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TV shows, other than ones that have new episodes year-round (e.g. news, soaps), typically group episodes in batches — most often per year, although not necessarily calendar years, and sometimes there will be multiple batches in a single year.

The term I am familiar with for these batches is "season", and the term to refer to the entire set of episodes that have ever been made of the show is "series". For example, there are 24 episodes of the TV show 24 each season, but there are 192 episodes in the entire series.

I've been told that in the UK the correct (perhaps "most commonly used"?) term for a batch of episodes is "series".

Is "series" indeed the correct1 term in the UK?

If it is the term for a batch, what is the UK term for the entire set of episodes? (I.e. what I would call a "series".)

Finally, assuming that a "season" is a "series" in the UK, if I am referring to a UK TV show, is it more correct (e.g. if I was writing academically) to refer to a "season" as a "series", even if the rest of the writing does not use UK English?

1 "correct": most likely to be understood correctly by a UK native.

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To confuse things a bit more, I have also seen cycle used when more than one cycle occurs during a year ("season?"). e.g. America's Next Top Model, Cycle 16 –  Tuzo May 26 '11 at 14:22
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8 Answers

An American season used to be far more than half a year. Thirty episodes was about right (example), followed by summer re-runs.

All three major networks (I am dating myself) presented their new shows or began new seasons of renewed ones in the fall. Once upon a time, there were even summer replacement original series.

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As an Australian, I grew up saying "season". When I say "series", I am referring to an actual TV program, and I think it is a bit wrong to refer to a "season" as a "series".

Actually, both "season" and "series" are correct in Australia. It just depends on the person.

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This doesn't answer the question. And you say season and series are different and you can't refer to one as the other, and then contradict that immediately. –  Andrew Leach Jun 19 '13 at 5:39
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Series in the UK is what Americans call a 'season'. We would say "Have you got Series 3 of Shameless on DVD" for example.

We don't really have one word that encompasses an entire run of every episode but then there's little need for one. If I'd seen every episode of a specific programme (even that's different , you say 'program' in the US) we would just say "I've seen every episode of Boardwalk Empire" which is no less efficient than an American saying "I've seen the entire series of Boardwalk Empire".

Which brings me onto another point, I noticed that the person asking the question prefixes their use of 'series' with the word 'entire' which IMO belittles the point that 'series' means all of them, because why do you need to say "entire" if there is no confusion over the term?

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I just wanted to chip in to say that in British English 'season' also has a meaning different to American English, being a group of programmes on a theme. For instance, there may be a Dad's Army season on BBC2, which could encompass selected episodes of Dad's Army itself, documentaries about WW2 and the Home Front, a biography or two of some of the actors, and so on.

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For a British born English speaker in Britain, "series" usually refers to that one batch of episodes and all the episodes of a particular programme is usually just referred to as "the programme" or "the whole programme". If you said "series" referring to all the episodes, a British born person is quite likely to take it to mean just the small set of episodes and ask do you mean series 1, 2 or 3. The rest of the American terms would be understood by almost anyone, and if you speak face to face in an American accent saying the "series" it would probably be quickly understood to mean the "programme". For an Irish English-speaker, the American terms are more common: "TV series" or "TV show" for all the episodes, and "season" for the small set of episodes.

This is my knowledge from being a dual national - Irish-British. I have lived in both, and feel I belong in both.

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"Season" may be gradually replacing "series" in the UK, but historically "series" refers to a single batch of episodes, not the whole run. Both Netflix and my DVDs from the UK refer to "(title) series #" and the Brits I know say "series N" rather than "Nth series". (So Americans say "first season" or "season one", but I've only heard "series one" in British English. I don't live there, though.)

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In the US, "series" refers to the entire collection of episodes from all years, and "season" refers to a batch of episodes broadcast in a run, usually in the same year.

In the UK, "series" usually refers to both the entire collection of episodes from all years and a batch of episodes broadcast in a run, usually in the same year.

Although, due to the influx of US programmes, the US "season" is becoming more widespread in the UK, especially when talking about American programmes.

However, it's important to note that a UK "series" is usually only six episodes long, whereas a US "season" is ususally 22 episodes. So the US takes a good half year, making "season" much more approriate for US programmes!

Here's an article by a UK comedian called Stewart Lee frustrated that the UK six-programme rule makes it very hard to sell even programmes to the US, even in multiples.

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While it certainly used to be the case that 6 episodes made a series, this is no longer the case. UK series are still not up to the length of American, but 12 episode series are not uncommon. e.g. Merlin, Shameless. Ashes to Ashes had 8 episode series en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ashes_to_Ashes_episodes. Certainly UK soap operas are series, but they don't have seasons (they just go on and on and on and on) so I'm not sure they count. –  Matt Эллен May 26 '11 at 14:13
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Not just recent; Blake's 7, from the 1970s, had four series each of 13 episodes. –  Monica Cellio May 26 '11 at 14:30
    
Matt, Monica, both good points! –  Hugo May 26 '11 at 14:53
    
An American season used to be far more than half a year. Thirty episodes was about right (example), followed by summer re-runs. All three major networks (I am dating myself) presented their new shows or began new seasons of renewed ones in the fall. –  Andrew Lazarus Jun 19 '13 at 2:55
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Series was the term for both a batch of episodes of a programme, and the entire collection of episodes, in the UK.

Over the last ten years or so I have noticed that season is replacing series to mean a batch, but series is still being used.

I do not have a television, so I'm probably a bit out of touch with TV jargon, but certainly season is used with increasing prevalence online by the British, especially when referring to American shows.

Examples of use of series and season can be found in the following thread about Doctor Who?. For example: use of season, use of series (Layden, Dark Jedi, Hanners and PenguinJim are all British, as are some others)

Also this UK animé site uses season (see the side bar on the top left) and series (see the article) Anime Review: World God Only Knows, The - Season 2 - Eps. 1-7

As for writing academically, I think consistency is better. If you refer to a batch as a season then it is OK to do so for British shows.

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Personally I think season is becoming more popular in the UK due to the amount of American channels we now watch through Sky (and similar boxes). –  Shane Hudson May 26 '11 at 12:07
    
Ahem, Doctor Who, name not title. ;-) –  Deditos May 26 '11 at 12:16
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:-D good point @Deditos. I'll forget where my towel is if I'm not careful. –  Matt Эллен May 26 '11 at 12:18
    
Traditionally among pedantic DW fans, "Season 6" was in 1968, "Series 6" is now (2011, "Fnarg+1" notwithstanding). –  Random832 May 26 '11 at 14:21
    
One thing I've noticed - from my avid watching of Top Gear (the BBC original version, of course :) - is that a Series in the UK doesn't always line up with what's sold as a Season of the same show here in the States. Basically - the number of episodes and the specific episodes in a series in the UK often doesn't line up with the specific episodes when you look at a season here in the US. Check out Netflix for example...or DVD/Blu-Ray seasons for sale on Amazon. It can get confusing at times :) –  user46837 Jun 27 '13 at 14:46
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