serial drama has a continuing plot that unfolds episode by episode. Elements of the story will be revealed in such a way to keep viewers tuning in. An episode will typically end with a cliffhanger in order to entice viewers to tune in the following week to see what happens. Because the story of a serial drama unfolds over time, they tend to have better character development as well as convoluted story lines.

Soap Operas
Soap Operas, also know as soaps, are serial dramas (see Dramas) that focus on the details of the lives and relationships of an extended family, people in a small town, or of a group of people who work in a particular place.

Popular soaps, such as Guiding Light, Days of Our Lives, and All My Children, have been on television for more than 40 years. Because of the longevity of these programs, many viewers become invested in the characters and will watch their favorite soap for decades.

Unlike other dramas, Soap Operas broadcast new episodes each weekday and do not suspend production during the summer months.