'Bridgerton' Season 3 is getting split into 2 parts on Netflix. Fans are upset, but the move isn't new for TV.

"Bridgerton" is the latest Netflix series to be given the split season treatment. Here's what that means.

Nicola Coughlan, as Bridgerton character Penelope Featherington, sits by a window with her hand to her mouth.
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton. Netflix is splitting the popular drama’s upcoming season into two parts, to the dismay of some fans. (Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix)
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Dearest gentle reader, Bridgerton Season 3 finally has a return date. But in an unexpected twist, Netflix is splitting the popular Regency drama's upcoming season, which consists of eight episodes, into two parts.

The approaching installment centers on the romance between Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington. The first four episodes will premiere May 16, while the remainder of the season will drop June 13. It's a departure from how Bridgerton's first two seasons were released. Season 1 and Season 2 episodes were released all at once on Netflix, solidifying it as a binge-watch phenomenon.

The Season 3 news prompted mixed reactions from Bridgerton fans when Netflix made the announcement, on Dec. 12. Some expressed annoyance over the split-season strategy, while others were more open to the idea.

"I fully plan to still watch both air drops, but I also won't shy away from letting Netflix [know] the massive amount of disappointment they've caused," one fan wrote on a Reddit discussion thread.

"The fact that they have the nerve to split the season into 2 parts when it has been 2 years since Season 2. Over it," another said on Reddit, referencing fans' long wait since Season 2 arrived, in March 2022.

While Netflix has adopted the split-season model more frequently in recent years, networks and other streamers have largely used the tactic since the 2000s.

What is a split season?

A split season is exactly as it sounds. A network or streaming service breaks up a run of episodes into two or more parts. Instead of airing a season without interruption or releasing all the episodes at once, episodes are parceled out over an extended period of time, usually with a hiatus scheduled in between.

Bridgerton is the latest Netflix franchise to join this club, but the streaming service has done this for several key shows before. Firefly Lane broke up its final season into two halves, with episode drops in December 2022 and April 2023. Virgin River's most recent season had its last two episodes arrive five months after Part 1. The Witcher bid farewell to Henry Cavill with a similar approach, launching the first five Season 3 episodes in June 2023 and the last three episodes one month later.

Sometimes, the decision to schedule a split season is made out of necessity due to external factors or unforeseen circumstances. In the case of the sci-fi drama Lucifer, its penultimate season on Netflix was released in two eight-episode batches in August 2020 and May 2021, as episodes weren't finished in time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nip/Tuck's fifth season on FX was unexpectedly split into two parts —with a year-long wait in between — as a result of the 2007-2008 writers strike.

What are the biggest shows that have had split seasons?

Several prestige shows have had split seasons over the course of their runs, often when they're approaching the end. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Sex and the City and The Sopranos all had their final seasons broken up into two parts.

The first eight episodes of Breaking Bad’s fifth season premiered in July 2012 and the last eight a year later. Mad Men followed the same blueprint; its seventh season was split into two parts, premiering in seven-episode chunks in April 2014 and 2015. Sex and the City extended its final season by breaking it up into 12-episode and eight-episode batches. The Sopranos did the same thing for its swan song, launching the first half of the season in March 2006 and the second half in April 2007.

More recently, Season 4 of Stranger Things was split into two parts, prolonging the cultural conversation around Netflix's blockbuster franchise. The Crown’s sixth and final installment was also divided into a two-part season; the first four episodes were released in November with the final six hours of the series arriving Dec. 14.

Why do networks and streaming services rely on the split-season model?

A combination of reasons: maximizing viewership, generating interest over a longer period of time, contractual reasons, scheduling factors and, in the case of streamers, committing subscribers long-term in order to watch their favorite shows. Another motive is extending a show's awards potential over the course of two (or more) years instead of one — as was the case with Breaking Bad and Mad Men.

Splitting the upcoming season of Bridgerton, one of Netflix's most high-profile series, can be perceived as a power move, according to one expert.

Bridgerton characters Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington stand looking at each other near flowers and other people in the background.
Season 3 of "Bridgerton" tells the love story of Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington. (Netflix)

"I'm not surprised that [Netflix] has been doing this for a lot of their big titles. I think it really started with Ozark, Stranger Things," Megan Vick, senior writer at the Messenger, told Yahoo Entertainment. "With something like Bridgerton, where people are so invested and would come back week after week, it behooves them to do this in order to extend the conversation around the show."

For Netflix to continue coming back to this strategy means "something must be working on their end where batching new seasons is doing something for them," Vick said.

She theorized that buzzy shows like Wednesday and The Witcher will likely receive the same treatment when they return for their respective seasons. "So far, they've done it on reliable titles that they know people will stick around to watch and will wait months to do it."

Could this spell doom for a TV show?

Most of the time, no. When a TV show is given a split season, it's usually because they're a popular property with a well-established following. According to What's on Netflix, "split seasons are likely only going to be saved for Netflix's biggest shows" — a directive that can be applied elsewhere too.

Not all split seasons are successful.

Case in point: TNT's Men of a Certain Age, which had its final season split into two parts spanning 2010 and 2011. The melodrama that starred Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula experienced a ratings nosedive when it premiered the second half of its season, leading to its cancellation soon after.

As for Bridgerton, this could serve as a preview for how Netflix may approach future seasons of the franchise.

"I've seen that people are mad [about the split season]," Vick said. "Everybody loves to binge Bridgerton. It's one of those shows that when it drops, you watch all the episodes in a day or two. Knowing that you're only getting four at a time and then you have to wait another month for another four, people will be frustrated. But in the long haul, it's going to work out better for Netflix to have it in two batches."