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Of TV Seasons And Their Episodes

Originally published on vulture.com with the title ‘How Long Should a TV Season Be?’

Mr. Robot‘s stunning first season is only ten episodes long. Suits‘ seasons are 16 episodes (except for season one, which was 12); Graceland does 13 episodes per season; Playing House does eight. All these shows are currently airing on USA. Rectify just finished its beautiful, dreamy third season — a six-episode batch, like season one, even though season two was ten. Deutschland 83‘s first season was eight episodes. Catastrophe crammed all its wit and charm into six half-hour episodes. How to Get Away With Murder had an unconventional 15-episode first season. Transparent is ten episodes. Game of Thrones is ten. Girls is usually ten, but sometimes 12.

Gone are the days of 22 episodes being an across-the-board standard, and in its place are these scantier and scantier batches. The feeling is not just of too few episodes, but of so long between seasons: You’re the Worst will have gone almost exactly a year between new episodes. There was a time when Melrose Place used to air 34-episode seasons, and its longest absences were under four months; our modern prime-time Fox soap Empire‘s second season will be 18 episodes, and that’s up from just 12 in season one. But even given the business reality of our modern age and the inherent difficulties of just making good television, it’s hard as a viewer not to feel a little short-changed. Yes, there’s so much television now — maybe too much? Not for me. That’s like wondering if there’s too much creativity in the world, or too many good days. I want more TV.

And not in a gluttonous, no-such-thing-is-enough capacity. More like, I don’t want a crop top, I want a full damn shirt, and it’s not greedy or improper to think, Hey, a shirt means the whole thing. No one wants bloated or diluted seasons, but I’ve been in meetings longer than the entire run of Doll & Em.

There’s no one right length, of course, just like there’s no right length of a novel or runtime for a movie. But there are so many wrong lengths! And six episodes is the wrong length. It’s too short. That is not enough TV to constitute a “season.” Eight episodes of a half-hour show is barely more than a movie. Ten feels like the bare minimum, and even then, it’s not always enough. By far the weakest episode of Catastrophe‘s (wonderful) first season was its finale: rushed, a little forced, a sliver contrived, because the natural arc of the story demanded at least one but ideally infinity more episodes to explore. Rectify — again, great — has doled out its story a molecule at a time, but this season could easily have included one or two more molecules, particularly about Janet and Ted’s marriage, or more about the conclusions of Carl’s investigation. Six episodes is an acceptable length only for a mini-series, and even then, maybe we’d be better off with either more or less story.

Viewers become habituated to different lengths of series. TNT and ABC Family’s audiences tolerate split-season models, as do fans of The Walking Dead. British viewers apparently think two episodes and a Christmas special every 19 years is completely appropriate and normal. At this point, audiences have been trained to expect around 13 episodes per season from our prestige dramas, and 22 or so from our network shows — putting series like The Good Wife in the tough spot of having to crank out more episodes in one season than, say, True Detective has in two.

And so we have shorter seasons, especially for high-end shows, and this helps fuel the idea that the arduous slog of a 23-episode season is antithetical to real storytelling; that great shows, of course, will come in smaller doses. But now that antihero is out and multi-character stories are back in — like with Game of Thrones or Orange Is the New Black — can’t seasons expand, too? We still don’t know why Red is incarcerated, and GOT is resorting to lopping off entire characters from the books. More episodes, please. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make more television per season. Perhaps Shonda Rhimes can give lessons?

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. In my country, we have season films of barely 1 hour. If so, who says a six-hour film is too short?

  2. Michael cyprian O.

    Yep, I agree. Shows are getting shorter and unsatisfying for viewers. Person of interest has announced a 13 episode 5th season down ten episodes from season 4 : and fans aren’t happy. In fact I’ve signed a petition on the internet for that. Less said about game of thrones the better. Ripper street had the same problem ( though it’s stopped airing ). They should give us our 22-24 or we go riot .

    • shakespeareanwalter

      I tire o. I just started watching Veep. When I opened the Season 1 folder a friend lent me, and saw like five episodes, I thought perhaps I hadn’t collected everything. I checked IMdB and indeed, Season 1 was all of five episodes. I mean, Seriously?!

  3. Aswear,it’s so annoying when u’re really getting into a series,only for it to end after 10 or 13 episodes…or even less! Whenever my shows come to those abrupt seasonal ends, I feel as though I’ve lost a loved one without having enough time to say goodbye. I’m watching OITNB currently,and I know I have just one episode left; I’m so scared of watching it cos I just know I’ll feel empty inside when I finish it…*sigh*

    • shakespeareanwalter

      LMAO! I know that feeling. When you get to the penultimate episode and begin procrastinating over watching the final one.

  4. Seriously, anything short of 20 episodes feels sad. Sustaining viewers’ interest for 5 or 6 months per season can’t be that hard, can it?

  5. Oh please, you guys should stop complaining. We did not have as much TV shows now as we had many years back. It was basically network shows and no cable scripted/ produced show.
    Now we’ve got a whole lot of quality shows, way too much to actually keep track of. Amazon, Netflix and Hulu now have their own original shows. TV land which used to show reruns of old shows like the Golden girls, now have their own in-house original shows. Remember Hot in Cleveland? Well that’s Tvland.
    HBO has always given us short shows for as long as I remember. Sex and the city being the most prominent. Now they have way more, House of Cards, game of thrones come to mind.
    We’ve basically been getting the same number of shows and way more than before, the difference now is in the number of individual shows. If in 1980 we had 10good shows with 22 episodes each, now we’ve got like 50shows with 10 episodes each. Do the math.

  6. Well, it’s a good thing my dear Supernatural still maintains it’s 23 average episodes.

  7. Total oshi. See ehn, I can manage 10, depending on the series it is and it’s gotta be 1 hour for a start. But who says we can’t have more? For instance I’m kinda content with GOT and Homeland but the 23-episode Originals, Arrow, AOS, Flash aren’t bad either. We’ll never have enough TV and if these guys think they’re whetting appetites then they’re wrong.

    But then, a lot of work goes into production, editing, shooting, etc. If some 2-hour movies take years to make and release, then I can understand why some series have to go short to get as much quality as they can into production.

  8. They should all come and learn from MMS on how to properly do a series! mstcheww nonsense shidren…just be doing somebody longa longa. *sigh*

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