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March 25 2014

The problem with 22 episode seasons. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is heavily referenced in this Den of Geek feature.

There were larger problems with SHIELD than the air schedule. (I use the past tense in hopes that they've gone.)
I feel scheduling is far more to blame than # of eps. Can easily schedule 10-6-6 or similar. Yes, that would present gaps of repeats but would that not be better, or certainly no worst, and on-again off-again scheduling? And if # of repeats is the primary concern, perhaps more eps are need, not less. But then, that costs networks money, which is why seasons dropped from 26-24-22 in the first place.

As for the issue of quality, it certainly stands to reason that having less episodes would allow less chance of an abundance of lower-quality episodes. That said, while there was the occasional dud in the mix, Buffy & Angel seemed to manage just fine. Also, no matter the # of eps, some are certain to pale in comparison to the best the series has to offer. Interesting, all of the prime examples used in advocacy of shortened season are cable hits, which operate outside the mold of network TV.

Lastly, SHIELD itself. What kind of show does it want to be? I felt many of the fall episodes, with the exception of a few standouts, were mediocre at best. Mostly standalone stories, or so they appeared at the time. That said, it was still finding it's footing. I think it's improved as it's further explored the mystery surrounding Coulson, The Clairvoyant, and SHIELD. So, it's a balance of standalone eps with an underlying big bad than accelerates as the calendar approaches May? No, that doesn't sound familiar at all...
There were never big problems with this show. Its been the best thing on telly since the start. As the schedule... in this case it might be worth considering the opening date of Captain America. I doubt its been a coincidence. Interviewing with the MCU may have been a thing. The Olympics didnt help neither. I still think scheduling in general needs a bit of work.

[ edited by Darkness on 2014-03-25 22:46 ]
Schedules everywhere have gotten bollixed this year, what with the Olympics, the never-ending awards season, and now March Madness. It's not just SHIELD that's suffered, and not just shows on ABC.

I understand trying to keep the continuity flow going with the movies as they come out, but it does make the show's own continuity suffer somewhat - most viewers don't want a new episode, two repeats, a special and another repeat. They want all new episodes.
I do think there is some truth to the fact that many shows do not require 20+ episode seasons. And when those shows are forced to be that long, we often get a ton of pointless, dragged-out filler content. That isn't the case with all shows, but I have grown quite fond of several series' in the past few years that feature 10-12 episode seasons (instead of 20+).

[ edited by libradude on 2014-03-25 23:34 ]
libradude, I agree completely. Lots of good shows on cable networks (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc.) make great stories with shorter seasons. Sleepy Hollow, another of my favorite new shows, is sticking to 13 episode seasons, and I think that's just right.
Darkness-Incorrect. The past 2 or 3 season have birthed a few monstrous titles. Television has room at the top, and eliminating dialogue such as, "we got word from SHIELD.." will help get these guys closer to the pinnacle. Don't 'we' work for SHIELD? Can we add specificity to that statement? We can address bases, ships, agents even who will add detail to the far background of the organization as a whole.

[ edited by BarryC on 2014-03-26 03:34 ]
There were never big problems with this show. Its been the best thing on telly since the start.


I disagree. There are many shows I think are far superior to SHIELD. That's not to say SHIELD is terrible, but I definitely don't think it's the best show on TV by a long shot. I think there were lots of big problems with SHIELD. It's just that having 22 episodes isn't one of them, but rather a small issue piled on top of a few big issues. That said, it's getting much better and more engaging to watch.
Sleepy Hollow has done well with a shorter season, and with that one, I do think a bit of restraint is a good thing. (22 episodes of that much, um, chaos? Hmmm... . (and I say that as someone who enjoyed the show.)

Buffy? A short first season did well, and paved the way for much more. I can't help wondering if the show would have done as well if they'd had to crank out a 22 episode order that first year. The usual 13 initial order followed by more later down the line? Not really a great way to build a good foundation, IMO. The shorter arc helped establish the world, introduce us to the characters, etc., but it also helped keep things focused.

Though I really do enjoy having more time to enjoy the worlds and the characters created on my favorite shows, I wonder if SHIELD wouldn't have been better off with a smaller start and a clearer focus.
Scraggles-I'm either the best- or- worst qualified person to say this, but the main questions I'm left with after an episode are: Is this normal for what a SHIELD Agent does in a day? and What is the rest of SHIELD doing?
We've seen this thing start...but we can't really tell if we're going upstream or down. (I'll Refrain from discussing Sleepy Hollow other than to say that that show is near 3rd or 4th season form.)
There are definitely shows that benefit from the 13-episode thing, but Buffy would not be a better show with 13-episode seasons. Ditto for Angel. If you know how to structure a season, you can make a 22-episode season that doesn't suck.
I think within a few years we will have moved fully to the situation where the broadcast networks are for reality shows, sports, sitcoms, and episodic procedurals, and everything else is on cable in short seasons.

A lot of the scheduling madness is also due to the need to save up episodes for sweeps. Hopefully we'll see the end of the old Nielsen ratings system in the not too distant future, followed by the death of the timeslot as everything goes on demand.

The networks won't want to do any of this, but I think they'll have to do it anyway, kicking and screaming.
I think a 12-13 episode initial season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been plenty to get us invested in the world. All of Joss' shows are similar in that the first seasons are mostly stand-alone episodes with hints of an overarching plot thrown into the plot. For a 12-episode first season, that works fine (Buffy, Dollhouse). For a longer season, it drags IMO (ex. season 1 of ANGEL).
I would much prefer it if SHIELD had aired as two mini-seasons, with one continuous break over the holiday period, January, February and probably part of March. I think it could still have matched up with Thor 2 and Captain America 2, but it wouldn't have lost as much momentum. (I know that I got frustrated watching LOST season 2 as it aired, so in subsequent seasons waited for the season to finish before watching, and it benefited from that greatly.)

Alan Sepinwall recently wrote an interesting article about series length and how The Good Wife benefited from the 22 episodes, here. I've been binging on The Good Wife recently (it's excellent), and I agree with what he says in the article.

The article itself touches on plot developments in the currently airing season, so if you want to avoid spoiler's here's a quote from the article:

... But there are advantages to the network model [vs. the cable model]. Those extra 9 episodes a year can just be padding, or they can be an opportunity to experiment ó to take detours that a tightly-plotted cable drama might not have time to bother with, but which can reveal an unexpected side to a character, or an unplanned piece of conflict that could help define that series, and turn into a brand new, even better destination.

Case in point: midway through last season, the Kings wrote an episode called "Red Team, Blue Team," ... What was designed as something to do to pass the time in between big story arcs instead revealed itself to be so powerful that it became the new story arc.

to take detours that a tightly-plotted cable drama might not have time to bother with, but which can reveal an unexpected side to a character, or an unplanned piece of conflict that could help define that series, and turn into a brand new, even better destination.

So much this. In a 13-episode season I bet we don't get The Zeppo, Restless, The Wish, Family--any number of episodes that didn't directly impact the season arc but were essential to defining what the show was.
Many of my favourite series are 10-13 episode cable shows but I don't think that would work for every show.

I think an 16 episode season would be a good compromise for a network drama show. 22 works for comedies as they are shortened episodes but 16 would allow for the occasional non-arc interesting episode whilst still being more focused.
Shows with complex mythology are likely better with shorter seasons. Get into 22 episodes and it becomes a little bit of a chore to remember what happened in episode 3 that is now relevant in episode 21. Then producers start adding flashbacks or excessive "previously on..." tidbits at the beginning that cut into the running time.

Looking at the current number of SHIELD episodes that have aired to date, I think there are 10 that stand out as either being important to the arc that has been established (introducing Ian Quinn, recruiting Mike Peterson, etc.) or just good standalone episodes (The Hub, T.R.A.C.K.S.). If you kept those and reorganized the arc, I think you could probably pull off a complete arc in 15 episodes. I don't think 22 are necessary.
Iíve become a huge fan of the way British television runs their seasons in the shorter serial form. I share the same views as this article in that I think SHIELD could have benefitted from a shorter and more condensed run or a reorganizing of the stories as the ninja report just pointed out. Or even what bluey suggested with two miniseries, the first being to set up the world and the second one to tie it into the MCU insofar as with Thor and Captain America. The two miniseries would allow a circumvention of superbowl, Olympics and march madness while re assessing itself.

For me a good 15 ep season would fit because you can break it down into a five-episode-per-act three act play. But that ideology probably comes from reading comic books where most arcs are done in five issues.

But what most donít realize when comparing American shows to British shows is run time. In the UK shows donít typically air with commercials, they either front or back end the show with advertisements. (Speaking mostly of the BBC here and to my understanding.) American shows have to have these weird act breaks to allow for commercials that frankly just detract from the storytelling. When you watch an American show on DVD or streaming you really notice the strange breaks. Without advertisements in the way it smoothes out the storytelling.

Back when Dollhouse was starting it had a longer run time. Granted that was about five minutes more, but it allowed a bit more wiggle room with dialog. But that came with the price of dropping promotional consideration.

We live in a golden era of TV (of which I think weíre seeing the decline of IMO) where the storytelling is amazing but weíre still hindered by old network ethics. I donít see network tv or even basic cable doing away with the in episode advertisements, but they could learn from their siblings across the Pond and the good people at Netflix with shorter seasons.

tl;dr I honestly think shorter seasons would be the best for serialized dramas in general.

Hat tip to AndrewCrosset and banner on their views as well.

[ edited by The Goose on 2014-03-26 14:52 ]
I like shows with 22 episodes, and feel the problem comes down to scheduling. I'm not in the television business, but it seems that a show with 22 episodes usually starts filming in July and they air the first ep of the season in September. I think shows would benefit greatly if they put off the season premiers until the end of Oct., so that viewers don't have to go weeks without a new episode. It's difficult to get into a new show and learn about the characters if there are big gaps between episodes. I missed an ep of AoS because I thought there wouldn't be a new episode and twice I sat down to watch AoS only to find out that they were repeats.

I have a hectic life, I can vaguely recall what I ate for dinner a week ago, let alone what happened a month ago on a show I'm watching. It's really difficult for me to submerge myself into a show with the constant hiatuses. Out of sight, out of mind. The show needs to have a tighter schedule, but that shouldn't automatically mean a 13 episode season.
hpgwbtvs, I agree and disagree that it comes down to scheduling.

I agree in that there are other ways of doing it. ABC experimented with split seasons with Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, and Once Upon a Time. Each show aired 10 to 11 episodes without interruption (starting in late September to early October), then took a long break (almost 4 months in the case of Scandal). I think ABC can do the same with SHIELD.

I disagree, however, that starting in late October would change anything. Scandal also starts filming in July, and can still air 10 to 11 episodes uninterrupted before breaking for 4 months. It's all about the network committing to that model and communicating with showrunners.

ABC can also get away with the split season because the only sports programming it has is Saturday night football. Fox, however, airs the World Series in late October every year, so all of its programming pauses for baseball. If a show started in late October, it would have to wait until after the World Series and then only be able to air 3 episodes before stopping for Thanksgiving, then another 3 episodes before stopping for Christmas/New Years. If it started in late September, it would at least get 3 episodes in before the World Series.

I think starting later is unnecessary for the purposes of showing many episodes uninterrupted, and could cause potential viewers to not tune in because they've already got their DVRs set and their programming mapped out in their minds.
I think both 22 episode and shorter seasons can result in excellent television. For example I think both the latest season of "House of Cards" and the current season of "The Good Wife" are incredible. (Thanks BTW for that link to that excellent "The Good Wife" centered article Bluey!).

I don't think dragging storylines are exclusive to 22 episode seasons. Instead I would guess that they appear about as often on both types of show. Sherlock's seasons are only 3 episodes long and the first two seasons still featured a terrible filler episode.
I think that the creators of series with shorter seasons unwisely drag storylines out to ensure that they last exactly 1 season a little more often. Many of the best 22 episode series, such as "The West Wing" and The Good Wife", feature multiple arcs that more often have a duration that more or less fits the amount of story exactly.
And series like Veronica Mars that do have 1 overarching arc that lasts exactly 22 episodes often have a better balance (IMO) between standalone elements and the overall arc than shorter series, which tend to focus on a single drawn-out storyline too often for my taste.
I also think series with shorter seasons tend to have "standalone seasons" that do not contribute to long term development of a series a little more often (Dexter was particularly bad in this regard).

There certainly have been a lot of excellent series with shorter seasons lately. Recently I've really enjoyed "Breaking Bad", "Homeland", "Game Of Thrones" and "House of Cards", for example. Great network series may be a little more rare at the moment, but I also love network series like "Parenthood", "The Good Wife and "Elementary".

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2014-03-26 16:32 ]
I love the 22 episode format. It's just more challenging for the writers but can definitely be as good as a 13 episode season. "Buffy" did it, and "The Good Wife" is doing it right now (and it's the best drama on TV in my opinion).

As for Agents of SHIELD, I don't even know if I'll make it to the end of the season, that's how much I can't get involved in it. And I'm not sure a 13 episode season would've changed anything, that show has just too many problems.
I think perhaps my favorite airing schedule was for Stargate SG-1 when it was on the SciFi channel. They split each season into two 10-episode arcs and aired one half in the summer and the other half in the winter for more or less ten weeks straight. There were a few months between each half season (which was a LOT better than the six months you had to wait for new seasons of The X-Files at the time).

I thought this was fantastic because 1) you didn't have to wait forever for the next season, 2) there were very few breaks during the 10 episodes, and 3) each ten-episode arc was like a mini-season with a build-up and climax and story resolution.

I wish the networks would consider something like this. It was much easier to follow the show because it aired more consistently and it felt like I was getting a regular dose of one of my favorite shows without long gaps.
For me, it's always the writing I come back to when I consider, "Why isn't SHIELD working as a show?"
This is a fantastic discussion. Great thoughts all around.
I think the troubles with Sherlock (I agree, Groosalugg, that each season has had one bad episode) have a lot to do with the writing. House of Cards (the Fincher version) and Game of Thrones are short seasons because they are so expensive to make. True Detective can attract extremely high-profile actors because it's a short commitment. If SHIELD had fewer episodes to produce and the budget didn't get cut much as a result, each episode would probably look more polished.
Agreed bobw10 - this is a fantastic and fascinating discussion.

You're most welcome the Groosalugg I'm glad you found The Good Wife article interesting, because I did too.

I didn't realize there were so many examples of 'mini-seasons', particularly those the ninja report mentioned on ABC. I don't understand why if ABC learnt the lesson with those other shows they didn't take the lesson and apply it to AoS, presumably they knew that the show was going to become arc-y?

One thing about split seasons to consider is while you can delay to allow a 'buffer' of episodes to build up before airing the second half of a season, I suspect you can't delay too much because otherwise the actors and production crew wouldn't be able to have a break before starting the next season.

I like the idea of there being fewer episodes of AoS to give them more time and money to work on production. However, that would also give them less advertising to sell, so I'm not sure it will work financially. However, a mid-season delay would somewhat help, in that at least they would have a bit more time for post-production.
Bluey, maybe it's because SHIELD is new and the others are established shows, and ABC is more confident letting established shows with already-committed fans go off the air for months at a time. SHIELD is doing okay in ratings but I bet if it followed the same model this season many people who were watching week to week, but very casually (i.e., they could take it or leave it) would have forgotten about it entirely. Maybe if the show can find its footing and get renewed, ABC will go this route next season.
Umm... yeah - one of the hallmarks of a good writer/actor/fan dancer/whatever is that they are capable of taking the inherent limitations of their chosen medium (e.g. having to populate 22 hour-equivalent, episodic segments with some form of meaningful content on a regular basis) and capitalizing on them in such a way that the untrained eye sees them as assets rather than limitations. Furthermore, failure to achieve such a feat is a sign of the inherent limitations of a particular artist in that particular medium - not of the medium itself. I've seem some mighty fine examples of storytelling done over the course of 22+ episode seasons of television - some of which are airing right now.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2014-03-28 04:07 ]

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