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There is some debate about what was the very first episodic or serialized TV show now that streaming and broadcast television have been refining both of those concepts spectacularly and innovatively in more recent years. On the VFX side of things, streamers and broadcast entities have brought both episodic and serialized shows to never-before-seen levels akin to cinematic movie-making. Examples are Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, Halo, Star Trek: Picard, Stranger Things and many others. Viewers can’t get enough.
Episodic suggests self-contained stories about the same characters, while serialized suggests a story that takes multiple installments to tell. In some instances, today, episodic and serialized have merged into hybrid extravaganzas. Some TV historians point to The Lone Ranger as the first true episodic. It aired from 1949 to 1957, featuring Clayton Moore as the popular Texas Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his trusty companion Tonto. It spanned nine years and featured 221 full episodes. The show was considered episodic in that the stories were also self-contained.
TV historians also point to the first true serialized nighttime show as Peyton Place, which came along in the 1960s, with the primetime genre fully blossoming in the 1970s with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Daytime honors go to Guiding Light, a TV soap opera which started airing in 1952. It’s the longest running soap opera (1952-2009). Featuring any number of actors over the years, the series had multiple storylines around family, work ethic and climbing the social ladder – all with a spiritual flavor.