university tv shows
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A gap in the market: why are so few TV shows set at university?

With TV becoming such a fundamental part of our culture, there are now seemingly endless possibilities of shows to watch from any genre we feel. However, upon closer inspection, one type of show that surprisingly sees little screen time are ones centred around university life.  

Whilst the stereotypical American “college years” have featured in a handful of shows such as Grown-ish, Blue Mountain State and Dear White People, in comparison with other common television programmes, the theme is noticeably scarce – a surprising fact when such a large percentage of people regard university as being “the best years of their life.” With so much to write about in such life-changing years, you would simply expect more shows to exist that follow this exciting lifestyle. 

When examining this gap in the market further, it seems that there are a number of deeper issues which complicate the process of creating a successful, university-based show. For instance, the assumption that it would have a limited target audience makes it less attractive to networks.  

Taking on a college scene would be very daunting as it would require much bigger and more expensive sets

The majority of people enjoy watching shows that they can relate to – partly why classics such as Friends or Modern Family are so popular. Likewise, watching teenagers navigate their way through high school is something that nearly everyone has experience of and therefore producers rarely pass up on a school setting for a show. However, going to university is a more niche setting which networks worry may alienate viewers. Undoubtedly, a much smaller proportion of people have first-hand experience of attending university which makes it riskier. This is one reason why you do not see it tried more often. 

In addition, the logistics of centring a TV show around university life is simply too complex. Taking on a college scene would be very daunting as it would require much bigger and more expensive sets, tons of extras and it would be too hard to write for.  

Unlike at school, university gives you more freedom and allows you to explore countless different areas outside your degree such as sports clubs, societies, social events and so on. You are not just forced together with the same people all the time like at school – everyone has their own unique experience and interacts with a much larger mix of people. Logistically, this means that it would be much harder to follow the lives of a select group of people whose lives overlapped a lot; unless, for instance, they were all members of the football team or the medical school. This would result in a less dynamic cast and overall be a less accurate representation of the fullness of university life. 

Perhaps it is unrealistic to create a successful university show unless it was solely concentrating on one area, like how Glee focuses on the school competition choir club

Some also claim that the character’s ages at university are awkward and would be too difficult to write for due to them being too young to get married or have full-time jobs but also too old to be dealing with the typical high school themes of partying for the first time and experimentation. Therefore, perhaps it is unrealistic to create a successful university show unless it was solely concentrating on one area, like how Glee focuses on the school competition choir club.

However, whilst these are all good points, the argument still stands that a show following university life, if done well, would be extremely entertaining to watch for both students and people with no experience of university. In theory, university life should actually be the easiest demographic to write about as it offers a refreshing combination of no parents holding characters back, a vast mixture of students’ fascinating geographical backgrounds, countless class choices, tons of free time for socialising, and altogether so many fascinating dynamics to play with. Schools offer way less freedom and more structured schedules, yet they are extremely popular. 

Writers would have so much fresh material to explore as these shows are so rarely done and would offer endless fascinating storylines and potential plots

There is evidently such a gap in the market for successful university-based shows which no one ever seems to talk about. Whilst there are countless complications, as mentioned, which make the process of creating a good show more challenging, it is by no means impossible. Once initial barriers are overcome, writers would have so much fresh material to explore as these shows are so rarely done and would offer endless fascinating storylines and potential plots. Maybe the setting has been neglected by the entertainment industry simply due to fear? In any case, I would love to see a university-based show created one day and am excited to see what the future holds for this forgotten setting.

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