Are TV seasons getting shorter?

By Leslie Gornstein Nov 07, 2007 7:36 PMTags

Are U.S. television broadcast seasons getting shorter? They used to average 22 episodes. Now, I notice a series can be as short as 10. Is it because they've run out of ideas?
—Dana, London

The B!tch Replies:  Don't tell me: You've invested all your emotional capital in Entourage—a show about four horny guys who buy hats, get oral sex from nameless girls and then disappear for the rest of the year—and now you feel hollow and used up. And yet you keep on dreaming of the next season, hoping that Adrian Grenier will somehow learn to act in the dozen episodes he gets.

The answer to your question is yes. And nothing is going to change, sweetheart. Entourage, The Sarah Silverman Program, Eureka—they are the future of television, I am told. (Entourage's latest season had 12 episodes, Eureka has 13 and the new Silverman season has 16.)

Part of the reason is an increase in actor salaries and other expenses. I would mention the fact that, at last report, Charlie Sheen was getting $350,000 an episode for Two and a Half Men, but every time I say that out loud, my teeth bleed.

Still other shows are just really, really expensive to produce. Brian Volk-Weiss, head of production for New Wave Entertainment, which produces Last Comic Standing, says a reality show like that may cost $600,000 an episode. But a fancy drama like Lost has a budget bigger than JJ Abrams' pumpkinlike head.

"Certain episodes just have two people standing in front of a palm tree, so that may be $2 million an episode," Volk-Weiss says. "But then you have episodes with six planes crashing in the sky and the ocean catching fire, and that's probably a $9 million episode."

But the real driving force behind the shrinking season: Network executives are p--sies. And those p--sies, in turn, answer to other p--sies who care more about instant income than nurturing a long-term hit show.

"Broadcasters used to have a lot more patience," confirms Richard Goedkoop, a professor of communication at LaSalle University. "They seemed to be more willing to look at the long term. But today, you have to turn it around real quick."

Decades ago, typical TV seasons used to run closer to 39 episodes, Goedkoop says.

But the order ticket for Volk-Weiss' newest show, a half-hour comedy called Frank TV, which will debut on TBS later this month? Nine episodes.

"Networks have either gotten really smart," Volk-Weiss says, "or really gun-shy." 

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