Ask Matt: Upfront Fallout: 24 and "Event" Series, Parenthood, Bones, Wonderland
Kiefer Sutherland | Photo Credits: FOX
Question: I'm shocked and delighted by Fox's announcement about bringing back 24, but honestly, I think this points to the future of television. It's the same thing with The Following: Give us shorter seasons, TV Gods! Seriously, 22-episode seasons just don't work for so many shows, especially the serialized ones. How much filler was there in any given 24-episode season of real-time 24? A ton, inevitably. And every other heavily serialized show you can point to is eventually going to fall back on filler episodes, or extended (and frustrating) wheel-spinning, etc. It's just inevitable, and the best serialized shows are the ones that best manage this reality: for instance, The Vampire Diaries splits its season into three or four tightly focused mini-arcs that pack as much into each mini-arc as most shows cover in a whole season. But when you cut the episode season order down to 12-13 episodes, everything changes. The entire season arc tightens up, the storytelling becomes more focused, you can draw in more talent (i.e. Kevin Bacon, who was only interested in doing a short season like this), all of it.
Cable has figured this out, but network TV is just catching on (old habits die hard). And the added benefit, which should have been the wake-up call for networks years ago is that you get so much more flexibility in your scheduling: more shows to fill more slots, fewer ridiculous hiatuses between long-running serialized shows (I'm looking at you, Revolution), and potentially even doing away with the summer dead season entirely (cable networks run successful summer shows; with DVRs, there's no reason networks couldn't have at least some new programming over the summer, or at least shorten the window between May/September). You could potentially have twice as many shows: a true fall season followed by a winter/spring season, with all the serialized shows falling into one (but not both) of those camps, and the less serialized stuff continuing to act as the glue to give the network schedules some consistency. More shows — more revenue streams, with less risk to the networks for each of those efforts, etc. Everyone wins! — Jeff
Matt Roush: All good points, although even the big broadcast networks don't have an infinite budget to produce an unending string of new and never-repeated episodes of expensive scripted product. The industry still puts a high priority on the NCIS-CSI-Law & Order style of show that can sustain a full season's worth of easily (and successfully) repeated episodes through the season. And comedies of course are known to repeat well. (Look at The Big Bang Theory.) But from a creative and critical perspective, this new trend toward short-run "event" series, using them to give longer running serialized shows a rest at midseason and reducing the reliance on repeats (which never do well for this sort of programming), is one of the most promising developments of the new season. Even CBS, the most traditional and seemingly conventional network, is sharing a time period on Mondays between Hostages (the trailer looked good) in the fall and Josh Holloway's Intelligence (ditto) in winter/spring. Let's hope the shows live up to the strategy. It's certainly encouraging to see the networks try to shake things up even a little bit.