The Short or Long Game?


Welcome back fellow random pop culture nerds! As you should all know, the fall television season has officially begun. I’m still trying to catch up on my summer television, but fall is here so we much commence with normal television watching. As I looked at how many television shows I am watching this year, I thought about how many episodes these shows get versus the summer shows.

23 vs. 13 episodes.

I am not the only one to think about this.  When I went researching on the internet, many articles had the same question.

What is the magic number?

Some articles argued that shorter seasons are more popular because we have shorter attention spans; storytelling is tighter when they have a shorter timeline and it is easier for the actors and crew to have shorter seasons.

I understand these reasons. I even understand the biggest reason for shorter seasons: the budget.

However, from a viewer’s standpoint, does a shorter or longer season make a better television show?

Shorter Shows

I looked at the shows I love that have shorter seasons. Most are British or cable. There are a few network shows in there but very few. One of the great points of a shorter season is the storytellings tighter. There aren’t as many filler episodes or even pointless drawn out plots. For instance, ABC’s Mistresses (renew the damn show ABC!) is a 13 episode summer show. Each season there is one major storyline and three mini ones. Each episode serves to advance the plot and character growth. There aren’t too many detours happening on this show.

There are downsides. I don’t feel like I can spend enough time getting to know the characters very well. If a short season show gets enough time, like BBC’s Miranda, you get to know the characters. However, most short season shows don’t have that luxury. I also forget those characters and plots easier than with shows with longer seasons. I don’t know if it is because the television market is oversaturated, but I tend to forget shorter shows unless it is critically acclaimed (Mad Men for example).

Longer Shows

Comparing that to the longer season shows (23 episodes or so) there are major differences. Time being the biggest difference of all. There is time to do everything that the shorter shows can’t. Longer seasons can help grow a character and develop a world for the audience to get lost in. There is also more time for development of relationships and those fluff type episodes to be written. What I mean by fluff are those episodes that don’t further the plot or even relationships. IThey are there to fill out time (usually holiday episodes) and maybe just lighten up a dark show (Elementary and Castle do this a lot).  I do feel that I connect to characters and remember them better on shows with longer seasons. However, I’m glad to get away from them once May rolls around. Which leads me to…

…There are downsides. I tend to grow tired of the shows that have longer seasons. Plot lines get drawn out and sometimes unbelievable (I’m looking at you Scandal).  If soap operas are any indicator, it is very hard to keep up that type of pace. No show is saved from future.

Your Verdict?

Based off what I read and what I experienced myself, I have to say the magic number for a show should be 13 episodes. Why go the shorter route? I’m beginning to appreciate the shorter show. It leaves me wanting more. Isn’t that what shows want us to do? They want us to come back next season. Like they are enticing us. You saw this one side of this character make sure you come back next season to see another side! I’m on board for that!

Like the showrunner Michael Patrick King said about Sex and the City they ended in their sixth season because they didn’t want to be the last ones at the party (no one told them the movies officially made them do that…that is for another blog post).  Shorter shows make the shows have tighter storylines and have a shorter lifespan. Once that shorter show has moved on (with a proper ending) people will remember the show fondly. A lot of the time those longer shows start to fade and people only remember the bad (Like How I Met Your Mother).

I feel like a few shows I love right now could benefit from shorter seasons. Agents of Shield, Castle, and Scandal. They are great but when they get stuck in that mid-winter period, it gets dicey. Lots of fillers and a lot of it tends to be frustrating filler. Lots of going forward two steps just to go back three.

With the television viewing landscape constantly changing  (Thanks, Netflix!), this topic will be hotly debated among pop culture nerds and casual nerds for a long time.  I won’t lie, though, all this posturing about storytelling and staying true to characters doesn’t mean anything to studios and networks. It is mostly how much money they can get for ad buys that show.

However, for a few minutes in this blog, I can pretend that artistic value has a larger say in how long a show runs on television.


What do you think? A fan of the short or long season? Tell me in the comments below!

Stick around because tomorrow starts a month-long look at my favorite horror film franchises and I even defend certain movies that everyone hates from the franchisees because I will always root for the underdog.

For now the randomness has ended. I hope you enjoyed.

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