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How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

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How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Old 01-12-19, 10:22 AM
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How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

We have so many TV shows at our fingertips, so many (and that's doing it legally), if you go down the other route, there's even more ........................


TV shows, even non action related do seem to be progressing storylines much more quickly. The slow stretched out burn does seem to happen less and less. There are just so many shows to choose from, if the makers can't keep the audiences attention

The likes of Smallville, Lost and Heroes just wouldn't survive in today's world. 22 episode seasons with maybe 1 or 2 episodes of true storyline progression.and 'wo damm' moments. Compare how many DC character appearances there were in 8 seasons of Smallville v 1 season of the Flash.

as i get older, my attention span and tolerance to rubbish gets shorter so it;s a good thing things have changed

If i had to watch Smallville, Lost and Heroes today i would be throwing things.
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Old 01-12-19, 05:41 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

I agree, at least with the genres of tv shows that I watch (sci-fi, superhero, horror, thriller). And I think you hit upon a main reason why pacing has increased ... more competition for viewers. Netflix started streaming in 2007, and other services followed. Also, I think viewers found out that the serialized shows they were investing so much time in could burn them at the end by dropping the ball. So shows had to regularly deliver more worthwhile moments instead of counting of viewers to stick around for years for a satisfying payoff. Even though dramatic television is still heavily serialized, they're paced so that each season tells a satisfying complete story. No way today could Lost have the big payoff to season one being just finding a hatch.
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Old 01-12-19, 09:00 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

I think we also live in an age where the economics of production have changed. I think these changes were spurred more by networks looking to reduce costs by reducing episode counts than by viewers' attention spans (though that has changed as a result as well). You no longer have as many "filler" episodes because you don't have time for them. Shows needed to tell the story efficiently without so many distractions.

I've talked about it before, but some of it goes back to the American model versus the British model for TV. British shows have the number of episodes they need to tell a story. They come back when they have something more to tell. American shows were based on a calendar with a set number of episodes (regardless of story) that ran during specific periods every year. While we haven't completely moved to the British model, networks have learned we don't need 22 episodes that fill up 5-6 months of programming. Streaming has played a role in hastening that as well.
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Old 01-12-19, 11:10 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Most seasons are shorter these days, some as short as 8-10 episodes. Longer seasons are really only reserved for long-running procedurals anymore. That has led to greater compressed storytelling. Hoping to keep viewers interested so they don't get bored is also a big factor.

The pacing of first seasons have dramatically changed in the past five years. We get more plot advancement and major twists in one season now than we would get over 2-3 seasons before the 2010s.

I believe these changes have hurt current long-running shows after their first couple of seasons. When a popular show has a dynamite first season, it gets harder and harder to top all the plot developments that have been crammed into that first season. So we get the rush of heavy serialization in season one, followed by less and less interesting developments later on.

Even for Game of Thrones, the heavy plotting caught up to the series. Once the showrunners got past the published books in plot, the show took a dip in quality.
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Old 01-13-19, 08:23 AM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by brainee View Post
I agree, at least with the genres of tv shows that I watch (sci-fi, superhero, horror, thriller). And I think you hit upon a main reason why pacing has increased ... more competition for viewers. Netflix started streaming in 2007, and other services followed. Also, I think viewers found out that the serialized shows they were investing so much time in could burn them at the end by dropping the ball. So shows had to regularly deliver more worthwhile moments instead of counting of viewers to stick around for years for a satisfying payoff. Even though dramatic television is still heavily serialized, they're paced so that each season tells a satisfying complete story. No way today could Lost have the big payoff to season one being just finding a hatch.
It seems there are also more shows doing this by design (American Crime Story, True Detective, American Vandal).
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Old 01-13-19, 08:48 AM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Abob Teff View Post
I've talked about it before, but some of it goes back to the American model versus the British model for TV. British shows have the number of episodes they need to tell a story. They come back when they have something more to tell. American shows were based on a calendar with a set number of episodes (regardless of story) that ran during specific periods every year.
I hope there's more of a trend towards the British way. Either one season to tell a full story, or a definitive plan over a handful of seasons that goes to completion. It's frustrating to see tv shows either be cancelled after a single season, or drag on because it became a big hit. Something like Lost could still be a slow burner, however there hopefully wouldn't be as much meandering along the way. On the flipside, something like Firefly could have proposed their 4-season story or whatever, and let the mysteries set up in the first season play out without being canceled.
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Old 01-13-19, 11:07 AM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

I remember when The OC came on, it was understandably compared with 90210, and it was startling how fast The OC in the 2000s burned through storylines compared to 90210's pace in the 1990s. Of course, one consequence was that The OC burned out quickly and lasted for 100 episodes and 90210 ran for 300.

If you really wanted to get a good comparison to answer the OP question, one should look at Grey's Anatomy and compare what the show was like in its early years versus now.
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Old 01-13-19, 11:48 AM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

I think it depends on what shows you watch...

Cause there are plenty out there still today that barely progress anything per season.

Like SyFy's Van Helsing for example, 3/4th of one season the MC wasn't even on the show, and then they set a clear goalpost for the show but then made zero progress towards that until the final episode of the latest season and still haven't made it there after two seasons of traveling.
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Old 01-13-19, 01:01 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Abob Teff View Post
I think we also live in an age where the economics of production have changed. I think these changes were spurred more by networks looking to reduce costs by reducing episode counts than by viewers' attention spans (though that has changed as a result as well). You no longer have as many "filler" episodes because you don't have time for them. Shows needed to tell the story efficiently without so many distractions.
How does fewer episodes reduce costs? Assuming the show is profitable, more episodes = more profit. They should want 22 episodes a season for a one hour drama. Or more, I never understood why season episode counts dropped. Producing 13 of 22 up front and then canceling after 3 is indeed a bigger loss than producing 7 of 13 and canceling after 3, but if that's the problem produce 7 of 22 up front.
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Old 01-13-19, 02:21 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Original Desmond View Post
We have so many TV shows at our fingertips, so many (and that's doing it legally), if you go down the other route, there's even more ........................


TV shows, even non action related do seem to be progressing storylines much more quickly. The slow stretched out burn does seem to happen less and less. There are just so many shows to choose from, if the makers can't keep the audiences attention

The likes of Smallville, Lost and Heroes just wouldn't survive in today's world. 22 episode seasons with maybe 1 or 2 episodes of true storyline progression.and 'wo damm' moments. Compare how many DC character appearances there were in 8 seasons of Smallville v 1 season of the Flash.

as i get older, my attention span and tolerance to rubbish gets shorter so it;s a good thing things have changed

If i had to watch Smallville, Lost and Heroes today i would be throwing things.
Tv shows yes, but comic books are the other way around. They have progressed from having a full storyline in a single issue to spreading it out to fill 6 to 12 issues. Most of the time they just fill multiple pages of the character in slighlty different angles that would take 1-5 seconds in real time. This is very noticble in Spider-man comics; they'll have 5-6 pages an issue of him just swinging from buildings with little to no dialog. Look at Ultimate Spider-Man #13 for exampl where he reveals his id to MJ. More than half the book was him just slowly pulling off his mask and then showing the reaction on MJ's face for at least 5 pages.

With TV shows, they know people will binge watch the show over a few days, so why spend the money on more episodes. I would expect the inhouse streaming shows to start releasing their shows an episode a week rather than the whole season at once. Look at what CBS is doing with Star Trek Discovery. Eventually these sites will realize that viewers may only subscribe to their service to watch one show and then cance after the month is up. Releasing episodes on a weekly basis would cause them to keep their monthly subscriprions for longer.
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Old 01-13-19, 03:52 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by randian View Post
How does fewer episodes reduce costs? Assuming the show is profitable, more episodes = more profit. They should want 22 episodes a season for a one hour drama. Or more, I never understood why season episode counts dropped. Producing 13 of 22 up front and then canceling after 3 is indeed a bigger loss than producing 7 of 13 and canceling after 3, but if that's the problem produce 7 of 22 up front.
I don't think any scripted television shows are profitable when they air.

With regard to ad revenue, scripted shows don't draw the audience to justify the charging massive amounts for the ad time that would offset what it costs the network to pay for the show. "The Big Bang Theory" probably has some of the highest ad rates of any scripted TV show, but CBS charges $600K per minute for advertising, and pays Warner Bros $10 million per episode (the 8 cast members make $6 million per episode all together). However, it is worth it to CBS because of the eyeballs it draws to the network in general, and how it impacts the Thursday Night line-up.
For example, NBC/Universal is the production company partner for Dick Wolf's "Law and Order" shows and the "Chicago" shows. NBC as a network does not make a profit by airing those shows (ad rates versus cost per episode), but those shows impact the audience for the late night shows, and those shows are profitable against ad revenue. Also, since NBC/Universal has a financial stake in the franchises, they can license them to a NBC/Universal owned cable network where they will be rerun on an infinite loop, and generate ad revenue there for the parent company.
In case you ever wondered why NBC/Universal owned USA and CLOO ran Universal produced "House" reruns fro 12 hours everyday.
Plus there's syndication.

Historically, the production companies (like Warner Brothers) that produced shows for the networks, did so at a deficit. The industry was operating as a gambling casino, where every show was being produced at a loss but betting on getting into syndication and (potentially) massive profitability. If you were producing a sitcom, making more episodes per year mattered because you wanted to get to 100, which was considered the number necessary for everyday first-run syndication.
So, for example, when NBC aired the Warner Bros produced "Friends," the show may have been profitable for NBC early on, because they could charge a lot for ad time on a big hit and the price of individual episodes was not exorbitant. Then things change. The cast wants raises, increasing the production costs. WB wants more money per episode from NBC, but it still might not cover all the production costs. Doesn't matter because WB is investing. When "Friends" finishes Year 4, the show goes into syndication and the money starts rolling in.

After just three seasons, "The Big Bang Theory" was sold into syndication and TBS paid $1.5 million per episode (that was in 2010). So over $100 million right there, a decade ago.

Theoretically, in the era of streaming, producing fewer episodes but with a reputation for higher quality would be desirable. Unless subscribers communicate their attachment to having a show like "Friends" on Netflix, having 200+ or even 100+ episodes of a series available may not matter so much. Especially with dramas. Procedural cop shows churn out huge numbers of episodes but is binge-watching all 250 episodes of "Bones" on anybody's agenda?

So, the point is, as shows are being produced with an eye towards streaming in the future instead of syndication, what people want from streaming becomes more important. Less episodes of a more serialized season makes for better binge-ing. And the "promise" of fewer shitty filler episodes to get through while they drag out 13 episodes of good stuff over 22.
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Old 01-13-19, 03:59 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Original Desmond View Post
If i had to watch Smallville, Lost and Heroes today i would be throwing things.
I started to re-watch Smallville on streaming. I got through maybe the first 6 episodes and realized (1) how slowly things developed and (2) that there were probably 200 episodes of this, and gave up.

Maybe I will go back and check out the ep where Chloe is recruiting Lana into that sex cult every so often, but other than that no way.
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Old 01-13-19, 11:09 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Abob Teff View Post
I think we also live in an age where the economics of production have changed. I think these changes were spurred more by networks looking to reduce costs by reducing episode counts than by viewers' attention spans...
Networks didn't want to cut per-show episode counts, because they still have to fill the same amount of air time, but now it's divided among at least twice as many shows as before. Now networks have to commission twice as many shows, at least, and cancel twice as many shows, get twice as many mid-season replacements, etc....

What changed was the audience viewing patterns. Before DVRs and streaming, the emphasis was on self-contained episodes, because you couldn't count on viewers of having seen every previous episode of a series. So any season or series arcs were loose and played out slowly. Once DVRs, DVD releases, on-demand, and streaming came into play, there were ways for audiences to "catch up" to the current season/episode. It's not a coincidence that DVD season releases are often shortly before the next season starts airing. Suddenly people were binging whole seasons in a few days, and far more serial storytelling was not only accpetable, but becoming more expected.

However, the mechanics of writing and producing a serial show are very different than with a show with mostly standalone episodes. With standalone episodes, you can have a writers room where writers can go off and write episodes without having to worry about the episode immediately before or after. Even with a loose arc, the writer may need to incorporate one general plot point, and that might no get addressed in the episode immediately after. Looking at something like X-Files, one of the first shows to have a real series arc, they did a mix a serial "mythology" episodes and "monster of the week" standalones, mixing them in. So it's easier to have a large writers room with a bunch of writers writing episodes at the same time, which allows for a higher number of episodes to be written in a year. Then the production deals with the episodes on a one-by-one basis, and if a script comes in late, or is even scrapped, they could shift production to do another episode while waiting for the script to be completed/replaced.

For a more serial story, you need a writers room that is much more focused on the overall story, with each episode written aware of what comes before and after it. This is best when driven by someone with a singular vision for the story who's much more hands-on for each story than just maintaining a consistent tone with standalones. Again, referring to X-Files, Chris Carter wrote the majority of mythology episodes himself, with other writers doing standalones. This just necessarily constrains the writing process, making it harder to write a large volume of episodes in a given year. Also, I think viewers are getting less tolerant of "filler" episodes that don't advance the story on a serialized show. Production is also constrained, since you really can't start shooting until the bulk of the writing is finished, since a script with issues can't just necessarily be tossed without affecting the rest of that season. The first season of American Gods actually had this problem, where one episode was really problematic, and they ended up reducing the episode count by one and reworking the story because they didn't have time to totally rewrite and shoot another episode.

Streaming has aggravated the issue a bit, since they have gotten more and more comfortable with shorter seasons. Part of this is due to the differences in the way streaming services and networks present their shows. Networks show their episodes one at a time, typically one a week, so they often start airing a show/season before it's even completed all the episodes. It used to be they'd order something 13 episodes upfront and start airing them, and hold back on ordering the "back 9" after seeing how the show was doing. So the networks weren't risking paying for 22 episodes upfront. If they show did really poorly, they'd even cancel the show before the first 13 were finished. Nowadays, even with seasons only being 13 episodes, Networks can still cancel before production has finished, reducing costs. So the risk level for networks was lower than it'd appear. For Netflix and such, they hold all the episodes of a season until they're done, then release them as a single batch. So if the show did poorly, they're on the hook for every episode. So a 13 episode season was a better financial bet for them, and then they could just order additional episodes. And if the season is even less episodes, even better. Also, 22 episodes are harder to binge in a single weekend. Netflix relies a lot on word of mouth for their shows to get buzz and get watched soon after release, in contrast to networks that have a while to build buzz for a show and want viewers to return and viewership to grow over the span of weeks. So a short/sweet season that a person can binge in a weekend and then tell co-workers, friends, family, etc in the week after so they watch the next weekend is a good prospect for Netflix.

So it's largely the creative issues with writing a heavily serialized story, combined with changing viewing habits do to additional viewing options, that's caused seasons to shorten.

Originally Posted by Count Dooku View Post
Historically, the production companies (like Warner Brothers) that produced shows for the networks, did so at a deficit...
Depending on how one considers the word "historically," this isn't totally true. Before home video, syndication, streaming, etc. , production companies sold to networks at a profit. As ancillary markets started appearing and production companies started making additional revenue, networks have started reducing the amount of production they're willing to cover. However, networks still fully cover pilots, since they have little to no value if they don't get picked up, and they cover the bulk of the costs for the first season. It's not until the show is getting near syndication in the 3rd and 4th seasons that production companies would start to cover more of the costs. Also, it's not that the networks would necessarily start paying less, but simply wouldn't pay much more, if any, since shows tend to get more expensive the longer they last due to rising actor salaries, etc. I remember NBC wouldn't pay for Scrubs to switch to HD production since while it made money for NBC, it wasn't enough to justify the HD costs, and NBC could still get away with just SD broadcast for some of their shows. Touchstone Television/ABC Studios wouldn't front the costs themselves either, and it wasn't until the show moved to ABC that the show switched to HD.

Also, the historical "magic number" of 100 episodes for syndication has become less and less necessary. I think it originally was to allow a station to air reruns once a night, 5 nights a week, for 20 weeks without repeating episodes, basically to keep the frequency of starting over and repeating the episodes down, at least low enough so most viewers wouldn't quickly tire of them. But now with so many other viewing options, the fact that a show's full syndication cycle repeats 4-5 times a year instead of 2.5 times a year isn't as much a concern.

That said, I don't think any of this necessarily affects the networks' episode order amount. They're still roughly paying the same, just spread out over more shows. It's more about how viewing habits and expectations have changed.
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Old 01-14-19, 02:01 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Count Dooku View Post
So, the point is, as shows are being produced with an eye towards streaming in the future instead of syndication, what people want from streaming becomes more important. Less episodes of a more serialized season makes for better binge-ing. And the "promise" of fewer shitty filler episodes to get through while they drag out 13 episodes of good stuff over 22.
I see more and more shows made for cable and broadcast being written with an eye on how they run together for binge viewing. I've even seen shows like Mr. Robot that really don't make much sense if you follow it episodically week to week. The rise of streaming has certainly affected how plot and storylines are managed for basically every series.
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Old 01-14-19, 02:22 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by movieguru View Post
This is very noticble in Spider-man comics; they'll have 5-6 pages an issue of him just swinging from buildings with little to no dialog. Look at Ultimate Spider-Man #13 for exampl where he reveals his id to MJ. More than half the book was him just slowly pulling off his mask and then showing the reaction on MJ's face for at least 5 pages.
I looked it up. I think it's worse than you remember; he doesn't even have his mask on. From what I could tell, the vast majority of the comic is the two of them in his bedroom, while he extremely slowly works up the courage to tell her. Then she promptly laughs. A lot. If I read comics, I'd probably be pretty upset at paying for that one.
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Old 01-14-19, 02:43 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by PhantomStranger View Post
I see more and more shows made for cable and broadcast being written with an eye on how they run together for binge viewing. I've even seen shows like Mr. Robot that really don't make much sense if you follow it episodically week to week...
Well, this is debatable. I can follow Mr Robot fine as I watch a new season on the episode-a-week release schedule, but it does require paying attention and retaining info from past episodes for potentially up to 3 months, and that's just for the current season. People's memories are all different though. My wife is fine with keeping up on a current season mostly, but if it's been around a year since the previous season, she won't remember much of that previous season and will need a refresher. I think Netflix tends to have this is a new season of a show you've been watching comes up, they start showing a recap you can skip.

However, I did forget to mention the roll basic cable shows like Mr Robot played in shifting towards serialization and shorter seasons. There's a difference between OTA broadcast networks and cable networks and their needs. Broadcast networks want to fill their prime time with as much new material as possible, because that's all the time they actually have for advertising revenue; the affiliates program the rest of the day and keep that ad revenue. Cable networks, on the other hand, own the programming 24/7 for their network, but have a much smaller audience, and thus less money. So cable networks typically have a lot of time to fill. So they order shorter seasons, but they re-run their shows a lot. They can also fill in time with movies or old shows. At first, they did procedurals and things like Monk and such, but they've gotten progressively more serial. AMC's Mad Men set the mold a bit. Cable companies realized they could maximize the "Live+7' by repeatedly re-airing the new episode. Did you miss last week's episode? No problem, it re-airs immediately before the new episode this week. The premiere time not good to watch/record the episode? No problem, the episode re-airs later that night. Missed half the season and need to catch up? A marathon airing of all the episodes so far for the season is coming up this weekend. They get ad revenue no matter when you opt to watch it. This ability to repeatedly re-air episodes throughout the week after premiere, and even beyond, allowed for more serial storytelling, since the viewers have ample opportunity to catch up and stay current with the show, and they were already doing shorter seasons anyway due to budgets.
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Old 01-14-19, 02:54 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

I think now in 2019, you can't do new serialized dramas at 22-24 episodes anymore. Notice how many these days even on network TV have anywhere from 10-16 episode seasons. The audience just doesn't stick around anymore for long seasons.

Only procedurals with self contained case of the week plots work now with long seasons.
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Old 01-14-19, 07:31 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Really interesting info posted on this thread, thanks guys
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Old 01-14-19, 07:34 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by Count Dooku View Post
I started to re-watch Smallville on streaming. I got through maybe the first 6 episodes and realized (1) how slowly things developed and (2) that there were probably 200 episodes of this, and gave up.

Maybe I will go back and check out the ep where Chloe is recruiting Lana into that sex cult every so often, but other than that no way.
I remember when we got exited watching Smallville when there was an object which was an obsure reference to a DC universe villian, and the other kicker with Smallville was not being able to mention Superman

Compare that to Supergirl which has had actual appearances of Superman and the Flash which in its first season had King Shark !

Having said all that, a prime Kristin Kreuk was a fun thing to look at
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Old 01-14-19, 08:42 PM
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Re: How Much more Quickly are TV shows progressing storylines than 10+ years ago ?

Originally Posted by DJariya View Post
I think now in 2019, you can't do new serialized dramas at 22-24 episodes anymore. Notice how many these days even on network TV have anywhere from 10-16 episode seasons. The audience just doesn't stick around anymore for long seasons.

Only procedurals with self contained case of the week plots work now with long seasons.
I found this list of 2018-2019 episode orders:
https://www.spoilertv.com/2018/05/th...n-episode.html

It's interesting to look at what got 20+ episode orders, and what didn't. The only serialized show that I regularly watch that got 20+ is Superatural, with exactly 20, and that show follows the X-Files/Buffy formula of interspersing episodes that advance the season arc with more standalone episodes. However, while lots of procedurals get 20+, there's a fair amount of sitcoms too. Also, some of the season 1 orders on that list are a bit misleading, since that's only the initial order, with the networks reserving the option to order more.

That said, Manifest got an order for additional episodes.... 3 of them. NBC's apparent rational is interesting in the context of this thread:
https://tvline.com/2018/10/18/manife...-season-1-nbc/
According to an NBC insider, the network has “the utmost faith and confidence” in Manifest, but chose not to order a traditional “back nine” of the series primarily for scheduling and creative reasons.

“Full-season orders of less than 22 episodes are quite common today. In fact, the first three seasons of NBC’s hit series This Is Us have been 18 episodes each,” the insider said. “And The Good Place, which many regard as the best comedy on broadcast or cable, have been 13 episodes over its first three seasons… We want to run original episodes continuously in the first quarter of 2019 without any repeats, [and [i]Manifest‘s] ambitious storytelling means taking the time to get it right in the writers’ room and in production.”

Going off on another tangent, one significant change that had to happen for serialized shows to succeed was that networks had to be willing to let shows end based on storytelling/creative reasons, and not just run a show until the ratings wane. LOST was at the forefront of this, with the showrunners struggling with the network to set an actual end time for the show, i.e. after a certain number of seasons. Without this, a show has to stall the overall series arc and delay answering certain questions, because they don't know how long they have. You don't want to tie up a show's storylines because you think the show is ending, and then find out you have another season to fill, such as what happened with Babylon 5.

There's also the problem of not knowing if your show will end before you've reached the end point, so it's a weird juggling act. One way around this a bit is to make each season a self-contained arc, like Buffy did. But even with Buffy, the show went past what Joss Whedon initially planned as the end point.

Nowadays you at least get many shows where an upcoming season is announced as the final season. Sometimes this is at the request of the creatives, but even when a network is deciding to end it, the creatives get enough advanced notice to craft an end to their story.
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