TV. It’s a creation that has completely revolutionised the way we consume media. Before people were happy for media to come out when it was ready, now people want to see their favourite shows on a regular pattern, which led to the creation of yearly seasons. This pattern is so pervasive in how we consume media that even on-demand properties on Netflix or Amazon Prime like House of Cards or The Man in the High Tower are released once a year. But here’s a thought.
Maybe it’s time to stop.
The idea that a show has to put out an entire season every year I’d argue is hurting the industry more than saving it. To counteract this I propose a new system. Instead of annually a show instead should release a season every 2 years (Biennially). Here’s a list why.
Some of my favourite shows started off as what would be called “mid-season replacements” only meant to air between January and May and as a result weren’t necessarily meant to become the hits they turned out to be. These include shows like Castle, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Parks and Recreation. As a result this can stifle ideas as they have to try and distill what they’re trying to accomplish into a much shorter run and can effect quality as a result.
Under a biennial system networks would instead have to commission new shows to air a full season instead. This would not only allow new shows to air a full spread and really show off what they can do but opens up a more guaranteed opportunity to have new content rather than just cramming new ideas into a small slot due to cancellation or hiatus.
Currently the annual TV cycle is relentless when it comes to output and as a result script quality can suffer, especially the 22 episode long ones, as they’re expected to write, record, edit, and polish the entire thing in under a year. An example of this would be Battlestar Galactica. The series remains as a pinnacle of recent serious science-fiction television but most (including myself) tend to agree that Season 3 was the worst of the run. It suffered from a jumpy timeline, studio interference, loss of key staff, and a few others issues that meant the high quality of the earlier seasons was lost as they tried to compensate.
When they moved back Season 4 to air six months later, starting in April ‘08 rather than October ‘07 (with the TV film Razor to fill the gap) the show had clearly brought back much of the quality lost with much better presented arcs and better timeline management.
This problem of ‘off-seasons’ is fairly common as the tight schedule has caused issues for a number of shows over the years not only restricted to those above but also major cast changes (Stargate: SG-1) or not being sure if you’ll be recommissioned early enough to have multi-season story arcs (How I Met Your Mother).
A biennial system would help reduce this issue as it gives an extra 12 months of prep time for a season. It allows more time to edit and refine scripts, better connect storytones so characters stay consistent, and iron out external problems such as cast or location issues.
My final point is that the current cycle very quickly causes viewers to become bored with season after season of the same show. Of course every show will have the devoted fanbase who continue to watch regardless of how long it’s been running or issues this can cause but after a few years viewership starts to decline after it loses that ‘new show’ shine and becomes standard programming. A very recent example of this would be the last 3 seasons of Doctor Who.
Over the last 3 years domestic viewer figures has started to noticeably decline from the series highpoint in the season 4-5 era where it regularly hit 8 million (or even 9) viewers a week (consolidated) to last season barely managing to hit 7 at times and this most recent season has seen it lose its coveted primetime slot which saw its overnight ratings tumble but even its consolidated figures are down an average of a million on last season to only around 6 million.
This problem of shows fizzling out viewer-wise seems to be widespread. Even as a massive fan of Stargate I can’t really identify any episodes by memory alone other than season openers or closers but will instantly recognise it on seeing it. However shows that had more of a break between airing I can remember individual episodes much better.
As a result a yearly break should help this problem as shows are kept out of recent memory for longer, reducing the rate at which people become normalised to it as a constant presence on the screen, hopefully allowing shows to last longer than they otherwise could. The previous two ideas should also help this problem.
In conclusion TV programming needs to change to fit modern media requirements and in my view a change to a Biennial model of programming is a good start, hopefully fixing problems with the current system and allowing new talent and ideas to come through.
What do you think?