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The length debate. TV episode count


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1 hour ago, Gabe said:

Ooh, I remember Murder One, that first season was good. Wasn't the second season pretty bad?

 

Yeah it killed it. But Season 1 was a complete story. Season 2 was just another type of stretching it out. 

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Season 1 on Murder One was something had hadn’t been done before. A single season focusing on just one case and was riding on the OJ Simpson hype.


The 2nd season was just a generic legal show so people just switched off.


I enjoyed both seasons...I think there was a 3rd what went back to the format of season 1?

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Already been mentioned here, but the 2 best things I’ve seen in recent years are Chernobyl and Fleabag and they are both short. In fact Craig Mazin went to HBO and asked them to cut it to 5 episodes as he couldn’t make it work in 6. 
 

And if we’re specifically talking about character development then I would like to make a special mention for Joe Pera talks with you. 

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6 hours ago, McCoy said:

For heavily serialised shows, 20+ seasons are definitely too long unless you do what 24 did or Agents of Shield did from time to time and break the seasons down into specific story pods. The Flash, and its ilk, are the worst offenders with the big bad being introduced in episode 1 of the season and then resolved 22 episodes later which just creates a lot of filler. 

 

Season 4 of Supergirl (one of my favourite seasons I've seen of the Arrowverse) had a pretty well-balanced structure between its different plot threads; switching emphasis between threats to be resolved within the season and threats that were ongoing until the finale. It wasn't a completely neatly divided structure (there was enough overlap that you couldn't just say "the first 11 episodes are about X and the last 11 episodes are about Y") but it didn't feel like it was treading water anywhere near as much as some other Flash/Supergirl seasons.

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Never given it much thought, except when recently big shows like Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones have split seasons up over years. I don't mind padding because everything i watch i really like. I've never felt a season has been too long, most of my grievances revolve around not exploring something i think they should, like; the quality of the show _this_ why are you avoiding it. In House of Cards, Frank Underwood being a murderer and the chase of reporters bringing that back because otherwise it's lost. Or in Mad Men which peaks when Don does a pitch but slumps when he spends episodes drinking. Then the fewer episodes magnify the issue because i basically watch one after another in the hope I'll see what I'm becoming desperate to see. 

 

For things like 24, Lost, Prison Break which are more about mysteries or twists and turns than character development they wouldn't be anywhere near as enjoyable in 10 episodes. They wouldn't even be the same shows, all the cliffhangers part of the enjoyment. 

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13 hours ago, Waggo said:

I want to say shorter is better, especially as has been argued above that good characterisation comes from the quality of writing not amount of time devoted to it.  
 

But and it is a big but I am a Trekkie and in the case of Star Trek shorter is definitely not better.  Longer gives us TNG and DS9, compared to the shorter Discovery and Picard.  Now nobody is ever going to convince me shorter is better in those instances.  
 

Voyager and Enterprise both in longer formats somewhat muddy the waters, and undoubtedly in all longer format Trek there are plenty of filler episodes.  However with large ensemble casts even those filler episodes flesh out the crew of the various series, so you actually get to know and care for these people and what they are going through.  Discovery is woefully bad at this, I have watched every episode and could probably name 4 characters at a push.  That could be because the writing on Discovery is atrocious (It definitely is), but going by the arguments above does that mean TNG also suffers from bad writing as it takes 24 episodes to tell a season?

 

In summary I conclude with large ensemble casts and good writers 20 plus episode seasons still have a place.

 

 

That was kinda what I was thinking of when the topic originally arose in my mind, TNG. The idea that a show can evolve through many writers, who are still going to be good  writers if they have more episodes. I was also looking at lists of what people watch most on streaming tv and it's all Friends, Pars and Rec, Seinfield, Gilmore Girls, TNG and there's a strong bias towards shows with many episodes of comfort tv.

 

My issue with shorter form is that it changes the shape of the show itself - quite a few feel too compressed, imo and tend to be heavily dramatic. It's starting to feel like ITV are in charge of all TV, and their crime drama length has become the standard.

I also feel that, to a certain extent, you grow with characters that are simply there for longer, which is rarely the case any more.

 

There is, for me, also the issue of a passive watch - sometimes I just want to watch an adventure or whatever, but the 10-13 episode format is very plot heavy, requires concentration, and frequently leads to shows being pretty heavy thematically.

 

Unconnected thoughts, but I'm so tired.

 

Maybe that's why I want longer tv shows...

 

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One advantage to longer series which don't have to focus on a intricate story arc as much is that they can try out some more crazy concept episodes more easily. Things like Buffy's musical, X Files' black and white Frankenstein episode, or that Deep Space 9 episode where they go back in time to original Star Trek. Or there's episodes where they follow side characters for a change of pace like the aforementioned X Files starring the Lone Gunmen minor characters in the lead for a change. I mean, it's possible with a 13 episode run to have a concept episode but doesn't seem as likely when there's a season-wide story to cram in.

 

One of the more memorable ones for me was Supernatural, which had a good balance of a serious arc running through the season interspersed with comedy 'filler' episodes like being trapped in a TV show. That said, I haven't had the fortitude to watch some of the later seasons due to the amount of episodes each one has. As much as I enjoy it, that's some commitment on my time to watch all that. No, maybe there's less chance of a musical episode but 13 or fewer is a pretty good number for me these days.

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Like anything in the end I guess the important thing is that you use all the episodes to support your concept.

 

Commit to a tight plot that drives your short series straight from star to end. No padding. Each episode should be moving us forward. At the end I shouldn't be able to watch just a few minutes of some episodes because nothing of worth happened in them (where worth can include building atmosphere, setting back story and rounding out characters - not just core plot points).

 

Use your 24 episodes to explore the world of your ensemble cast. I don't want 24 episodes of Burnham but using them to explore the other characters and the wider world would work (I meant they could do this even in the shorter runs... Too much Burnham!)

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I think there's a great recent example of both extremes of TV drama format being applied to the same concept, which illustrates the pros and cons of both: Sherlock in the UK and Elementary in the US.

 

Sherlock is Event TV: there are so few episodes, all feature-length, that each one is a major event to look forward to. This means that there's a lot riding on each episode; if one doesn't live up to the expected standard (and consensus is that a few really didn't...), it's a big disappointment. However they turn out, each episode is individually memorable. And the episodes' writing credits are split among only a few writers: Stephen Thompson, Steven Moffat, and Mark Gatiss.

 

@James Lyon mentioned above that longer seasons have more room to do format-breaking episodes. Sherlock did it twice (the three-story anthology of the wedding episode, and the traditional Victorian Holmes of 2016's The Abominable Bride), and both led fans to complain that a significant proportion of the limited episodes were being devoted to "filler".

 

 

Elementary follows the US police procedural format: numerous episodes of comfort TV, produced by many writers. Very few episodes are individually memorable; they largely blur together. There are some long-running arcs, but they're almost always kept as B-plots compared to the more prominent case-of-the week. Most episodes' mysteries fit into a formulaic structure (a red herring, an initial suspect who seems innocent but has more involvement than they let on, a scene where the police are skeptical of Holmes's deductions...).

 

However there are a lot of people who'll argue that in the long run, Elementary tells a more interesting and relatable story than Sherlock, even if it's nowhere near as immediately flashy: Holmes's drug addiction recovery and relapse, and Watson's growing independence from him, are both stories that are well-suited to unfolding gradually over a long time. Sherlock presents Sherlock Holmes like a superhero or James Bond, getting involved in cases that could affect the country or the world; whereas Elementary's mysteries are usually much smaller-scale.

 

When Elementary was first announced, it sounded like it was just going to ride on the coattails of Sherlock. But it ended up being very different, and much of that is down to the format. A version of Elementary in 3x90 minute seasons, or a version of Sherlock with 24x42 minute series, might turn out well, but their appeal would be fundamentally different from the reasons I like both existing programmes.

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Definitely in the camp of every length works, depending on the show.


What I really dislike is arbitrary rules.  I love really long films, and I love short films, and hate when people criticise a film for being too long (which just means it deviates from the standard 90-120 minutes.)

 

I love short, tight 6 episode British TV series, and I love sprawling 8 season US epics.   If they're good (in both cases).

 

I don't think any particular length is better or worse, just that some shows maybe don't suit the format they've been forced to be made in.  I'd hope that the rise of the streaming services would mean we'd get more shows at different, non-standard lengths to suit the material, rather than everything been made to fit into advertiser friendly formats.

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One could argue that the Buffy musical episode and the similar other ones were a result of having to pad out a series than any particular desire to do it.  They are successful and memorable precisely because they stand out from the other 200 episodes but the only reason they exist is because there is the other 200 episodes in the first place.

 

There is a parallel discussion going on elsewhere about docuseries which are stretching thin material out over a long running time.  The recent Netflix documentaries on the Yorkshire Ripper and the New York Mafia had a lot of padding in just 4 and 3 episodes respectively.

 

Good point that "As long as it needs to be" is a luxury available on streaming services, but not to broadcast channels.

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2 hours ago, sandman said:

No shows have felt anywhere near as padded out as the Netflix Marvel shows to me. Maybe 2-3 hours of decent stuff padded to 10 hours. 

 

Yes, I wonder if the "as long as it needs to be" and "it's like a book" has just led to streaming shows largely being either films that have been padded to 10 episode length, or just an excuse to not structure episodes properly as there'll be another on in a second.

 

Actually, I think both those problems are worse than the structuring around advert breaks.

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On 17/02/2021 at 10:41, Plissken said:

There is a parallel discussion going on elsewhere about docuseries which are stretching thin material out over a long running time.  The recent Netflix documentaries on the Yorkshire Ripper and the New York Mafia had a lot of padding in just 4 and 3 episodes respectively.

This is a good point, I think. My other half will watch some of the Netflix docuseries and they sure do pad things out far longer than they need to, so streaming channels are not immune to this by any stretch - I guess their remit is not so much needing advertiser-friendly series lengths as it is being able to promote a new 4-part documentary or some such, so that people know there is something to sink their teeth into for a bit, rather than a one-off special. It means you get lots of documentaries that are filled with overlong establishing shots or repeated information said in an ever-so-slightly different way to extend the run time.

 

Going slightly off at a tangent now, but I have watched a lot of Masterchef Australia over the last few months and that's rife with padding too. You'll get constant recaps within the same episode whenever there would've been an ad break and the contestants are forever repeating themselves in the talking head bits. It all adds up and does make it feel a bit of a chore at times.

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