Are TV seasons shorter now?

I’m in my thirties and when I was growing up, on TV was either new shows during the fall and winter and part of spring, or you were in reruns during the summertime. I don’t remember any of this two new shows, two reruns, one new show, three rerun nonsense like there is today.

Why did this change?

And for the record it sucks.


It really does seem like it. The Simpsons hasn’t.

The Simpsons has had around 22 episodes per season since the second season, and at least to the 12th season and I don’t think they went down since.
The 11th season of the Simpsons has 23 episodes, and the 12th (2000-2001) has 22.
Sometimes, with Simpsons, at least, they have days where they run two epsiodes at once, or they occasionally air an episode on a strange day.

Also, 22 episodes per year means that during around 30 weeks in the stingy Fox TV season, there are repeats over 1/3 of the time.

TV seasons are somewhat shorter (not too long ago they were in the 26 episode range), but there’ve been reruns since at least the '70’s.


Back in the 50s & 60s, seasons were even longer:

Gilligan’s Island: 3 seasons w/98 eps
The Patty Duke Show: 3 seasons w/104 eps
Gunsmoke: 20 seaspns w/635 eps (yikes!)
Bewitched: 8 seasons w/252 eps

…and so forth…

The original television season was 36 weeks, from September to May and roughly correlated to the school year. Back in the day, they actually did 36 shows per season. Then sometime in the 70’s, it became common for broadcasters to order just 22 shows for a season and now we are all too familiar with shows that only air 16 original episodes per season and ordering 8 shows is not unknown for new shows that haven’t yet earned a real spot on the schedule. Many people feel the Nielson system which drives the whole thing is soon to be revamped and the idea of seasons will become just another thing of the past.

A big trend up through the 70s (and has come back recently) was the summer replacement show.

Could part of the reason be that there is more back catalogue content now than there used to be which makes it seem like each season is shorter?

But you left out one important bit; sweeps months. The rate that the networks charge for advertising is based on the ratings they get in November, February, May and August. (At least, I assume that’s still true. I haven’t noticed it as much the last year or two.) And you’ll see various tricks and event-programming (ugh) to increase the ratings during those months. One trick is to stretch out the new episodes of a series by slipping in reruns during the non-sweeps months. There are only 22 episodes per season now, but watch how many series still have their super-duper, ultra-cliffhanger, over-hyped season finales at the end of May.

You are close. The actual sweeps month in the summer is July. Each family is given a diary to keep for a week from Thursday to Wednesday in the smaller markets. That’s why the networks fight so hard over Thursday night. In the larger markets, the homes have meters attached to the TV’s.

One way the networks are getting away with shorter seasons is to have the new shows start in about the third week of September. You will also get reruns the week before and the week after sweeps.

FOX is the closest network to doing what I think would work…two seasons. American Idol and 24 both began in January and will run nonstop through May. Two seasons of 22 weeks each would leave just eight weeks with no fresh material. People facing reruns on other networks might sample the fresh material and become loyal viewers.

The reason is now, and has always been, money.

In my extreme youth, standard episode orders were for 36-39 per season. Combined with 13 reruns during the summer, it filled out a calendar year quite nicely.

Beginning in the 1960s, network bean counters began to realize that they should rerun more episodes to squeeze more revenue out of each one. Gradually the “standard” production order shrunk to 32, 30, 28, on down to 22, with specials, movies, award shows and other junk to fill out the remaining 8 weeks.

However, as Robort Arm noted, there are three 4-week nationwide rating periods where the networks want to show their best stuff. That takes 12 episodes. Add two or three weeks at the beginning of the season where you obviously want to show all-new epsiodes and that leaves maybe 8 first-run episodes for October, December, January, March and April.

Would you rather see a 22 episode season that had only 12 good episodes and 10 soso-to-crappy episodes or just 13 good episodes?

I’D like the 13 good ones in a row! I’m very ticked off that Scrubs ended on a cliffhanger and has had reruns ever since… and it’s not even the end of the season yet!

And what was the Monk recently, four shows?

I was on yesterday looking at something about Riverboat with Darren McGavin and the site made the comment that the final season for the program was a markedly shortened one, only 22 episodes.

Well first off I don’t accept your premise that a longer season necessarily means about half of it is bad episodes.

I would prefer the longer seasons so that when you are tuning into your Tuesday night show in the MIDDLE OF FRICKIN’ WINTER they aren’t re-runing an episode you just saw three weeks ago. Let’s at least have a new show every week – please.

They know this bothers their viewers; the WB has their own catch phrase to promote the fact they are actually showing a new episode…“Fresh.”