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Genre Shift / Live-Action TV

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  • Arrowverse:
    • The first season of Arrow is far grittier and realistic than any future seasons and indeed any other Arrowverse series, with the action thriller aspect being played way up, basically serving as the television equivalent of Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. Later seasons take on a lighter, more standard superhero fare on par with its future sister shows, along with more instances of sci-fi/fantasy elements.
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    • Legends of Tomorrow likewise has a change of tone between its first and second seasons. The first season emphasizes the show's superhero roots, which is gradually winded down in later seasons in favor of a wacky time travel action-comedy (though not without the occasional drama).
  • Bates Motel (1987) did have one or two minor horror elements inherited from its forerunner, Psycho, but it was intended as a Pilot Movie for a supernatural anthology series; essentially Fantasy Island set in a motel. Not that it really mattered, as the series was never picked up.
  • Battlestar Galactica to Caprica. The former is a Space Opera that also happens to be a Darker and Edgier Continuity Reboot of a 70s action adventure show. The latter is a Cyberpunk story set in a setting similar to (though not actually) Twenty Minutes In The Future blended with a Family Drama.
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  • Baywatch Nights is one of the most infamous examples of this trope. Originally it was a Baywatch spinoff centered around Sgt. Garner Ellerbee and Mitch Buchannon opening a detective agency and fighting crime. The show's low ratings coupled with the success of The X-Files caused the producers to ditch Ellerbee and have Buchannon battle the paranormal.
  • For much of its long life, The Bill was a Police Procedural, but when a new executive producer took over in 2002 it rapidly shifted into a Crime Time Soap, alienating many long-term fans.
  • The short-lived 1990's series The Bradys was a continuation of The Brady Bunch, with the same characters played by most of the same cast. But the spinoff was a downbeat drama rather than the lighthearted comedy its predecessor had been.
  • Breaking Bad, for its first couple of seasons was a Black Comedy mixed with a certain level of drama. By the end of the second season, a shift began taking place as the stakes got higher and higher. Over the course of the rest of the series, the comedy was slowly shed and Breaking Bad transformed into a modern Shakespearean tragedy. By its final eight episodes, there was practically no trace of comedy left.
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  • Executive Meddling notoriously forced the Campy Detective Drama Burke's Law to become a Tuxedo and Martini spy series instead. The changes (which included firing virtually the entire cast and retitling the show Amos Burke, Secret Agent) bombed spectacularly and the series was canceled midway through the season.
  • On Community, most episodes are comedic in tone, following the study group and their antics on the Greendale campus. However there are some switchups. "Mixology Certification" keeps this up for the first five minutes, but as soon as things switch to the bar, things become more somber. The end of the episode isn't comedic, but poignant. Consuming alcohol doesn't make the characters do anything funny, but makes things sad (it's the "Lifetime original movie of beverages" as Troy puts it). In short, it's been an action movie ("Modern Warfare"), a Rankin-Bass style Christmas Special ("Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"), a spaghetti Western ("A Fistfull of Paintballs"), a single-camera documentary show ("Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"), and a zombie movie ("Epidemiology"). The reason it can pull all of this off is because while each episode is a great example of the genre it's shifted to, it's also a great episode of Community at the same time.
  • Early episodes of Dark Shadows were more of a conventional Soap Opera with a spooky-Gothic-romance motif, with the occasional "Scooby-Doo" Hoax or delusion to explain away any supernatural-seeming elements. Then the genuine vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced and became a Breakout Character, and before long the show had become a Monster Mash of ghosts, werewolves, curses, time travel and alternate realities.
  • Doctor Who can and frequently does change genres from one story to the next. A show whose premise is that the main character travels throughout time and space lends itself exceptionally well to this. One can convincingly argue that almost the entire series is basically the Doctor gatecrashing various genres and bringing trouble with him.
    • All the way back in the 1960s, when the show first aired, it was meant to be an Edutainment show with a heavy focus on history and science. One of the reasons William Hartnell gave for leaving the show was that the producer wanted to drop most of the unpopular 'pure historical' and Adventure stories, and shift the show into Darker and Edgier science fiction horror aimed at the Periphery Demographic of adult science fiction fans the show had, when Hartnell wanted to make a children's programme. There is a transitional period towards the end of Hartnell, but it's only Troughton's addition which fully sends the series into this, developing the stereotypical Second Doctor "base under siege" story type as a cheap way of doing claustrophobic monster-battling horror straight out of a 50's sci-fi B-movie on a limited budget.
    • The program significantly revamped itself when Jon Pertwee (and producer Barry Letts) came on, which included but was not limited to changing to color, stranding the Doctor on Earth, and giving him a stable supporting cast. As the scientific advisor to UNIT, Pertwee's stories took on a more socially-conscious spy-fi flair, with the Doctor getting mixed up in conspiracies about international diplomatic conferences (sometimes in space) and evil corporations polluting the environment, and frequently resorting to fisticuffs and high-voltage action to save the day.
    • When Philip Hinchcliff started producing, during the beginning of Tom Baker's tenure, the show became a straight-up Hammer horror series in space, with the Doctor battling evil mummies in Victorian crypts, Frankenstein-like monsters on Karn, and enormous rats on the streets of Victorian London.
    • Alas, the Hammer Horror-in-space vibe was too much for the BBC, who removed Hinchcliff from the show. Incoming producer Graham Williams took inspiration from a somewhat-popular little movie called Star Wars and retooled the show into more lighthearted space fantasy, including the Doctor's own cute robot companion. With a capable assist from up-and-(in)coming writer Douglas Adams as story editor, the series took on an increasing comedic and absurdist flair that would later give birth to the wildly-popular The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • In 1980, the original show's last producer, John Nathan-Turner, came onboard, and the show settled into somewhat of a stable genre for its last decade. Somewhat more of a publicist than a sci-fi enthusiast, he kept the show in the news with slick updated visuals (for the time), big non-genre guest stars like Beryl Reid, frequent continental location shooting, and the shocking reappearances of old foes. But the writing suffered by going to grim, nasty, morbid little corners, without a capable writing staff or creative vision to make them work, resulting in some of the best-looking but worst-written stories of the show's history. By the end of his tenure, he finally found a story editor, Andrew Cartmel, who could make it work, and for its final two seasons the show turned into a brilliant, conceptually-heady sci-fi show with strong themes and ideas influenced by Alan Moore. But it was too little, too late, and the show died an ignominious death in the middle of its creative resurgence.
    • Fifteen years after its cancellation, Russell T. Davies managed to revive Doctor Who to a modern audience by reinventing it as a drama series with sci-fi elements, shifting the focus of the show away from the "monster of the week" formula to some much needed character development for the Doctor and his companion.
    • When Steven Moffat took over from Davies in 2010 and introduce Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor, the show shifted to a more fantastical and comedic tone, with underlying themes of love and hope. His cliffhangers and story arcs get more 'epic' too, shifting the focus to the Doctor and the way they save the world.
    • Chris Chibnall's tenure starting in 2018 introduced more of a Kitchen Sink Drama approach while adding a more educational slant to the series while mainly keeping to Moffat's epic tone.
  • Family Matters started off as a traditional Dom Com, but the series began to incorporate Science Fiction elements as the focus shifted to Steve Urkel and his wacky inventions. Time travel, cloning, and teleportation were all used as the basis for episodes, and by the time the eighth season hit, the show was openly lampshading the shift.
  • In-universe example in season 3 of Friends: Joey has a role in a play and the rehearsals show it as a gritty slice-of-life drama about a couple breaking up. Then when we see the actual performance, it turns out that it ends with Joey's character going off in a UFO to find an environmentally friendly energy source.
  • The first season of Galavant was a musical comedy set in a generic medieval location. The second season introduced more fantastical elements, including explicit uses of magic and a running gag involving a real unicorn.
  • The Game (2006) started out as a multi-cam CW sitcom. The show was always a Dramedy and never shied away from the harsher aspects of Football, but the drama slowly overshadowed the comedy so much that the laugh track became increasingly out of place and the attempts at jokes to justify it came off as halfhearted more often than not. The laugh track was eventually done away with after the show's Channel Hop to BET, and the show became a full-blown single-cam drama/soap opera with a darker visual pallete and tone.
  • Helix starts off with a group of CDC scientists trying to stop an outbreak of a zombie-like virus in a remote research facility. And while there are hints of some kind of shadowy conspiracy involving the virus' creation from the start, the audience is not prepared for the reveal midway through the first season that the virus was created for the purpose of allowing an Ancient Conspiracy of immortals to Take Over the World, which completely changes the basis of the show.
  • House was pitched to Fox as a show somewhat along the lines of Diagnosis: Murder, where the doctors use their medical skills to solve crimes. It quickly moved away from this and became a drama centered on the fact that "everybody lies", from the patients to House himself.
  • Jonas's first season was your average sitcom, featuring the Jonas Brothers in the title role. Its second season, Jonas L.A., has a stronger plot and is a borderline soap-opera, complete with Previously On… and On the Next segments.
  • Kamen Rider Fourze was arguably one for the Heisei-era Kamen Rider franchise as a whole. The creator even notes that before the show even aired, the fandom was up in arms about Kamen Rider "Being turned into a high school drama!"
  • Lincoln Heights started out as a police drama about a man who decided to move his family to the neighborhood he polices. It then becomes the African American version of The O.C. The second version was arguably much more interesting since there are plenty of cop shows on television, but almost no dramas starting Black families.
  • Look Around You is one of the biggest users of this trope — the first and second seasons are, to all intents and purposes, different shows. The first series is a series of 10 minute spoofs of educational videos from the 1970s, while the second is a 30 minute studio-comedy parody of shows such as Tomorrow's World. Apart from a couple of shared Running Gags and a brief mention of shared minor characters, the two series are connected only by the theme of science and having the same writers.
  • Lost was initially presented as just a drama about people stranded on a desert island with only subtle supernatural occurrences, but increasingly became a sci-fi/fantasy show in disguise. The show went from being more subtle SF/F to full-blown science fiction in Season 3 when Desmond started time-travelling, and cemented that change in Season 4 with an episode written with the specific purpose of smacking the viewers around the head with the message "LOST IS SCIENCE FICTION". And then season six ditches the science fiction in favor of becoming a fantasy show.
  • M*A*S*H famously began drifting away from being a Black Comedy after the departure of Colonel Blake and Trapper John, and by the time Radar left in the 8th season, it had lost most of its dark humorous edge and had rebranded itself a "Dramedy".
  • The Mr. Potato Head Show: The show itself didn't really change genres, but the Show Within a Show that Mr. Potato Head and the cast were making took this trope to its logical conclusion: literally every episode of that show is in a genre different from the previous episode!
  • The TBS music video show Night Tracks debuted in 1983 playing music from all genres (pop, rock, R&B, etc.) until the summer of 1991 when it went to an exclusively alternative rock music (not long before Nirvana changed the musical landscape).
  • A downplayed example comes in the form of Once Upon a Time. Yes, it's an Urban Fantasy, but for the first season, outside of flashbacks (which are set in a fantasy world), fantasy aspects like magic were seldom seen, more in a case of Real After All than anything else, and it played out more like a Soap Opera than anything else. Then the finale came and The Magic Comes Back, cranking the Urban Fantasy Up to Eleven to its proper trope.
  • Only Fools and Horses: Happened most notably with Rock and Chips which was a rather downbeat drama with some laughs rather than the traditional sitcom of the original, but it did occasionally happen within the series itself.
    • The 1985 Christmas Special "To Hull and Back" was treated more like a crime caper film than a sitcom
    • The series finale "Sleepless in Peckham", while still having plenty of comedic moments, had a far more serious atmosphere than most of the series.
  • Passions started out as a typical soap opera and quickly mutated into a supernatural weird-fest. Ditto for Dark Shadows and General Hospital's Spin-Off Port Charles.
  • Person of Interest started off as a fairly standard action/drama with a twist on the police procedural formula, but otherwise fairly mundane. By the end of the third season it had become a series about the grander implications of artificial intelligence and considered by many as a science-fiction series.
  • While the staples of the franchise never go away, different seasons of Power Rangers, after the original Mighty Morphin era ended, sometimes branch into different genres; typically though, the biggest difference will be whether they lean more towards the fantasy or sci-fi elements (Mighty Morphin was decidedly Science Fantasy).
  • The Practice started as a gritty legal show focused on a firm that struggled to make the rent and convince clients to pay for traffic court. By the time the show was over, the firm was representing increasingly bizarre clients, getting cases related to current events, winning impossible cases, and having endless episodes about the lawyers' personal lives. Boston Legal completed the transition and added comedic elements. The universe therefore shifted from legal procedural/drama, to a soap opera/drama, and then finally to a soap opera/dramedy. Watching an early episode of the first show and a late episode of the second show is highly jarring.
  • Season 1 of Prison Break revolves around an honest-to-god prison break with a cast composed almost entirely of stock characters ripped from classic prison movies, and season 2 continues it with the escaped inmates on the run from the FBI. By the end of season 2, the escapees have all successfully evaded the law (the few that survived, at least...) but the writers manage to justify the title by having the main characters all rounded up for random reasons and a new, even worse prison in Panama. Then the final season rolls around, and the whole series morphs into some weird cross between MacGyver and The Bourne Series about the main cast trying to take down some evil shadow corporation using zany schemes whipped together with loot from the Dollar Store. When the show was rebooted in 2017, it started with another prison break, but that was over quickly and the rest of the season most closely resembled the previous one.
  • Red Dwarf has had a number of shifts throughout its run. The show was pitched as, and started out as, a Slice of Life situation comedy with a spaceship as the setting, that morphed into a more action-oriented Sci-Fi Comedy in its third series, eventually morphing into more of an Action Comedy by its sixth series, then more of a Sci-fi Dramedy in Series 7, and then a Prison Comedy in Series 8. The shifts in tone were relatively subtle, but if it weren't for the consistent characters, episodes from different series would appear to be from completely different programs.
  • The TV film Reichenbach Falls, based on an idea by Ian Rankin, shifts genres in a rather Mind Screwy way, reflecting the central character's growing Genre Savvy.
  • Stargate: Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis were mostly similar in setup. Yes, the Atlantis team was initially cut off from Earth, but subsequent seasons eliminated this problem. Stargate Universe, you'll have to check to make sure you're actually watching a Stargate series. It goes with the "cut off from Earth" part and sticks with it (mostly), although the crew of the Destiny is capable of communicating with Earth. Also, unlike SG-1 and Atlantis, Universe takes a page out of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series and focuses more on individuals struggling to survive to the point where even the musical score is completely different from the "typical" Stargate music. The Wagon Train to the Stars aspect is entirely ditched, with few people who are not the ship's crew ever appearing, and only one alien race that appears quite infrequently. Mostly, it was about interpersonal conflicts on a broken ship. You will hear the phrase "Soap Opera IN SPACE!" a lot.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a slightly odd example since, in hindsight, the static setting seems an obvious way to do more arc-based storylines and use lots of recurring characters but, in the beginning, it was just normal Star Trek with a gimmick — the only important difference was that the alien of the week from the Planet of Hats came to them instead of the other way 'round thanks to the wormhole discovered in the first episode. The first season is almost indistinguishable from other Treks, and only when the characters are established do the writers start doing different things.
  • Likewise, the Supernatural episodes "The Benders" and "Family Remains". The show's Myth Arc itself experienced a massive shift in the fourth season. Seasons 1-3 were a horror series focused on Sam and Dean fighting random monsters while also working to stop whatever Big Bad was currently involved (Azazel in seasons 1-2; Lilith in season 3), and then with the fourth season the show transformed into an apocalyptic angel and demon war with an occasional monster thrown in.
  • Touch becomes a more actionized thriller in the second season, as Martin is faced with more dangerous tasks which involve him running into really dangerous people. The first season was very Slice of Life.
  • Westworld is a sci-fi story with a Western setting. Then, Season 2 slowly shifts away from the western aspect and goes more on the sci-fi. Season 3 goes into the Post-Cyberpunk genre after the main cast leaves the park.
  • As lampshaded by the announcer, following the move from TechTV to G4, the video game review show X-Play became less about reviewing games and more about employing successive "lame vaudeville gags". At one point, the show was able to provide thorough reviews of at least five games in one single airing, but due to the space the gags took up, they were barely able to get through three. They later became less frequent, thus leaving time for only one or two sketches a week, then the opposite happened: it changed from a sketch comedy/video game review show into a pure video game news and review show (with only about two reviews per episode and less comical news reports).


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