We’ve all seen it: Our favorite show finally returns after months off the air as we eagerly tune in every week. Then as quickly as it came back, it disappears for another two months, only to return again to finish out the season. Here we have the odd new-ish trend of the “midseason finale,” taking over the most popular shows on virtually every major network. For the networks themselves, it’s a slam dunk. They get to drag out their most-watched properties, and then rebuild hype for a “midseason premiere.”
It’s a strange game of cat and mouse that has these shows dangled like a carrot in front of viewers for weeks at a time. Long hiatuses are generally designed to allow more time for production, but in the end, all they do is interrupt the flow for both viewers and the show. It creates a disjointed storytelling structure that makes it hard to get into anything that resembles a creative flow. Some series and networks are more guilty than others, but it would appear as though the days of running through a season in at least semi-consecutive weeks are long since over.
No show represents this trend better than Fox’s New Girl, having gone far beyond simply airing half its episodes in the fall and the other half two months later. Its fourth season that concluded in May of this year took four breaks that lasted two or more weeks, going so far as to take a half-month hiatus after returning for only two episodes following a one-month layoff. If your head is spinning trying to make heads or tails of this, know that you’re not alone. It’s become a whirlwind adventure trying to figure out whether or not this will be a week one of our favorite shows airs.
While more self-contained series like New Girl have rolled with a disjointed “on again, off again” strategy, others still have used it as a device to break up their seasons into two distinct parts. The Walking Dead is a notable recent example, hyping its midseason finale — and subsequent midseason premiere months later — to the extent to which it almost feels like two separate seasons contained within one. From a storytelling perspective, it marks an arbitrary turning point that occurs halfway through the plot.
But then you remember that The Walking Dead only runs for 16 episodes. When you break it up into two parts, fans are only getting the show for two months at a time before it disappears from the airwaves. Sure, it provides the exciting anticipation of a second premiere following a hiatus, but what it really serves to do is somehow make the show feel shorter despite the fact that it’s been stretched out even further. Compared to a show like Game of Thrones that runs a tidy 10 episodes over 11 weeks, and you see a stark difference.
Odds are, the midseason finale isn’t going anywhere. It’s become too far widespread and practiced to kill now, but the point remains: It doesn’t make for good television. Sure, it seems like network gold when you can stretch out an eight-week show over six months. But it’s at the expense of a well-told story containing something that resembles thematic rhythm. Who knows, maybe soon we’ll get a season that lasts the whole year, punctuated by month-long breaks every third episode.
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