How Longer TV Seasons Are Ruining Great Shows
We’ve talked a fair amount in the past about the merits of abandoning the midseason finale. But the existence of midseason finales in the first place is something symptomatic of a larger problem. That problem concerns TV seasons that extend far past their expiration date. Think on some of the best TV shows that have aired in the modern era: Game of Thrones, True Detective (Season 1 at least), Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead among others. All of them have one thing in common: A short run of episodes.
Typically, you’ll see longer seasons on major networks like FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the CW. In some ways, it makes sense. All of those stations are largely dependent on primetime hits, and dragging those out as long as they possibly can gives them the full benefit of high ratings and solid gold ad revenue. Still though, the fact remains that the best stories are the ones that don’t needlessly drag on. British television takes this philosophy to largely successful extreme, with shows like Sherlock and Black Mirror running a 3-episode miniseries for each season.
But this is America, a country where bigger is often equated with better. The CW is a shining example of this, plowing through 20+ episode seasons for shows that could just as easily be half as long. The end result is a whole chunk of episodes that spin their respective wheels rather than driving the plot forward. Each installment in a season of TV should be utilized to serve a story, whether it’s self-contained like Black Mirror, or spaced out as an arc a la Breaking Bad. When you extend the runway, it makes tuning in every week more of a slog than a treat, leading to a whole host of other problems.
The greatest of these issues it the one we’ve addressed before: The need for a midseason finale. A show like Game of Thrones doesn’t have to stop halfway through its run of episodes because there are only 10 of them. On the other end of the spectrum, we see AMC playing up a midseason finale and subsequent premiere to make sure 16 episodes of The Walking Dead doesn’t feel too long for viewers. TWD is a great example of what happens when things get dragged out too; the show started out a 6-episode first season, and now runs with an additional 10.
The best TV shows are the ones that wrap up with you wanting more, not feeling exhausted by the almost 24 hours it takes to finish a season in one sitting. Each episode should be dictated by a creative need, not an objective number set by the network to maximize ad sales. Unfortunately, television is a business, and TV shows are subject to a need for profit over artistic integrity, giving us seasons that extend series far beyond a natural ending. Even so, we can count on the shows that stand above the rest to provide us with compelling stories in runs that feel natural and brief.
Through all this, networks likely won’t change. The classic strategy is to pick up the initial season of a show for an abbreviated run, and if it finds success, increase the order for subsequent seasons. It’s a strategy that makes lots of people a whole lot of money, but ultimately it takes away from the creative appeal. It’s a tradeoff some networks are willing to make, while others still refuse to compromise on. Whatever their respective policies are, what we do know is that the short season is the one that produces the best TV.
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