Can someone explain the broken season television model to me?
April 26, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain the broken season television model to me?

I'm not sure when it happened or if it has always been this way. Why have networks taken to the practice of interrupting show seasons with huge gaps. Why hasn't 30 Rock season 4 been contiguous for example? If you follow that link and look at the episode air dates you'll see that there was not one, but two month or longer breaks during the season. Caprica, Parks and Rec, Glee, etc have all had breaks... even Lost isn't on this week.

What is the reasoning behind this? Are the networks intentionally trying to thin their shows' loyal viewer base by confusing them? Is there an economic reason for extending the season with these large, annoying gaps? Is it a natural evolution to DVR-based scheduled recording? I could understand breaking a season if you needed room for the Olympics or a week for the NFL draft or something... other than that though I'm at a loss.

The result for me personally is to pretty much ignore the show and watch all the episodes (without advertising) upon the actual conclusion of the entire season. Oh, and that I feel like I'm taking crazy pills from week to week.
posted by Gainesvillain to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
U.S. Networks have traditionally all had a September to May season broadcast schedule. The only difference now is that they feel like breaks because they avoid showing reruns as often as they did in the past.

This only feels this way because of the 'consumer choice' driven model that has taken over (in my opinion for the best) in the entertainment industry.

Cable networks play by their own rules.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:26 PM on April 26, 2010

I don't get it either, and the Space Channel's interruption of Caprica for Stargate: Universe is pretty much meaning that I'm not going to watch either of them, as much as I was enjoying and really getting into the Caprica storyline.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2010

Also, the number of episodes per season for series has been fairly constant for most of my remembered lifetime (24-26) -- just that scheduling has made new episodes more precious and re-runs less likely.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2010

It's the other way around, I think. It pretty much has always been like this, but before the advent of "arc shows" like Lost, no one really cared if they threw in a couple of repeats to stretch a season.
posted by Oktober at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2010

This is called hiatus.
posted by zsazsa at 2:30 PM on April 26, 2010

Also, the networks care more and more about the sweeps period (November and May) when advertisers look at the ratings, and less about the other times of the year -- so they'll sometimes pull shows and run something else, or do re-runs, saving the new episodes for sweeps weeks.
posted by OolooKitty at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2010

One contributing factor not mentioned in the Wikipedia article is that the networks can order fewer episodes, making it easier to cancel something without having lots of unaired episodes to pay for.
posted by briank at 2:37 PM on April 26, 2010

That hiatus link does a pretty good job of saying that networks do whatever the eff they want.

Swimming's comment illustrates my point. A show like Caprica, when aired randomly, is doomed to fail. People that were just starting to get into it will forget about it after a month or more. I never tune into the shows that take the time slot of shows they put on hiatus. So it seems to me they are losing advertising dollars too. They aren't breeding excitement by way of suspense... they're just shooting themselves in their footses.
posted by Gainesvillain at 2:37 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It has nothing to do with the DVR and all about trying to get the most bang for the buck. That's why you see that 30 Rock only aired two episodes in December and skipped the first week in January. Because a lot of these shows that you like (and me too) perform poorly when re-run, the networks choose not to show them. They also choose not to show them when the average tv viewer is distracted (holidays) or when up against big event programming (the college football bowl games in the first week of January). So the network tries to save unaired episodes for the sweeps period where they matter the most. Also, as there is greater competition for your eyes and more ways of tracking viewership, the networks are going to try micromanage things to get the best ratings possible for when it matters to them most (sweeps). That this pisses off/confuses people is just a side effect. Back in a simpler time, they aired episodes almost weekly. Take a look at All in the Family.

I remember in years past you could always tell if next week's show was going to be a repeat if you didn't get the ending tag, "Next week on Ninja Clown Explosion...". That was a good sign that next week was a repeat. They didn't say, "Hey next week is a repeat so don't bother." If the show was polite it would say something like, "In two weeks on Ninja Clown Explosion...".

Just be fortunate that you have the technology to work around this problem. Think back to when people just had VCRs (or when VCR penetration wasn't great). This was a royal pain in the ass.
posted by mmascolino at 2:58 PM on April 26, 2010

There are a million different ways to schedule shows.

1) Traditional scheduling, spreading 22-24 episodes over September to May (36 weeks). Obviously need to mix in reruns to pad it out. People complain about this every year, but it's just reality, unless you want your shows to end in March. Relies on the standard season model, where people know to look for new episodes in September.

2) Two continuous 10 episode half-seasons, popular on cable networks like USA that don't cancel shows mid-airing like broadcast networks. They commit to a whole half-season and then run it and it either succeeds or fails. They can have a whole stable of these shows that they can swap in or out as needed, and show random episodes outside of a timeslot. When a half-season starts can be essentially random so this needs good advertising to tell people when to start watching again. But you get two premieres each year, which leads to a lot of press. Glee is actually following this model which is unusual for a network show, but it sure did get a lot of magazine covers in April, and better ratings for the second half, so it's hard to argue with success.

3) A 4 month continuous run of 14-16 episodes. Popular with reality TV formats that don't rerun well. Also easy to trial in the Summer season with lower expectations, and then move to Fall or Spring spot if it's popular.

4) "All those other schedules make sense but they leave pretty random holes so lets dump this show we don't think anyone is going to watch in the remaining spaces."
posted by smackfu at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2010

I disagree that splitting a season ala Caprica dooms a show to fail. On a major network, maybe. But on the niche networks it can work out well. I like having a short season of Caprica on Sci-Fi,followed by a short season of SGU, followed again by more Caprica, and so on. Warehouse 13 and Eureka also seem to be doing just fine on the short summer season model.
posted by COD at 4:25 PM on April 26, 2010

Yes, COD, but who's to say that Warehouse 13 and Eureka wouldn't fare even better with a longer season?

I agree with the OP that the gaps and interruptions in seasons make it harder to follow a series. I love Firefly when it was on, but had trouble following it. Like Eureka, but couldn't tell you when it starts or ends, and that's frustrating, too. Tried to watch that new Stargate deal, but Caprica came in, and then I lost interest in both.
posted by misha at 4:30 PM on April 26, 2010

In the case of Glee, a break was mitigated by the release of two #1 albums.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:51 PM on April 26, 2010

It's worth noting that the American phenomenon of airing 16-24 episodes in a largely unbroken stretch, or punctuating said season with month-long breaks, is a somewhat local phenomenon. Lots of British shows, for example, have seasons (or "series") that are much shorter, more like six to eight episodes. The breaks between them aren't necessarily shorter to compensate, either. There are plenty of theories as to why, some of which also explain why American seasons can be so long: smaller budgets in the UK, smaller/single writing teams, less need to churn out episodes for syndication, etc.

I think it might also have something to do with production schedules. Even if they start several months in advance, by the time a season wraps production they may only be a month ahead of airdate or so. I don't exactly know how TV shows like 24 manage to string together a contiguous season, but based on comments from the writers and production team, it's a major challenge and entire sections of the plot get fabricated on the fly by the end of a season.

The tendency as of late has actually been to cut down on reruns and condense seasons into fewer weeks. Notably, summer is no longer thought of as a dumping ground for dead shows, reruns and movies-of-the-week, but a bonafide season of its own with first-run seasons and everything. Shows like Lost and 24 have also established the practice of a winter season that starts in January and runs to May or June, whereas before there were a lot more premieres in September and October for shows that would end around the same time.
posted by chrominance at 5:57 PM on April 26, 2010

How on earth can you say that Caprica aired randomly? It was on for 9 straight continuous Fridays. The last episode resolved some storylines and left a number of cliffhangers, just like any good finale. Its season is split between a 9 part arc and a 10 part arc that will air in the fall. I really don't see why people complain when cable shows choose to do 8+8 or 9+10 instead of 16 straight or 19 straight or whatever. If they aired all 19 at once then people would just be bitching about having to wait 33 weeks for the next new episode to air. At least this way the maximum wait is only half of that.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:59 PM on April 26, 2010

Wait a minute....Warehouse 13 is still running? Huh, we assumed it had been canceled after a few shows.

I guess these channels figure their (potential) fanbases are a lot more proactive about keeping up with news and schedules, and maybe some of them are. But count me as one more data point of how a viewer is lost.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:10 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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