Television Plays


Television plays, a special type of drama created for television, have greatly influenced the world of TV storytelling. They began in the mid-20th century and blend elements of theatre and cinema. These plays offer personal and immediate stories that explore social issues and human emotions.

The Evolution of Television Plays

Television plays became popular during the Golden Age of Television in the 1950s, a time known for high-quality TV programmes. Anthology series like the American “Playhouse 90” and “The Philco Television Playhouse” featured individual dramas written by well-known playwrights. In the UK, series such as “Armchair Theatre” and “The Wednesday Play” served a similar purpose, bringing original dramas to television audiences.

Many of these plays were broadcast live, creating excitement and engaging audiences. This period focused on current issues and personal struggles, reflecting society’s concerns and hopes. Writers such as the American Paddy Chayefsky, with works like “Marty,” and the British Dennis Potter, known for “Blue Remembered Hills,” became famous for their powerful storytelling and character development.

Characteristics of Television Plays

Television plays have several key features:

1. Focus on Dialogue: Unlike films, which rely heavily on visual storytelling, television plays emphasise dialogue and character interactions. This focus allows for a deeper exploration of characters’ thoughts and motivations.

2. Limited Sets: Because of live broadcasting constraints and budget limits, television plays often use limited sets. This encourages creativity, with writers and directors using imaginative staging and camera work to enhance the story.

3. Intimacy: Television creates a more personal viewing experience compared to theatre or cinema. The camera’s closeness to the actors allows for subtle performances and expressions, drawing viewers into the emotional heart of the story.

4. Topical Themes: Many television plays address current social issues, offering commentary on topics such as race, class, and morality. This relevance makes the genre a powerful tool for reflection and discussion.

British and American Television Plays

In the United States, Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” (1953) is a prime example of a television play that achieved both critical and popular success. It tells the story of a lonely butcher looking for love, highlighting themes of loneliness and societal expectations. Another significant American television play is Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1956), which addresses the struggles of a washed-up boxer dealing with the end of his career.

In the United Kingdom, “The Wednesday Play” series produced influential works like “Cathy Come Home” (1966) by Ken Loach, which tackled homelessness and social issues with a documentary-style approach. Another notable example is Dennis Potter’s “Blue Remembered Hills” (1979), which explores childhood and memory, using adult actors to play the roles of children to highlight the innocence and brutality of childhood.

Impact and Legacy

The impact of television plays goes beyond their popularity during the Golden Age. They have left a lasting legacy on both television and drama. Firstly, they showed future TV writers and producers that television could deliver serious, thought-provoking content.

Moreover, television plays have influenced the development of modern TV dramas. The emphasis on strong writing and character development in television plays can be seen in modern prestige dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” which explore complex themes and characters in a series format. In the UK, series like “Black Mirror” continue the tradition of television plays by offering standalone episodes that explore contemporary issues and technological impacts on society.

Additionally, television plays have highlighted the talents of playwrights, actors, and directors. Many acclaimed filmmakers and actors began their careers in television, improving their skills in this challenging and dynamic environment. The connection between television and theatre remains strong, with many contemporary playwrights working in both mediums.


Television plays hold a special and important place in the history of television and drama. Their development from live broadcasts in the 1950s to their influence on modern TV storytelling shows their lasting relevance and impact. By focusing on dialogue, character, and current themes, television plays offer a powerful way to explore the human experience and reflect social issues. As a result, they remain an important part of our cultural and artistic landscape, continuing to inspire and engage audiences across generations.

© Md Rustam Ansari (email:


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