How Many Episodes Should Be in a Season?

As of late I’ve been coming to realize that a 13 episode season is perfect for pretty much any show. Yes, that is a bold statement, but time and time again I’ve seen how shows can benefit from a shorter season compared to the standard 22 episode season. Which is shorter than shows used to be. Twilight Zone sed to average approximately 30 episodes a season. The real questions is why are 13 episode seasons better suited then a 22 episode season.

Season Arc
One of the most important things about a show is the seasonal arc. Every show has them, even on comedies which often don’t place as much value on being serial. Some seasons are strong and the stories told are great. While other seasons of a show may be weaker. It’s important that a show is able to keep a seasonal arc interesting without exhausting the shows premise

Too Long

How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother

I don’t have an issue with 22 episode seasons. But with the increasing import of British shows with even shorter seasons and the prevalence of cable shows with shorter seasons, it’s  not surprising that the old model is beginning to fade. Let’s be clear, there are some shows that are more well suited for 22 episode seasons and can get away with longer seasons and not exasperate their audience. Those shows would mainly be comedies and procedurals. With those shows the seasonal arc isn’t something that is vital. It helps the show progress season to season, but people aren’t tuning in for arcs. In the case of comedies, people are watching to laugh and enjoy characters. As long as the characters progress in their lives and stay hilarious, the audience will keep watching. Same for procedurals, as long as the cases are new and the interacting characters remain interesting, people will watch. These show seem to exist outside the reality people create for other shows.

Too Short

The Wrong Mans

The Wrong Mans

On a a similar note but on the other end of the spectrum, going too short is also something that can be dangerous. British shows, often have 6-8 episode seasons. Now, personally that isn’t enough and I often feel like shows of this length feel too cramped. Everything gets packed in really tight and there’s no change to really explore or get too attached to a character before it goes away. Which is really a shame considering they’ve created some great characters. With such short seasons and shows often ending at the height of their prime or sometimes just before, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with those great characters. In those cases, it would be nice if there were a few more episodes to explore different scenarios and digger further into their characters. It can be really frustrating when a plot line that clearly has other implications is stunted and not fully explored.

Just Right
Now the 10-13 episode season tends to be just right. As the characters and the plot are given some room to breathe. Rather than just seeing the main plot line, we get to see one or two of the subplots that have been directly effected by the main plot. There’s room for characters to find their stride and have their own personal arcs without detracting from the main plot. Most importantly, the season doesn’t drag on so long that we are filled with excess. We are given just enough to keep us interested and satisfied before it is ripped away from us for another year.  At this length, you can have pretty much any genre thrive.

What do you think is the ideal season length?

One thought on “How Many Episodes Should Be in a Season?

  1. I like what TNT has done with Rizzoli and Isles. They usually have a 10-16 episode run but they split it over the summer and winter when big network shows are on breaks. This season they had 12 episodes in the summer and they have 4 more episodes which are going to run from February to March. That way the fans get a few more episodes than they usually get for cable shows and the show doesn’t need to compete with the big network shows for viewers.

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