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May 26 2009

Heroes, Dollhouse, and Chuck: How Short Seasons Are Saving Sci-Fi TV. LeAnn Tiede of the Omaha Sci-Fi Examiner argues that "[s]hortened seasons allow for lower production costs, greater freedom for actors to be involved in other projects, and most importantly a tight focus for the writers."

The premise of this article doesn't hold up - there's options for both Chuck and Dollhouse to order more than 13 episodes. In fact they're already talking about ordering more Chuck, they've been quite open about wanting it to run into the summer.
Also, is it just me or does this link not actually go to the article's permalink?
It's got to be quite the writing challenge to make 13 episodes that can stand on their own as a season and as the first more-than-half of a 22-episode season. Intrigued to see what they make of it.
It wasn't just you.
Yes i linked the base page for the dollhouse articles acidently, but their aer other asrticles that are a good read.

And yes theirs options, but the initial commitment for 13 episodes is a nice way to make up for non blockbuster ratings.

I think the writer has a point of shorter seasons being the way to go with scifi shows. With the shorter seasons you wouldnt have as much filler and every episode can progress the plot and story.

*Edit*

Apperently its the way that the site displays their urls, i had the article loaded and copied the link direct.

[ edited by flamepulse on 2009-05-26 06:14 ]
The point is, though, the model of TV isn't changing. Terminator season two was a 13 episode order, just like Dollhouse, with an option for the back 9. You have to make more episode on broadcast than 13 to be (as) profitable. If Dollhouse doesn't get the remaining episode order, it's basically cancelled.
So, if there's a third season, the second season will necessarily be 22 episodes? Huh. When do they have to decide whether to order the back 9?
This makes no sense at all... Obviously they haven't done their research, as gossi has pointed out.

If you want to point at Lost and say "Look, 16 episodes good," fine. But that's the only logical portion of the article. Heroes... well even with a shorter season, I ain't holdin' my breath that it will improve. The way I look at it, we got 1 good season (despite being heavily cribbed from X-men and Watchmen), and Zachary Quinto. Time to move on.
I want to be incredibly clear upfront that anything that even remotely helps Dollhouse continue can't be all bad, in my opinion. That being said, I've always kind of enjoyed the idea of "filler" episodes. If a season had to, by design, only have episodes that move the plot forward, then where are the character-building episodes that I love? I mean, sure, we wouldn't have to deal with "Go Fish" or "Doublemeat Palace," but we also wouldn't have "Earshot." Or even just fun episodes, like "Band Candy" or "Something Blue." Again, if it means we get more, shiny. I just would have a hard time dealing with a world without "A New Man" is all.
Well I think the article heads in the right direction, it doesn't quite get there. I think the 13 episode is the new mini-series. Mini-series had appeared to have become obsolete but I can see them coming back in the form of these 13 episode runs. Networks basically have 2 seasons to slate now, spring and fall. They also are easily packaged up as DVDs. I hear what is being said about the back 9 but I think you'll see that become essentially another season. Instead of an arc that spans the full 22 you'll have 2 self contained arcs for each "mini-series" or whatever they call it. I'm sure someone will come up with a name for these 13 episode runs.
So, if there's a third season, the second season will necessarily be 22 episodes? Huh. When do they have to decide whether to order the back 9?

I think both Fringe and T:TSCC got their back 9 order in October. Don't know how usual that is.
13 eps can make the shows better, as it removes all the "filler" that we so often see.

It's no coincidence that there are rave reviews for shows like Leverage, Dexter, Burn Notice, etc (all some of my favourites). They are ALL story and no padding due to the limited eps.
And Lost! Don't forget Lost's final 17-episode season...
13 eps can make the shows better, as it removes all the "filler" that we so often see.


That's what I thought about Battlestar. I loved the first season because it was so taut but there was a lot of deadwood in the later seasons.
I can't remember very many if any partial season orders
(US) for a returning series except for the last 5 or so
years (could be more). Perhaps that's what the OP was
mistaking for a 13 episode season.

BTW does anyone know in England they can produce such
short runs and still make money? There simply has to be
something very different cost wise going on for this to
work out.
I wonder why people keep saying that 13 episodes makes a season better - that sounds like rationalize and making excuses for the writers. As far as I can see there is NO reason for 25 be any worse than 13 unless you have bad writers. There is no reason for "fillers" - if I can think of something, so should the.
JDL, our shows are budgetted so small they literally can't afford to make more episodes. A season of Dr Who here has a smaller budget than, say, one episode of Dollhouse.
Remember that the BBC doesn't have the same requirements for shows as 99% of networks as they do not have advertisers, and we are forced to pay for their shows whether we watch them or not!
Hunted - while I agree that there should be no reason for "filler" episodes, they still occur in almost every full season of almost every show. It's just how it seems to work.
I wouldn't go that far Gossi. Maybe four episodes of DW for the cost of one DH.

Edit: Actually more like between two or three episodes. If one DH cost say $2.5m that's 1.5m and a DW would be 500k minimum and very likely quite a bit more.

[ edited by zz9 on 2009-05-26 15:02 ]
Bob D, the US/UK cost difference is the same when you talk about ITV, Sky etc. It's not just the BBC.
Merlin, for example, is actually made by the same people who made Demons for ITV and Hex for Sky, and their costs would have been very similar.
I have to agree that going into something, knowing you have to tell the story in 13 eps rather than 22 makes the writing tighter. I know nothing of the money cost being effective and all that. I honestly tend to watch as much UK TV as US and I know I mostly enjoy the UK shows more. I personally think good shows thrive under not quite enough money or time. Although I'm sure it's harder on cast, writers and crew.
I for one prefer longer seasons. Its more episodes, thus more time with your characters! I know that sometimes the longer season's episodes can get sidetracked, but it also allows awesome standalone episodes. I mean we wouldn't have the Wish (doesn't really continue any of the story lines, other than Cordy is angry), Hush, Once More With Feeling and many many more. And while I loved the Dollhouse season, I for one would have liked to have Alpha in more episodes, spread out a bit more than just the last two. Maybe that could have happened with a full season... on the other hand, we may have gotten another one with like the popstar diva one. So yeah, double edged sword, which is why I prefer sabres, myself. ;)

Simon mentioned BSG, and its probably because I watched it all at once rather than having to wait a week, but I didn't mind some of the slightly off topic episodes, it fleshed out the universe more. Though I must say I did prefer the more focused episodes (favorite part of Season 2 is the whole Pegasus thing, and I prefered the earlier, suicide bomb filled episodes of season 3 to the more standalone ones), and I think that Terminator SCC 2nd season would have been helped out by being shorter... too many episodes went by without Cameron.
Are the 'filler' episodes really tied to the length of the season, though? I'm thinking of Angel Season 3, for example, where almost every episode was a progression of the plot, even though the prior season took the arc much slower.

Seems kind of like a choice, or whether or not the series is meant to be self-contained and episodic.
Regarding costs in Great Britain; its sounds like to me that the
BBC must have much lower production values* and pay their actors,
writers, and crew a good deal less than the major US broadcast
networks. OK, but there is no apparent reason that would lead to
a short season unless perhaps it is because no one is willing to
do a longer season for the piddling compensation being offered.

That would imply that the BBC was a farm system for the
commercial networks. But at that point the analogy breaks down a
bit because in a farm system the successful minor league program
moves to the bigger arena and that does not appear to be what is
happening here. If the BBC is indeed a farm system then it is
one for talent as opposed to shows it seems to me.

*sets, special effects, stunts, location shoots, etc.
JDL, the costs for the BBC are more or less the same as any other network in the UK, in fact much of the BBCs stuff is made by independent production houses who also make stuff for the commercial networks.
The main difference is speed. A US show makes a 40 min episode ever eight days. A series like Doctor Who take far longer and is made more like one long movie. The scripts for the entire season will be written before any filming is started and then shooting planned around recurring locations. So if a set appears in episodes 1,3,5 and 6 then they will all be shot together in one go.
A US show is written days before filming and they will shoot an entire episode before moving on to the next one. If that means rebuilding a set that appeared before (or re visiting a location) then so be it.

In the US if a show falls behind schedule they throw money at it or cut something. In the UK, because it won't air for months, they can just take longer to complete it.
A US director knows the episode he is working on must air in two weeks time (or whatever) while in the UK the air date isn't really set until after shooting finishes. We don't have "Seasons" here so a series can start more or less anytime.

And if you look at Doctor Who then yes, production values can be lower. Period drama tends to be done very well.

Writers and actors are paid less. TV Rates (PDF) are 170 (about $250) per minute minimum. (Though the BBC do give a nice advance on residuals)

And the complaint here is that the commercial networks cannot compete with the BBC, let alone out spend them!
See the BBC tariff's for costs. (But bear in mind the for the BBC, an "Hour" means and hour. Not 40 minutes!)
The argument that you have to have longer season to make money makes no sense at all. A longer season costs more to produce so therefore they would have to sell more copies of the dvds, and sell mroe advertising to make a profit. having a 13 episdoe season means less overall production cost, sure advertising will scale back along with the episodes, but the dvd sales will still be the same.

Sure you will only sell the season for 30 bucks instead of 50, but your production cost of the dvd itself does not change to a point where it is any real differnce.

Honeslty i think for shorter season at a 30 doller price they will sell even more dvd sets. I know i will not buy a dvd unless its 30 dollers or less. Almost all my tv sets i have purchased scond hand or when bust buy had them on sale.
zz9 that is fascinating. OK it takes longer. How much longer does
it take to make a six hour BBC series than here?
Doctor Who, for example, takes 12 days for each episode according to publicly available accounts. But even that's a bit of a cheat because in the middle of each season they have to do a "Doctor Lite" episode without the Doctor for much of the time.
This is why the great Blink was made, they couldn't spare David Tennant for more than a few cameos, and the same with Love & Monsters in S2.

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