As recently as 10 years ago, it was almost unheard of — and certainly atypical — for a TV show to deliver fewer than 22 episodes in a season. But now? People seem to be OK with, if not outright embracing, markedly shorter seasons. Is that because there is so much TV to consume, or because we value, as the saying goes, “Quality over quantity”?
Why is less now more?
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The Writers Guild strike of 2007-2008 was arguably the event that first started conditioning us to “accept” shorter runs, disrupting as it did dozens of scripted shows just weeks into that TV season. What, only 11 episodes of Heroes, which was coming off a super-buzzy freshman run? A mere 13-episode Prison Break? The first of Lost‘s pre-announced final, shorter seasons would fall shy of 16 episodes? It was a lot to process.
As recently as a few years ago, sub-22 seasons rubbed people the wrong way. Just look at those who yelped that Empire‘s rather historic freshman run was but a dozen episodes, and that the follow-up season would be just 18. This Is Us and The Good Place have similarly been knocked for producing “just” 18- and 13-episode seasons — and on broadcast TV, no less! The horror.
But in the past year or so, we seem to have entered a new phase of acceptance. A phase where Lucifer being “saved” with just 10 episodes ultimately proves to be heavenly. Where, regardless your opinion of the outcome, Veronica Mars‘ eight-episode rival proved perfectly bingeable. We waited a small eternity for the third batch of Stranger Things, and yet its eight-episode length was no less than satisfying — and not a casualty of the infamous “Netflix bloat” that tended to make the streamer’s Marvel shows a slog.
Considering the above examples, as well as the likes of Big Little Lies (seven episodes), it’s clear that great things can come in smaller packages. And viewers seem to be increasingly more accepting of that truth.
Is that because, with nearly 500 scripted shows airing across broadcast, cable and streaming, shorter episode counts give you more time to sample more shows? Or, are you more amenable these days to shorter seasons because, as showrunners contend, you get higher-quality, streamlined stories that don’t fold in a lot of filler? (What is the story behind Jack Shephard’s tattoos?)
And on the flipside, what are the instances where you need 20-plus episodes of something? Do you think some types of shows (e.g. procedurals) will forever stick to that season length, if only because broadcast networks need the product/shelves filled?
Hit the comments with your current thinking on when less is in fact more… and when it’s simply just less.