User:Bob Castle/Television Is or Was

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Not to be confused with Tiswas

A common edit I often see made to television articles is the change of is to was in the lead paragraph of a series/season which has been cancelled or ended (example).

As detailed in Wikipedia:Manual of Style (television), this understandable edit is incorrect. Articles on discontinued television programmes should nearly always start with an "is", before switching to refer to the programme in the past tense.


To explain why, the best example is a play or a book. Just because Hamlet or Great Expectations aren't being performed or read somewhere (although that's quite unlikely), it doesn't mean that they cease to be. Even a book that's out of print or an obscure play is still likely to physically exist somewhere on a dusty library shelf.

Thus, television programmes which are not currently being produced or broadcast also still exist. Even if they are not physically available on DVD or video, it's quite likely that they reside in an archive somewhere. Of course, if a television programme is not being made anymore, this should also be referred to straight away in the past tense to avoid confusion. Dates of broadcast in a lead section are particularly useful for this.


To use one of my own articles as an example:

Blackadder Goes Forth is the fourth and final series of the BBC situation comedy Blackadder, written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, which aired from 28 September to 2 November 1989 on BBC One.

This is because the series still exists (and is often repeated/available on DVD), but is straight away referred to in the past tense because the series was written, produced and first broadcast in 1989.

Grey areas[edit]

One slightly grey area is how to refer to an acknowledged lost series. Most early television broadcasts went out live and were never recorded, for example Starlight (TV series). In this case, one could justifiably refer to most early live television programmes entirely in the past tense, as no copies of them survive except perhaps somewhere out near Jupiter.

In addition, with the advent of video tape, many television programmes of the 1960s and 1970s were wiped over. For example, several episodes of Dad's Army or Doctor Who are missing.

In the case of programmes such as BBC TV's soap United!, it is justifiable to refer to it in the past tense, as all episodes are lost. However, in the case of something like Associated Rediffusion's No Hiding Place, it probably isn't, as a number of epispdes are still available in one form and another. (However, I would probably argue that because it's unlikely ever to gain a commercial release, and only 5% of episodes exist, "was" is perhaps the most appropriate term there.)

First and foremost, judgement should be applied on a case for case basis.

See also[edit]