The problem with 22 episode seasons

Feature Simon Brew 25 Mar 2014 - 07:00

Is it time US TV networks slimmed down their season orders? Simon argues the case for shorter runs...

The announcement from ABC of the finale date for season one of the bumpy Agents Of SHIELD has revealed that the finale of Marvel’s high profile TV show will land 231 days after the premiere. That’s 33 weeks, over which a 22 episode season has – in the past few months been dribbled out.

Putting aside the numerous complaints aimed at the show, it means that episode 22, the last of season one, will screen on May 13th. Sadly, for those trying to follow the show, the erratic scheduling has made the job several times trickier than it needed to be. Whilst the first ten episodes ran on a weekly basis, since then, it’s been anything but. We had two episodes in January, one in February, two in March, and the final, uninterrupted run will start in April.

Why? Well, you have to presume that the sheer demands of the production schedule have something of a hand in it. The tradition of US television networks is to order the first 13 episodes of a series up front, and then take an option on another nine episodes. If a show is doing particularly well, it might get the full order in one go. But in the case of Agents Of SHIELD, the order for the back nine episodes was announced on October 10th 2013 – over two weeks after the show had premiered.

Appreciating that all concerned are hardly starting from scratch at that point – scripts will, for the most part, be in place, and there will be options on the cast and crew – it still seems a merciless schedule. Assuming everyone got to work the week before, it means the chances of having an interrupted block of episodes in the second part of the season is virtually nil. Particularly on a show as technically demanding as Agents Of SHIELD.

Lost fell prey to this too. Season two of Lost kicked off a run of ten episodes, that allowed it build up momentum, hook viewers in, and keep them coming back. Then it took the traditional mid-season break, which in itself isn’t a problem. But when it returned, its schedule was all over the place. We got three episodes, then a two week break, another two episodes, then another fortnight break. One more, then three weeks away, before we at least got a straight block of four again. Then the show was off screens for nearly a month, before the final four episodes of Lost season 2 were broadcast on a weekly basis again.

How are you supposed to follow that? No wonder we tend to binge on boxsets. In the case of Agents Of SHIELD, it’s become the latest show, I’d argue, to fall prey to the incessant need from US networks to have 22 episode seasons. Heck, even if it had been firing on all cylinders, it'd take something quite special to get any kind of momentum going with such an erratic schedule. But then Agents Of SHIELD is beholden to a US TV scheduling tradition that sees shows debut a season in September, and run through to May. And it’s a system dearly in need of a change.

There’s another reason why change is needed too. Whilst there are a few shows that make the most of 22 episode season runs, is it any coincidence that the programmes that have been attracting the most acclaim are far tighter, have fewer episodes, are scheduled in one run, and have a real sense of momentum as a result?

Breaking Bad is the recent poster child for this. Whilst nominally its final season was said to be 16 episodes, it was clear from the offset that this was semantics. The first part of season five would run to eight episodes, then the show would be off air for a year, then the final eight would run. That’s two seasons by pretty much anyone’s definition.

What about the recent True Detective? Freed in many ways from the need to adhere to a network TV schedule, it ran for eight episodes in one block. Off the back of that, it’ll be selling boxsets for years. Keep going down the list of drama series that have earned particular acclaim in recent years, and very few of them are beholden to the 22 episode requirement.

In the UK, 22 episodes has always seemed excessive, but then we’re schooled on a six episode run of a drama series as a rule. The recent Line Of Duty season two was both brilliant, and managed to put across a nuanced, interesting, character-filled story in six hours of television. Any longer, and could it possibly have kept the mood that served it so well throughout its run? Sherlock takes it even further: we get three episodes at a time, have to wait two years for them, and the internet melts when they arrive, because it feels something akin to a special treat.

Doctor Who is perhaps the series that gets the longest consistent order in British drama, but even that’s never had more than 14 episodes in one calendar year since its 2005 revival.

The problem, of course, isn’t necessarily in the 22 episode approach itself. It’s in the one-size-fits-all-and-damn-the-consequences. Comedy shows tend to do better out of it (and they sometimes get a 30 episode order, although that tends to include doubles), but even they have had to occasionally resort to the bottle episode – so wonderfully lampooned by Community – just to meet the season order demand.

Most commentators and viewers agree that we’ve seen a seismic shift in television since the 1990s, both in the dramas that have become successful, and how we tend to watch them. That the 22 episode season order is still a thing is perhaps the last remaining dinosaur of the era before.

Fair enough: if there’s a story that spans 22 episodes, or there are 22 good stories you want to tell in a given season run (The West Wing, particularly in its early years, was expert at this) then fair enough. But US network television in particular must surely see that the time has come for something to give. What’s the point in stretching a season so far, that it means you can’t even schedule it on subsequent weeks? That it means the show’s creators are scrabbling around for affordable episodes to slot in, without falling victim to the dreaded ‘filler’ episode feeling? And that it means the overall narrative, momentum and feel of a season arc is damaged?

It’s a gamble for network television certainly, but the Breaking Bads, the Mad Mens and Sopranos of this world knew when to call time on a season. As a result, it meant they could each tell more stories ironically enough, as it earned them more seasons by which to focus new narrative strands. Would each have got more seasons if they were required to deliver 22 episodes apiece a year? Would they have the same impact? And would they all still be making significant revenues for the companies that funded them?

I put it to the television industry that there may just be another way forward, and that the old way might not be working so well anymore...

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I've been saying this for years. Too many good shows are hampered by overlong seasons, bogged down with mid-season filler/bottle episodes and large gaps between episodes. When you're watching the "previously on" intro and you can't remember half the stuff from it, it's time to think about shortening your seasons and running them without gaps.

I've almost always hated shows that lasted 20+ episodes as season, not only because they're scheduled all over the place, but also because they seem to drag so much and you often feel like you're just watching episodes just to get to the interesting and important ones. Yet you dare to skip any just in case an important detail is mentioned in an otherwise completely redundant episodes. Then of course how many of those episodes are you actually going to remember? More often than not I just remember certain scenes or details and those episodes that I do remember are usually the important ones, the rest is just filler.

Sitcoms are another matter as they're obviously shorter episodes and more casual viewing, but for drama it's just too much. 16 should be the maximum, not too much, but just enough to have a good quality season.

the other problem is 22 episodes don't even cover 6 months yet they stretch it over a year? Yet I often find the standard 6 episode run in the UK isn't enough. we put too much in 1 person to create and write a series an seem to take a pride in them being short. Yet look at the Office, although it was lovely self contained story over it's 12 episodes and specials the US series has shown that there is a lot more mileage in it.

To me the ideal is to have four blocks of 12 episodes a year. they could do a lot more shows and they would all be a lot tighter. Even within that though each show should be designed to suit its own dramatic purpose.

After saying all that what is keeping the 22 episode season alive is the desire from production studios to get syndication as it is how they make most of their money back, so until that changes then I don't think we'll see a change.

Having just watched the season finale of Teen Wolf, it seems that has a pretty good structure. The break every season into 2 individual story arcs, possibly a remnant of their first shortened season. And now, the next season is coming back in a mere 3 months.

22 is too draining for all concerned - makers and viewers.
12 is a much more sensible figure.

The scheduling for Agents of Shield has been a disaster. House of Cards/Netflix is the future.

Ah, you've kind of said it, Simon, but the US free-to-air networks (where the 22 episode shows live) obey different economic rules to the places where shorter-run shows live. It's ultimately all about the moolah,

I'd argue that there are lots of shows that work perfectly well at 22 episodes (beyond the comedies you mention), particularly those that pay little or no attention to arcs or variation. They tend not to hit the artistic heights, but things like your CSIs and your Criminal Minds fill a gap. It's shows with artistic ambitions that suffer with bigger orders (e.g. Battlestar Galactica's consistency was done no favours by being bumped up to 20 episodes after the miniseries and season 1).

Agents of Shield isn't very good because the creators haven't figured out how to make it good, not because of the scheduling or its 22-episode order.

Completely agree. Season 4 of 'Lost' was always my favourite - probably partly because of the lack of padding compared to the previous three.

Totally agree. It's one of the very few shows where the Writer Strike actually imporved the season rather than ruinned it.

No series in the world needs 22 writers. By the same token, some series in the UK could do with a second.

12 episodes is a good number generally, gets enough plot and development in without the need for padding out episodes.

I completely agree with everything said in this article. I definitely think networks should abandon the easy made, easy to follow format of 22 seperate adventures a year and start focussing on shows that have real quality in terms of atmospere but also provide you a unique story that can be told over a shorter time span such as to give you the feel of watching say a 8 hour movie. I think True Detective is a very good example of what you could do if you relinquish the need to fill as much of your schedule as possible. The only network show that currently comes close to that is Hannibal which is far from perfect (though I will admit I'm gonna binge watch both seasons this summer) but still manages to excell in mood and smarts rather than length (a season of Hannibal is 13 episodes long) I think the perfect number of episodes of a tv serie is somewhere between 8 and 13 episodes. Anything shorter and the (American) public will complain. Anything longer and your stretching it to the point where it becomes filler. If you have 8 to 13 episodes you can really focus on your arcs and the underlying themes of the season that you're making. Focus more on the look of the show and the acting. And as a result you will get a better show.

...Not for TV networks its not.

Even for Netflix, apart from House of Cards (which is its best IP) it struggles to offer unique new content. HoC is basically a massive advert that rolls round building hype for a few weeks to keep subscribers happy. Nobody is talking/tweeting about HoC any more which would be a disaster for a TV network trying to sell weekly commercials. Netflix has no way near the amount of new content yet, though I am looking forward to the 4 Marvel series based on the MCU with 60 episodes to enjoy.

But the 2 are not the same. TV Networks and Netflix are similar but different, think about Mobile Games and Console Games. They have different financial plans and need to offer new experiences/content differently.

22 episodes is far too long. Either every episode focuses on the story arc leading to viewer fatigue or you need to have filler episodes which will bear no relevance or importance to the show in the future. But despite all this nothing's going to change, 22 episode seasons are how the networks make money.

Completely agree with this article.

I wrote this in comments to the "US-to-UK TV imports that deserved better" story a while ago but I think the majority of it holds true here.

"To me this seems to be a problem not necessarily with UK broadcasters or
impatient viewers but with the whole concept of the US September-May Television
season and the accompanying 22-24 episode seasons. This means you have about 8
months (mid September-mid May) so approximately 32 weeks to fit spread 22
episodes through, even taking 2 weeks for the Christmas period and 1 week for
Thanksgiving that still leaves 29 weeks, so 1 episode every 1.3 weeks (1.2 for
24 eps) so you are bound to have gaps there. For some reason American audiences
seem to be okay with this, or at least there hasn't been a major change in the
last few years. This becomes problematic for UK broadcasters because by and
large British audiences are used to a) a shorter season and b) a continuous
weekly run from start to finish (Doctor Who notwithstanding). From my
experience with US cable networks like Showtime and HBO they tend to forego the
22 episode season for a 12-13 episode seasons (in some cases 10) and with the
occasional exception run continuously on a weekly basis from beginning to end. So
with the exception of some unacceptably stupid decisions (B5 on C4, POI and
basically everything else on C5, Supernatural on Sky Living) UK Broadcasters
have a hard time getting it right, if they show it within days of the US then
the regular audience complain when it goes on sporadic breaks because America
has and it either won't or can't show the episodes before the US (there have
been some rare occasions where we've got episodes before the US, Stargate
Atlantis on Sky 1 got ahead of the US broadcast in one season if I recall) or
if they choose to wait to show an uninterrupted run they get lambasted by
keener audience members for being too far behind the US and promptly lose their
core audience as they flock to other methods of viewing the shows they love.
The solution to this seems simple, US networks should move to commissioning 12
episode seasons and then have a Fall slot (Mid September to December) and
Spring slot (February to mid May) and only allowing 1 week in the run
(preferably between episode 6 and 7 but not necessarily) as a break week. All
12 episodes should be filmed in advance of airing and a decision should be made
after episode 6 if the show is to be renewed or cancelled at which point a 13th
episode can be shot to finish the series off or an alternate 12th episode
(filmed with the bulk of the series) which finishes the series can be aired in
place of the planned 12th episode."

Its also linked to the network production process. New shows start with a 13 episode order, and another 9 may be ordered later if the show doesn't tank. I far prefer 12/13 episode blocks and Fox / The CW are making some progress in that direction.

For Law & Order: UK the US creator wanted the US standard 22 episodes per season whilst ITV and the UK producers wanted the smaller UK standard saying 22 was too many. Each production block of 13 episodes is split into two transmission blocks of 7 and 6 episodes for the UK and shown as a block of 13 in the US.

While I agree broadly with this, I think that Breaking Bad really suffered in its final half season. Its signature slow burn was replaced by a frantic scramble towards resolution. There were some amazing moments in the final episodes, but there were also some that felt shoehorned in - and the finale itself was difficult to believe. A final order of 13 contiguous episodes may have solved that.

It's not the number, it's the transmission pattern that's screwy.

You start off arguing that it's a problem with the scheduling and then try to suggest that it's the quality - which is it? Shows should have the right number of episodes for that particular show. SHIELD is developing well over its extended run (it'd be dead in the water if we'd only got the first 13). Angel had 5 great seasons of 22 episodes; yes, there was the odd duff episode, but it was worth having those so we got all the other great stuff. True, shorter runs might have cut some of the fluff, but they might not. The excellent Life on Mars had 8 episodes per season and still made room for four pretty bad episodes.

Community seasons 1-3 had a sense of scope, a sense of the full year. Seasons 4 and 5 haven't been able to bring that sense of scale to the stories or the characters, partly because of the reduced run. The way that season three built its ongoing material was messy but wonderful, and something like the big concluding arc (from Course Listing Unavailable, or arguably from Basic Lupine Urology) isn't possible in a 13 episode season. I'll take the odd filler episode if it means we get back the epic feel of those first three seasons.

Would Game of Thrones or Walking Dead be as good if they were longer seasons? Impossible to say. I would say yes, because the writing is so good but the pacing would suffer and with more "filler" episodes they might not be as popular so who knows. Every episode of this seasons Walking Dead feels like a filler episode but because we know and care for the characters it makes it more interesting (not to mention the fantastic writing!).

I could watch a new episode of BBT every say of the year and not get bored. I guess the point is if the show is well written and we care about the characters, then the people will always watch and enjoy it regardless of how long the break is in between seasons..

The US broadcast patterns are mental.

I've never understood why they can't just say "This show will be on Thursday nights at 9pm" and just show it weekly until the particular season is over.

A small break in the middle? Fair enough.

This whole thing where it's back for a week, then off for two, then back for two, then off for two, then back for one, then off for three, etc? Absolutely crazy.

Totally kicked the momentum out of Person of Interest - but thankfully that's a strong enough show that it was able to just suck it up and deal with it.

It's frustrating as hell, though. Seems to be an archaic model built around all the "sweeps" stuff, yes? Time for a shake-up.

i agree the season order should go from 22 to perhaps around 10 as it allows the show to build up momentum and it keeps viewers hooked

But without the longer series of Lost we may never have had Nikki and Paulo! :-)

Long seasons are fine for comedy shows as filler episodes don't matter, but in terms of drama I would rather have a tightly written 8/10/12 show series.

The problem isn't the 22 episodes...the problem is streamlining it so there isn't much of a gap between the episodes. You could have 13 episodes, but if it's spread out over 20 weeks, it would be the same problem. If you don't know whether it's a new episode or a repeat, eventually, you're going to stop looking for it. Nobody was complaining back in the 1960s and early 70s when there were 33 episodes for a show, and they seemed to run just fine. I think there are several problems at play here. You can't really go to 12 or 13 episodes for a season for broadcast tv because then the station would have to figure out what to fill the rest of the time with and they have a hard enough time trying to put things on. It would most likely mean more reality tv shows, and I think we can all agree that is something we don't need more of on television. The next issue seems to be that the stations seem to have problems putting the shows up against anything (unless they don't have much faith in the show to begin with)...and that is why Agents of Shield doesn't go up against the Olympics, although I'm sure some people would've still preferred to watch that show rather than some of the events on the Olympics, but ABC takes that choice away from the audience because they are afraid of getting trounced in the ratings. I agree that most of the shows start out with the 13 episodes ordered and then the next nine get picked up somewhere along the way, however most good shows should have the next nine ready to go for when they do get picked up....if they don't get picked up, you throw the scripts out. Another problem that several of my favorite shows have run in to (Lost, Chuck, MASH, The Walking Dead) is that there is a natural beginning and an ending. If the show is successful, then the company naturally wants to prolong that, but you do that at the expense of dragging out a natural conclusion. Then the show starts to feel like its meandering and dragging its feet because they don't want to reach that conclusion for the sake of coming up with more episodes. So, you either end up with the killer or mission of the week (ie: Chuck, Black List) or throw in new characters to spice it up (ie: MASH, Walking Dead) or just try and completely mess with the audience so they have no idea what's going on at all (ie: Lost). Once Lost knew where it wanted to go and how many episodes it was going to take to get there, the writing was sharper and crisper and you could tell they were heading somewhere with it.

So, yes sometimes 22 or 24 episodes is too long, but I feel that is only if there isn't a singular vision for the season. A good show with a strong producer and company behind should be able to tell a compelling story with a cast of characters (remember they are characters where you could take a couple of episodes and delve into them a little bit, like the Walking Dead was doing for awhile) and showcase why people should be watching that show. I think some shows do benefit from the 13 episode time frame, but for me personally, I always felt short changed and left wanting more with too much time between that and the next season (I guess that's what they want, but I literally stopped watching many shows because of that ....White Collar, Psyche, Burn Notice and Walking Dead I tend to watch in chunks rather than each episode as it comes out) they have to be careful that there isn't too much time between seasons or some people will find other things to do and watch (I think it's different on cable programs but still the drop off for some of these shows if they wait too long to come back is pretty big) it is a fine balancing act. I think people would be willing to sit through a soft episode or two to get to the better shows rather than sit through 13 shows, wait 6-9 months for the show to pick up again and try and remember what was going on to begin with. But I still think the big key is showing as many of the shows regardless of 12, 13, 22, or 24 episode arcs in as short a time as you can, so you can keep the momentum going.

It's not really a program I follow, but I can't help but notice how absurd the airing dates for the current Family Guy season have been. Starting last September:

2 episodes / break / 4 episodes / break / 2 episodes / break / 3 episodes / break / 4 episodes (bringing it up to the present)

It seems like episodes get aired the moment production stops on them, with little / no effort to bank any to run consecutively. Granted for a sitcom cartoon there's not much of a plot to interrupt by doing this, but it's still a pattern that would have seemed absurd a decade ago. It certainly makes the concept of a "season" seem relevant to no-one else but the company ordering it.

I agree about some of our UK series being too short. I really enjoy Law and Order UK (I know that's not Geek TV) but I really look forward to the new series, but it's over in 6 weeks. Casualty is a bit of a strange one, in that they seem to have a few weeks off between series, but have consistent long runs of 40+ weekly episodes.

I hear you about the new content, but I have enjoyed watching a lot of TV series chronologically on Netflix which are older series. i.e. I watched Enterprise back to back recently, and realised that I had missed a lot of episodes back when it originally aired. For me, Netflix is a big collection of box sets which I can sit and enjoy 2-4 episodes per sitting. I am not all that bothered that it is older stuff. I have become quite hacked off with the new stuff being scheduled all over the place, so will probably just wait for the box sets or netflix to catch up.

What baffles me is why they really need to stretch these things from September to May. 24 always managed quite comfortably to start in January with a two night, four episode premiere which allowed the story to get going straight away, followed by an unbroken run every year, with a two episode broadcast at the halfway point, until the May double finale. That to me was a far more enjoyable way to consume a series than all these accursed gaps.

Being a child of the 80's I look back with fond memories of series like Knight Rider, A-Team, Air Wolf etc and they seemed to run and run for years. In actual fact there was only 4 seasons of Knight rider, but it had between 22-24 episodes per season. Also, if you look at the original air dates they were pretty consistent, with the odd week break for Christmas, and around super bowl time. OK, you could argue the quality isn't fantastic, but back then in 1983 I bet some of the stunts and effects were cutting edge for TV. So why is it now we can't churn out an episode a week, despite having computing power and technology that would make K.A.R.R weep?

I recall Al Murray's long forgotten Sky One sitcom 'Time Gentlemen Please' was given a 22 episode first series, because the commissioners wanted to sell it to an American market. I used to love that show, but it would never have done well in the USA, and could have been so much better with a shorter run.

You only have to look at how the writers strike screwed up so many series a few years ago

My favourite American TV dramas come from the 60s. Back then they could make u to 30 episodes a season without any problems and back then the episodes were longer. And look at The Virginian - 90 minute films every week. Why can't they make them like they used to?

The argument looks pretty consistent to me: The number of episodes affects the production schedule, which in turn affects both the quality and programming schedule. They're causally related, and the article says as much.

While I always want MORE MORE MORE of a show, those damn montage episodes are so damn annoying. Not to mention just plain filler garbage that they come up with to stretch it to 22 episodes. I'm happier with 10-15 great episodes than I am with 15 good episodes and 7 garbage ones.

Couldn't have said it better myself. But the problem here is that if all the shows got 12 episodes instead of 22. Then we need twice as many shows. And there ain't that much quality coming out of US Television these days.

Even with the MANY tv-shows with a 22 episode season, not many of them are particularly good. Some stand out as better than others, but still. Sure there is something for everyone, but the quality isn't there.

If we get twice as many shows, all with 12 episodes each. The quality for many will increase, but we'll still get a crapload of new crap shows.

Double-edged sword.

Having grown up on repeats of the show every week, I still recall the bewilderment I experienced when it dawned on me that in all of time and space there are only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers.
And 24 Blackadders (not counting one-offs).
It seems wrong somehow...

For story led series 13 eps is perfect - Justified, Haven, breaking Bad. But for weekly bad guy of the week procedurals the long episode format works fine. Like Castle. I think more of balance needs to be struck.

The broadcasting schedule isn't affected by the production schedule; the production doesn't do one episode, then take two weeks off, then come back for two more and then take three weeks off. They keep going until it's all done.

If he's bemoaning the broadcast schedule, that's something the networks need to figure out (and I'd agree). But saying that the answer is shorter seasons is addressing the symptoms, not the cause. The networks can usually manage 12 episodes straight before Christmas, the reason they can't manage it after Christmas is because they try to adhere to a January start date, a May finish date, and their best shows airing regularly in February and April sweeps. Until they stop adhering to that and start devoting themselves to their shows again (like FOX did with 24, ensuring that it aired regularly from start to finish) they will hemorrhage viewers.

As any fans of Firefly know, quality is very rarely related to the sporadic broadcasting patterns the network assigns.

As a general rule, I like 13 episode series with no absurd interruptions (one week off, two on, then 2 off again and such). Few shows can pull off 22 episodes without becoming tedious, and and less than 12 episodes requires strong writing and a balance which is not customary to US television but which tends to work better in the UK

It's one of those days. I'm staring at what I wrote there and have no idea why I wrote it.
I meant to put the broadcasting/programming at the start of the chain, which would make what you said right there absolutely right - symptoms not cause.
Forget I spoke. I'm going to lie down now and think fluffy thoughts.

Well, until 2004 or so seasons had 26 episodes, then they dropped to 24 and then to 22 or 20. Heck, I believe that shows once had 30 episodes a season.

The week on weeks off that ABC likes to do is very annoying. The CW (Supernatural, Arrow, etc.) on the other hand have found a solution for the big gaps in the second half of the season. They start their shows not at the end of september but at the end of october. This gives us less gaps. It's a succesfull strategy because the normally low rated channel is going upwards since.

Another good strategy is what 'Once Upon A Time' is doing this season (this is ABC too, by the way). Season 3 is actually season 3.1 and season 3.2, meaning that you have too mini seasons within a season, with both a closed storyarc. Season 3.1, Neverland and season 3.2, the Wicked Witch.

Also Fox is trowing the season rulebook out of the window. They have chosen for more series of about 13 episodes, like 'Sleepy Hollow' and the upcoming '24: Live Another Day'. and in the new season 'Gotham', 'Hieroglyph' and maybe 'The League of Extra-ordinairy Gentlemen'. (Of which we get at least one episode.)

CBS is very conservative but succesfull, but they have discoverd the summer season with 'Under the Dome'.

You wonder quite how Star Trek managed their 26 episode seasons!

I don't mind 22 ep seasons when the show is essentially a collection of stand alone stories but it does annoy me when there's a season arch running through each episode. Sleepy Hollow season one was great but the split it suffered (much worse in the US than the UK) did feel insulting. It would have been much better without,especially for something only 13 eps long.

I do think the classic Brit format of six eps is too short, especially when they're just half an hour (I think Looking suffered from that too).I would prefer 8, 10 or 12 eps a series. The longer a season goes on the more momentum is lost.

Yeah, that's what I tought. The first season of TOS had a 29 episode season, not including the two pilot episodes.

Fox wasn't too happy with the split as well, but what to do with the holidays? Season 2 apparantly will run uninterupted.

Most of Star Trek is stand alone, DS9 being the exception. But even then its archs didn't overcome the format until the last two yrs.

Doctor Who did have 15 episodes shown in 2010 :p

ABC is just a bit wacky in general, but there is more. Agents of SHIELD is set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If they want to do episodes that tie in with the movies, like The Well for Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming two episodes with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they have to drag it a bit. Another solution would be to just start the season later, like in october.

Fox is, The CW isn't. Yes, they have a couple of short series this year, but that's not their strategy. The CW is owned by Warner Bros. and CBS. The channel is ratingswise a complete disaster, however they make a profit because they are to make shows for syndication markets and boxsets. And for syndication a show needs at least 100 episodes, which you get in five years with a 20+ episode season.

No probs. Have a nap, and a doughnut if there's one handy. We all have days like this ;)

"The trouble with books is that there are too many chapters..." - does anyone seriously think that is a sensible position? TV is already a highly constrained medium (24/42 mins screen time per episode, script has to break at set intervals) so how does it help the story telling medium if you further limit it? The real problem is the gibberish scheduling breaks that look like the decision if a show will air in a certain week is decided by tossing a coin. Babylon 5 had 3 brilliant seasons (2-4) which made almost no concessions to being episodic (though one of the few standalone episodes in Season 2, "Passing Through Gethsemane" is a brilliant work of sci-fi in its own right) and 22 episodes was a good length. Some shows have 9 good episodes and 4 filler so how would tying them to 13 help? Others could work with 34 - the number of episodes should fit the story, not the other way round. Occasionally, it's working within restrictions that make the story better (I'm starting to dread films where the writer, director and producer are the same person as they tended to be bloated and self-indulgent...) but for the most part, commissioning editors should buy enough episodes to tell the story properly and let the network figure out how to program around that.

The real problem is that a lot of TV writing is not good enough, for example characters and plots being forgettable, and the random breaks bring attention to that. I wonder if the Networks are scared of being caught out by another writer's strike so are reluctant to commission longer shows that can catch them out?

funny story about Community, the now-watershed paintball episode was a last-minute order "filler" episode. That's probably when most people realised, this was a show run on on passion and pure adrenaline alone, where deadlines were not a goal but an obstacle. However, no-one, not even Harmon wanted to have to deal with MORE episodes in the season. If you ask anyone in American broadcast television who actually cares about making the best TV they can make, less episodes is always the answer. Long seasons might work out for audience viewing figures or something, but it is just not sustainable!

In the 60's Doctor Who had 50 episodes a year!! One overly-ambitious half-hour of science fiction per week, filmed virtually live on a shoestring budget!

One day we'll look back on 22 episode seasons in the same way. Just pure insanity...

GoT struggles to produce just 10 episodes. The writing is least impacted, as they can adequately prepare seasons in advance. But production-wise, it's insanity. 4 or 5 different countries, a ton of visual effects. People ask for 12 episodes per season, but just an extra two episodes is totally impractical.

13 contigous episodes would've meant 3 hours less content. It would've been far more rushed. They were produced as two seperate seasons, so they had a whole year to devote to just the first 8 episodes, and a second year to devote to the final 8. And they were both ordered at once, so they knew exactly how much time they had to fill, while having effectively 2 whole years to complete what would normally have to be produced in one. To be honest, I think it opened the studio's minds to more efficient quality storytelling and an increased viability for the 8-or-less episode run

uhh... yeah technically. but I don't think a final episode of a different showrunner's show on New Year's really counts, do you?

22 episodes formulaic shows like a lot of gag based sitcoms are easier to do. The characters are pretty much defined allowing you to produce episodes like cars out of a factory. It does start to fall apart after a while when a lot of comedies suffer from didn't we already do this episode?

Drama's of course are more difficult. There are plot lines to be worked and characters need development or else the ship sinks.

I beg to differ, there is a surplus of talent in TV, and cable is grabbing all it can while the networks waste time chasing the new Lost. The networks need to diversify.
Damn I wish I could go into an ABC boardroom and whisper in everyone's ears "diversify you idiot"

SHIELD would hav been better if it was only 13 episodes. 13 episode shows are better, better Stroy telling, better budgets and overall just more care put into details and story. I wish all shows had only 13 episodes. But US Networks only care about money and that's never gonna change.

Certain books do have too many chapters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had some entirely pointless chapters, almost the entire first half of the Deathly Hallows could have been done in half as many chapters with no noticeable loss in character development or story.

Whilst I am a proponent of changing the standard structure of seasons from 22 down to 12-13 episodes you make a good point about 22 episode seasons when the creator has a solid idea of where the show is heading, unfortunately in a great many cases this isn't the case, either the show creator is only around for the pilot and sporadically through the show (JJ Abrams for instance seems to be like this), the show was created by committee (I might be wrong but I feel a lot of CW shows are like this) or the creator is around throughout (JMS for B5, Joss Whedon for everything except AoS, Rob Thomas for Veronica Mars). The other problem is that season orders are not necessarily 22 episodes from the start, many are 13 then they order a back 9 then occasionally request additional episodes to fill gaps bringing season orders up to 24 episodes. This is when it becomes creatively difficult, both to plan a 22 episode season without filler episodes and then if required to add additional episodes into your plan. Hence the idea of just giving them 12-13 episodes, and allowing them to plan a story arc with no interruptions and no needless content.

I would also agree that some TV writing is not good enough, some of that maybe because of the above reasons, lack of focus or direction and some of it may just be lack of talent.

And there's only 25 episodes of father ted, I thought that went on for years and years LOL. But how do they get away with showing 12 episode on GoLD over and over again.

You're looking at this like network television in the States is about quality. It's not. It's selling advertising space - end of story. It's filler between the ad breaks, and the audiences vote with their viewing statistics as to what filler they like watching so the networks can get round to selling them something. Advertisers look at the viewing figures, see that Arrested Development is not bringing in enough viewers, and pull their ads from that show. It's now costing Fox to keep it on the air. Cancel it, replace it with a ratings winner and you're back to making money. Big Bang Theory brings in something like 15-20million viewers. Who would cancel that, no matter how bloodcurdlingly horrendous it is?

Next up is cable TV. If I'm not mistaken (it's been a while), networks are subsidised by both advertisers and cable companies, who are in turn given money by the paying customer (the audience). This allows them to be riskier and to give lagging shows more chance (Breaking Bad, anyone?).

Lastly, premium channels. It can afford to be purely about quality because a lot of the money is from the audience paying that extra $20 for HBO/Showtime/etc. If the show is well received by critics and has at least okay viewing figures, it stays. Girls struggles to bring in a million viewers on HBO, sometimes hitting lows of around 600,000, but it stays on the air because it is well received by critics (somehow) and HBO see something in it.

I can't even remember what the last network show I enjoyed was. Most of it is complete trash.
EDIT: Parks and Rec. That is fantastic.

I really don't get it. The TV I watched as a kid was always the same: 12 or 13 episodes scheduled in subsequent weeks -- no exceptions. The only thing that comes close now is Doctor Who. If it ensures more regular broadcasts and longer runs, I'm totally fine with smaller seasons.

Most TV is trash anyway on the US and in The UK and here in Ireland. Your right, it's all about Money. Cable shows being riskier. ?, look at Supernatural, Dracula, Hannibal and The Following are very risky with there extreme violence. True detective is on a premium network yet there's NO Violence at all in it, just naked boobs and swearing. I don't get it.

My problem is with there being any standard number. You need what you need. If we were to try adapting Harry potter for example, 13 would be way too many for the first book, though it could maybe let you explore the other kids at the school a bit more. It would possibly be too few for the last book, especially since the last book you could turn in to a real ensemble piece, maybe telling the story of what happened at the school whilst Harry and Co are wandering the country, looking at life under the corrupt ministry... Personally, I don't think Rowling's world building is strong enough to sustain that, but it does make an example of what you could do with different episode numbers.

I'd agree that part of the problem is writing by committee, though Friday Night Lights had a rotating crew of writers which managed to hold to the creators vision. It probably is a case of how strong the show-runner is. Arguably, Ron D Moore is better once he knows when the show is going to end (DS9 finished really well), though maybe BSG was a bit too rushed

I also think the problem with genre shows is that it is too easy to randomly do a monster of the week, instead of working with the characters. Lost Girl season 2 did some nice slow burn with the Garuda with little nods towards him that built up over time, but the monster of the week episodes are easier to sell as they can be aired as repeats at any time (which is what quite a lot of Star Trek episodes tend to be)

Here's another idea for an Article for ya, Why is Graphic violence ok on free to air networks in America, but if u want to have swearing and Nudity u gotta a pay big money for it. I don't get that. The Following is very gory, True detective is not. I thought true detective would be horror and gore and dark and deep . It's deep but that's about it.

No network in their right mind would commission True Detective. I'm not saying there are no 'risky' shows on network TV. They need something to bring in the adults once the kids/early teens are in bed.

Going back to True Detective - there is no way a regular network could market that and get any return on investment. It would be so different. One reason is that they would have to adhere to network/cable story structure. True Detective is eight episodes for a reason: eight sequence act structure. Stitch the episodes together and you have a perfectly structured (if not very long) movie.

Because your British , or u didn't watch much TV as a kid.

Hannibal was risky , it was Dark, had graphic violence and was as boring as F***k to watch but yet they kept! that was a big leap for Network TV. Sleepy hollow was also a big Risk with it high concept and very little violence. The Follwing is gone stupid , season one was a masterpiece, but Season two is just a Gore-Fest that's all.

There is no one-size-fits-all for tv shows. A 22 episode season can be fine for shows like Big Bang Theory where each episode is stand-alone but shows like LOST definitely suffer much more from long seasons with random, extended breaks. As you said, it's just too difficult to keep a tight narrative running with momentum when you're interrupted every few eps.(there are some exceptions though) It would be nice if networks quit demanding 20+ episodes and instead scheduled around what the show requires/provides. Look what Game of Thrones does with just 10 eps or Sons of Anarchy and Justified do with 13. But at the end of the day it's not about what the viewers want, it's about the money.

Stargate had 21 episode but I don't mind. It depends on the viewer as we'll, if u enjoy a show u will watch it at 22 episode or 12.

Very good article!! I wish shows would focus on doing 6 or 8 or 10 or 12 good episodes instead of 22 mediocre ones, especially dramas. On the topic of SHIELD, it's so true that it's really hard to keep up with. I can imagine that a lot of people do not look up the next air date online when the show isn't on one week, and I suppose it really alienates casual TV viewers.

I live in Ireland and love American sci fi BUT I think The Big Bang theory is the BIGGEST PILE of TRASH on American TV at the Moment, Other than the Animated Comedy's on FOX, Most Live Action American Comedy is TRASH , Anyone agree.

As a counterpoint though, I'd argue that Dollhouse would have been better if it had been two series of 22 episodes. Season 2 definitely felt quite rushed. The scheduling is a separate problem (which is why Channel 4 in the UK held back on transmitting the back 9 of Agents of SHIELD so it could be done as a regular block)

You're right, it definitely depends on the show. The more pressing problem seems to be the scheduling, which is all over the place for most shows. I wish they'd do half of the series before Christmas and the second half after, if they are adamant about having a break in the middle, or just show it in one block. :)

And another thing , WHY must Certain shows go on and on for 10 or more seasons it rediculous. castle should end at season 6 or 7 and so should a lot of shows. Law and Order SVU is stil, on the air for 15 years. Why.

Too true Mr Brew, AoS has completely lost it's steam and although I love Arrow, it had a few filler/repetitive episodes too!

Same goes for NCIS ("the #1 show in the world"?!) and NCIS: Los Angeles. I wish NBC would have kept the original L & O. SVU has been awful for a long time.

All fair points - expect that you misunderstood what I meant. I was suggesting a 13 (or perhaps 14) episode contiguous second year. The first 8 were pretty good. The second 8 less so. The storytelling became accelerated and compressed in a way that changed the whole tone of the show.

Exactly. I was just going to put this. There are very few drama or hour long shows that can pull off a long season.

Being from the US, I personally feel that UK shows are far too short for the most part. Love Downton Abbey (not DoG type fodder, I know) but 6 episodes with a Christmas special is just not enough to really get down to the meaty parts of the storylines. 13 episodes seems like a good run time. Haven on Syfy runs for 13 episodes a season and is always tight, well thought-out, and entertaining to the end. The US TV show schedules this year have been crazier than normal due to the olympics. It's been a complete pain in the rear, honestly.

Actually, it's neither. I'm Dutch and I pretty much lived TV when I was a kid, not just Dutch shows, but also plenty of American, German and Canadian shows. Maybe the kind of shows I'm attracted to tend to be broadcast in shorter runs?

How about the series "24"? It ran 8 seasons with 24 episodes each. Loved it. The upcoming 9th season will only be 12 episodes, though.

We watch more UK TV than anyone else in America, I'll bet. We use Bittorrent to get whole series, most of which were never shown here.

We love the shorter UK seasons. Mini-series shown in 3-6 episodes...often stand-alone with no further series planned.

Been saying this for a while. You look at the strongest series not just recently but going back over the last decade 6 - 13 episodes is the ideal. Enough time to build a great story, get to know characters, see them develop without needing filler. How many 22 episode series can compete with the quality of..
Game of thrones, American horror story, Walking Dead, Trueblood, Teen wolf, Breaking bad, The Wire, Doctor Who, Dexter (early series), being human, Sherlock, Spooks.

None of the above ever go much above 13 episodes. And that's just off the top of my head.

Citing the brilliant LOST a second time (the first time was in the article of course) I agree - just compare season 3 to anything that followed after - Season 4 was brilliant at a brisk pace, same for Season 5. Season 6 split the fanbase but it was nontheless great Television, and none of those three had the dreaded 22 Episode Season.

Then I take THE FOLLOWING, one of the best shows currently on TV. It has 15 Episodes in the first season and AFAIK the same amount in the second. Now imagine 7 more Episodes in those seasons, filler and nothing more, it would hurt the show more than it would help it.

Heck, for all that is wrong with FOX they seem to get this since they even cut 24 down to a 12 Episode Miniseries.

I am not even joking, but I thought after episode 12 the season ended and stopped looking for torrents untill I saw a new episode review on here the other day. This shows my brain isn't set to seasons longer than 10 episodes like BB and GoT. So why indeed make those seasons so long? Episode 12 had a good enough ending to be a small finale.

Even 24, which was largely great, had pacing issues and had to come up with nonsensical subplots to fill the time or keep the actors from disappearing for many episodes at a time.

That is true, but I don't over-analyze this stuff. Like all fiction, it relies on one's willing suspension of disbelief. My suspension is really large. It also helps to have 2-3 pints of my home-brewed British "real ale" in me before the TV goes on. And subsequent pints to keep me "in the zone".

And finish them properly. I'd like to see a proper story told over one season with a beginning middle and an end. No more irritating cliffhangers and then the show gets cancelled!

I think you are making a confused argument. The reason to reduce the number of episodes is to increase quality, not to fix the schedule.

Once upon a time networks aimed for 26 episode seasons, allowing them to do one slate of new episodes and one slate of reruns per calendar year. With the holiday and summer months assumed to be times no one was watching, that left 26 episodes to fill 7 months, maybe a bit more. Even filling the sweeps months (Nov, Feb, May) with new shows left 14 episodes of the remaining 4 months, plenty of room for new episodes with sparse repeats.

Dropping down to 22 episodes left them one less month of new episodes, and 8 more weeks to fill on the calendar (missing new episodes plus their planned rebroadcast). Thus the schedule became more irregular. Reducing the season length even more will only worsen the problem.

This became compounded as US shows gradually moved to ongoing storylines and appointment viewings. The first time I remember complaints about scheduling was Seinfeld, but that show didn't have any more irregular airings than Frasier or the Cosby Show. But people cared about it more, and the water cooler conversations became a regularly interrupted ritual.

LOST combined the "best" of both problems - water cooler conversation plus a compelling ongoing narrative that had viewers anxious to see what was next. What had been an acceptable gap in the days of LA Law was now interminable.

Shorter seasons work well because they give a creative team more time to tell fewer stories, which can give better quality (but not always - don't tell me Sopranos and Mad Men haven't dragged their feet towards the end). But they also work better for small networks that only have to air one night of original programming per week. HBO does its Sunday thing, and keeps 8-10 original shows on the air on constant rotation, so that those short 8-13 episode seasons run in a constant, year-round cycle (True Detective ends, Game of Thrones begins, to be followed by True Blood). But the traditional networks have to fill 3 hours of time every day, every week. This is not feasible with 8 episode seasons. Imagine ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and even the CW ran 12 episode series the way HBO does. They would need 4 shows for every night of the week to get a year round cycle - 28 shows per network times 5 networks. And that's assuming they could stay on the air. I just think that'd be way too much noise for the consumer.

The real culprit here is the antiquated sweeps system. This is what forces series to spread its episodes (often its best and/or most important ones) out over just 3 months per year. A new revenue evaluation system is needed, one that will allow series to minimize the gaps.

I dunno. I was kind of pissed that they never had the time to follow up on the Mountain Lion.

Battlestar Galactica fought this fight memorably.

That's because Casualty and Holby are now seen as ongoing dramas ie 'soap operas' like EastEnders and Corrie etc...

I recently stopped watching the weekly BSG episodes on Pick tv and instead watched them all from the miniseries onwards in HD back-to-back on blu-ray and it did seem rushed at the end. It could have done with another season.

Rose tinted spectacles Old TV Fan? Not really, 30 or so shows a year used to wear out the lead actors such as David Janssen in The Fugitive. It's why shows such as Maverick had alternating leads actors; James Garner, Roger Moore etc... each week as other brothers and cousins with the occasional joint episodes because single lead actors and production teams couldn't keep up with producing 30 shows a year and with 2 alternating leads they could film 2 shows at the same time with separate crews in effect 2 separate series productions. It wasn't the same issue for other 60s shows such as Star Trek with multiple casts or anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits where the cast changed each week.


One of the primary issues I have with 22-episode seasons is their oft-overly gradual narrative arc. While there's nothing wrong with subtlety and intricacy within the context of a given season-long arc, revealing the season's major antagonist midway through a run and then effectively relegating them to the shadows whilst the writing team fill the time until the season finale and the inevitable protagonist-antagonist confrontation can have a hugely detrimental impact in terms of that season's structure and momentum. Smallville was often cursed by this affliction, and it became apparent once again on Arrow recently in an episode called The Promise, where Oliver Queen came face to face with the villain who he's sure to battle in the Season Two finale, only to be restricted in terms of his interactions with Deathstroke due to the need to hold off until said finale before their physical confrontation. Even Doctor Who suffers from time to time at the midway point of its 12/13-episode seasons, so I can only imagine how much the 22-episode structure affects some US dramas I've yet to watch. Indeed, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD seems to have been one of the more negatively affected examples of this kind of season structure, both in terms of the regularity of its episodes and its overall quality.

True Detective took a week off for the Superbowl so not really one block. But yeah, anything with more than 13 episodes is usually muck.

Hannibal and Community. That's about it. Haven't gotten around to Parks and Rec yet.

Seasons 2-4 of Babylon 5 each had 22 episodes, and in my opinion they leave The Walking Dead standing. The scope of that story was epic so 13 episodes would probably have left it feeling rushed, or stripped away the personal arcs. There should be NO number to aim for. If it takes 3, fine, if it takes 29, fine, but tailor it to the material, not to some arbitrarily convenient number

The other pain with the scheduling is that it shapes the arc. I hated 24 because you knew each 12 minutes of air-time, you'd hit a crisis point for the ad-break and it just felt increasingly contrived. Likewise, if it's a 22 episode show, you know there'll be something big at the end of 13 to make sure the back 9 are picked up. Shows should trust the writers and characters more and the fact they don't is why we get shows like the functional (at best) Revolution

Maybe the number of episodes depends on the depth of the characters. Friday Night Lights could have done with 22 episodes every year as it was a true ensemble work, some longer shows could have done with some storylines/characters excised and brought down to smaller numbers (Heroes possibly?)

TV shows used to be able to make a loss in their host country if you could guarantee revenue from other countries by syndication - increasingly with people downloading or recording to fast forward through the ad-breaks, the ad-revenue to pay for series is harder to find. GoT is awkward because of that, with exceptionally high production costs - the extra episodes wouldn't increase the cost by that much as they'd largely be in locations that are already used but they're probably not that far above the break-even point.

Interesting that you mention Community's Paintball episode as that was the episode Keven Feige saw that convinced him to hire the Russo brothers to direct "Captain America: The Winter Soldier".

But FNL is a 2006 TV series not the 'Golden Era' era Old TV Fan was taking about in the 60s when the US standard was 30 episodes per year before dropping to 26 and more recently 22. 1950s - Disney's Zorro, Champion the Wonder Horse, The Lone Ranger, Whirlybirds, Maverick etc... into the 1960s - The Fugitive, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek etc... with colour being used from the mid-60s onwards e.g. of the 4 seasons of The Fugitive, 1963-67, only the last is in colour which again slowed production as when filmed in b&w the filmed colour always ended up as b&w e.g. green lipstick was used before colour as b&w cameras picked up green lipstick better than red lipstick. Sets were painted shades of grey. The move from b&w to colour must have slowed production as the move from SD to HD must have e.g. better finished sets and makeup is needed which slows filming unlike in the pre-colour 50-60s.

maybe it's just me, but i like the longer seasons. if i really love a show, i wouldn't mind a few fiilers or erratic scheduling. And anyway, though i agree dramas are better when played all in one block, most network shows are not known for their high class dramas- they're known for comedies or procedurals- shows which can have more of a story-of-the-week type structure. My biggest point though, is that with shorter seasons you have longer wait times until the next season starts. i'd much rather wait 4 months than up to a year (waiting for GoT every year already kills me!!!)

While I agree that shorter seasons--much like shorter anything--makes for tighter storytelling, it is not impossible or unheard of for a 20+ episode season to be well-made or enjoyable. The part that I wish your article had gone into, which so many similar arguments continue to neglect, is the true reasons why stand-alone filler episodes and erratic TV schedules exist in the first place: The all-powerful Nielsen rating system.

The UK does not have privatized TV networks, as I understand it, so this is likely a foreign concept to those of you across the pond, but I will try to explain it the best I can: US TV is paid for, and thus driven by, money gained from ad revenue. If a show is very popular and has a large audience, then it will be in high demand for advertisers wanting that ad space to promote their products. And the higher the demand there is, the more the networks can charge for that ad space, thereby driving up their own profits. And the Nielsen ratings system is the key component by which series' audiences are measured in the states, which is why the suits will do whatever they can to drive those numbers up and keep them steady.

Now, traditional industry wisdom says that shows do much better in the ratings when they have a high content of self-contained episodes and very little character development. Why? Because anyone can turn on that show at any time and be able to follow along without knowing anything that came before or anything that came after. if you miss an episode or two, no problem. You can just tune right back in and follow along like you never missed a thing. This format also is shown to play well in syndication for the same reason, and syndication is likewise a very important source of revenue and of new viewership. This is why there are endless incarnations of police and medical procedural dramas everywhere on US network TV. Because that's what they're convinced the public wants. And they're not entirely wrong; those shows do often make consistently big numbers. Even when they're crap, they still manage to do well and bring in money, which is all the network cares about. By the same token, whenever other shows try to be more serialized, they are often outright turned down by networks or encouraged to be less serialized and to have *more* standalone episodes. It's not an unintended side effect of long seasons. It's put there on purpose. They *want* the filler to be there because they think that's what they need to gain and retain viewers, ironically enough.

This is one area in which the advent of Netflix and DVD box sets has greatly upset the apple cart because, now, anyone who wants to get caught up on a show can binge-watch the entire thing and start watching live with everyone else without having to worry about being confused or confining themselves to a syndication schedule. The networks are slowly starting to catch onto this, but they haven't fully changed their ways yet. I have hope for the future on that front, at the very least!

As for the erratic scheduling, you are right when you say that it would be impossible to film and air a 22-episode TV season without breaks, given the already grueling production schedule. However, the reason there are mini-hiatus all over the place, instead of airing 11 episodes in the fall, after a lengthy summer hiatus, then another 11 episodes in the spring, after a lengthy winter hiatus, comes down to two things: Special events and Sweeps.

Programs are often sidelined for random weeks here and there due to televised sporting events (pretty much all of network TV took a two-week hiatus during the Winter Olympics this season, for example. And Fox changes around it's entire schedule during baseball season every year), and other major occurrences, like award shows or the State of the Union address, which took out an entire block of Tuesday programming this year, including Agents of SHIELD. Sometimes, the preemption happens because the network, itself, is airing said event, but other times, it's because they anticipate the competition as being too high and just opt not to air anything during that week in order to avoid the inevitable ratings drop.

The other major culprit of these seemingly random delays is sweeps week, which occurs at pre-specified time periods in November, February, May, and July, with some markets having additional sweeps in October, January, and/or March. Sweeps weeks are considered highly important to networks because these are the weeks in which Nielsen sends out viewing diaries to participating families to keep detailed accounts of their TV habits during those weeks, thus providing them with a lot more information and data for analysis in those time periods. Because of this, most networks will intentionally try to schedule what they consider to be huge ratings draws during sweeps weeks, in the hopes that people will tune in and their ratings will be up, and they can get all kinds of juicy marketing data for those programs. But sometimes, in order to get the big, bang-for-your-buck episodes to fall during sweeps, they have to intentionally delay things a bit. Putting in a rerun or two on the less important weeks, so that the big episode will air during the important ones. And since most of the sweeps months are in the beginning of the year, the back half of seasons invariably get the brunt of this particular brand of chicanery. And yes, it does kill the momentum and confuse people (though DVRs and online streaming have helped with this a lot by giving people a means to catch up on episodes they may have missed in their confusion over air dates), and that is a difficult hurdle for even the best of storytellers to overcome.

Premium cable channels, like AMC, Showtime, and HBO, don't have to worry about all of this b.s. because their profits come directly from people paying for subscriptions to their service (much like Netflix does, which is why some premium providers are hesitant to put their shows on Netflix to begin with). So they don't care about ad revenues--they don't even have commercials--or Nielsen ratings or sweeps weeks. They just try to put out quality programs that they think people will want to see and continue to pay for their service so that they can see it. And they air it when they want, as long as they want. No problems.

In short, the real problem with everything on network TV is in the workings of the system, itself, and until that changes, these problems you speak of will always be here, no matter how long or short the actual TV season is.

I don't know of any series that have 22 writers, so I guess that's a good thing.

Not a fan of Community. I've tried it a few times and it's just not for me. Hannibal - although great that the network has taken a bit of a risk - just isn't doing it for me. There's a look and feel to most network shows that I can't shake and I just can't enjoy it.

Community is the only American live action comedy currently going that's even watchable. Hopefully we get another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm eventually though.

All good insight, except we do have plenty of privatised TV. The BBC is publicly owned and funded, Channel 4 is publicly owned but commercially funded and the rest is just commercial. Sky, which runs the only satellite service of note and provides a very large amount of channels is a major part of Rupert Murdoch's empire. And then there are independent channels which are broadcast on satellite and cable services.

Sherlock / Elementary is a good counter example since both shows have the same basic material. Sherlock, though "the better show" on a single episode basis is so clearly ridiculously constrained by its short run, whereas Elementary has flourished in the longer season format where it has had room to grow.

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