As “Game of Thrones” concluded its season last Sunday, did you find yourself wishing it had more than 10 episodes? Sure, but that’s HBO for you.
Well, have you realised that Fox’s “Wayward Pines” is already halfway through its season after just five episodes? Or, could you have used more Ryan Phillippe after ABC’s “Secrets and Lies” wrapped its first season after just 10 episodes? Did you know that Fox’s hotly anticipated “X-Files” revival will be just six episodes long?
Get used to it. TV networks are going the way of cable and have been ordering increasingly shorter seasons.
Here are five reasons the TV networks are moving toward shorter seasons:
1.) Star power.
With hundreds of cable channels now working in the original series space, networks have to find ways to snatch back some of the spotlight. One tried and true way to do this is to attract big stars, which usually means movie stars.
Viola Davis is currently a hot topic when it comes to Emmys and was the face of ABC’s newest and hottest Shonda Rhimes show last season, “How to Get Away With Murder.” Yet, Davis wasn’t about to sign on for anything more than 15 episodes, seven less than network TV’s typical 22-episode order. She isn’t the only one to put her foot down.
Clearly, Fox would have loved to have as many episodes as possible of its breakout hit, “Empire.” But, co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong felt they wanted to do a short, tight season of 12 episodes. That said, Fox was able to convince them to do 18 episodes for Season 2 — with a break halfway through.
2.) Storytelling can be more dramatic and focused.
Have you ever been so obsessed with a story line only to have the show barely address it for a full episode? Or was there a time when you wished a bothersome B-story would just end already? These can be the side effects of a traditional 22-episode season.
Actors, writers and producers seem to agree that storytelling can be more focused and deeper when presented over a shorter season.
“I think you can attract the talent you want by having a shorter season and you can tell more interesting stories,” “X-Files” star David Duchovny told Variety. “I would never have gone and done another 22 episodes of ‘X-Files,’ but we’re going to do six — well, that’s like doing a movie. That’s like continuing the show in a way that we all can do at this point in our lives so that’s it all came about.”
3.) The syndication model has changed.
One of the ways producers hope to make more money on shows is to get repeats shown, which is called syndication. Even 10 years ago, the goal was to get series to at least 100 episodes (or roughly five seasons) in order to then sell them for syndication. But, that’s all changed.
Streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu don’t care how many episodes a show has. They just want content to offer their subscribers. And a full season — whether it’s 10 or 22 episodes — is an opportunity for their subscribers to binge watch.
“Obviously, there’s still an incentive to find big hits that produced 100 or more episodes — the next generation of ‘Law & Order’ or ‘Modern Family,’ AMC and Sundance TV’s president and general manager, Charlie Collier, told Vulture. “But streaming economics mean it’s possible to make money on shows with lower episode counts.”
4.) Year-round programming.
In a way, networks are using a hybrid of their own 22-episode tradition and cable’s shorter seasons to provide year-round programming. Networks realised that they were handing viewers over to cable when their shows went into reruns during the winter and summer hiatuses.
So, ABC, for example, can fill in an eight-week hiatus of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” with an eight-episode run of “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and retain the viewers (and charge more for advertising), which it would have lost to other networks during that break.
5.) Shorter seasons help to prevent fatigue.
TV shooting schedules can be very tiring. For producers, writers and lead actors who have to be in most scenes, 22 episodes can create fatigue with their long days, frequent evening shoots and fast script or edit turnarounds.
Early in “Empire’s” production, Lee Daniels told TheWrap a story of how Oprah Winfrey warned him that he wouldn’t be able to last in TV. “She’s right,” he said. “I did two episodes and it’s rough.”
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