Skip to content

Network TV’s Changing Format

September 6, 2014


As I prepare for the new season of television approaching in September, I’ve noticed a trend over the past couple of seasons that has increased in leaps and bounds this coming season. A while ago, I wrote a post about how the British TV model is better than ours. Over there, an entire season is written before filming begins, ensuring that the arc is complete. Then, the season is shot in its entirety, so everything can be edited to be consistent before the audience sees it. Then, once it’s finished, the show is aired weekly, without large gaps between episodes.

Many cable and premium networks (HBO, STARZ, Showtime, FX, AMC, etc) employ this model, which is why most of the Emmy nominations tend to go to those shows. There’s no “premiere week” for these networks, they just air the show when it’s ready to be aired.

The Big Five (NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, The CW) are starting to get the picture. Most have done away with “pilot season” for new shows, instead working year round to create good TV for the fall, spring and summer seasons. Procedural shows like Law & Order: SVU, CSI, Bones, NCIS, Elementary, and Chicago Fire and comedies like The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Modern Family, and 2 Broke Girls can work in a standard 22 episode season, but more and more dramas are skewing toward half seasons.

Hannibal, The Following, Sleepy Hollow, Mike & Molly, and the final season of Glee are already on this train, although they still follow the traditional American schedule of write a few, film a few, air a few, which can lead to story complications later down the line.

Still, this season sees even more shows that are attempting that model: Constantine and Gracepoint are ready for the fall; Galavant and Agent Carter are limited series aimed to fill in the winter hiatus for Once Upon a Time and Agents of SHIELD, respectively; and Empire, Secrets and Lies, The Whispers, and Wayward Pines, among others, are slated for the spring.

Summer shows still tend to be game shows, reality shows, and the dregs the networks couldn’t make work during the fall and spring seasons, but that’s starting to change with shows like Under the Dome and Night Shift picking up steam.

Executives are starting to pick up on this trend and catering to it, especially ABC, with shows like Once Upon a Time, Revenge and Scandal having very separate story arcs for fall and spring, almost as if they are two separate seasons. (One should note that Heroes did this in its third season, long before this trend started, and now that show is returning for a final fifth season next summer, five years after being canceled.)

One benefit of this model is that a network can confidently allow a series to follow a full season before deciding whether or not to cancel it, since they don’t have to worry about it for more than a few months. Fans of the show get at least a full season, and a show will usually know if it’s not going to continue and can wrap things up satisfactorily.

I can only hope that this trend continues until American TV no longer follows the 22 episode Sept-April track. It will take a long, long, long, long, long, long time, but the fact that shows are starting to have shortened seasons, or at least shortened arcs is a good sign.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: