Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When is a 23 episode TV season simply too much? Does a shorter season equal better programming?

One of the problems with some of the main network shows (ABC, NBC, CBS) is that they run their shows for upwards of 23 episodes a season. That may have been prudent back in the day - you know, the ancient times with only three channels and no remote control - but today it may be to their detriment. At the very least to the detriment of good quality programming .

An example is Once Upon a Time. An average season is about 23 episodes. Most seasons have an amazing beginning, fantastic ending, and filler in the middle. When I watch Once Upon a Time, after about episode four or five I realize it's already dragging, and there's a ton of excess story-lines that quite obviously is to fill up the season. I find myself fast forwarding through a good 70% of almost every episode until about episode eighteen-ish. That's when the main arc of the season picks up steam again and we're on our way to that fantastic season ender. My point being that if Once Upon a Time had ten episode seasons it would be an outstanding show. 

Now you could argue that this is more true with fantasy genre shows, especially when you look at some of the most popular fantasy shows on television today - The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who - it does seem to be true that less is more. However, even some of the more critically acclaimed dramas like Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire, along with top streaming shows House of Cards, Transparent and Orange is the New Black have formats of 10-13 episodes a season. It makes for better programming because writers aren't worried about a story arc lasting twice as long as it probably should. This is nothing new. Arguably, one of the best HBO series there's ever been, The Sopranos, had short seasons (except the last one) back when American television had never heard of such a thing.

Needing a short season isn't the case with every show out there. There are shows that can handle 23 episode storytelling. Most of them are procedural style shows or sitcoms that aren't focused on one main story arc.

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