The Death of The Twenty Two Episode format
The streaming revolution has changed the way shows are watched and released. But have we thought about how it has impacted storytelling in the television format? Up until the reign of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming gods TV shows aired 22 episodes a season, this format used to be standard now it’s a rarity. The amount of series that insist on being an “8 hour movie” making for a slow climax are rising. Not to say they are all poorly paced, I think there are some stories that benefit immensely from this new format but regardless there is room for both.
As someone who has been binge watching shows from the 90s to early 2000's. I am extremely familiar with the 22 episode format. But I've also grown up in the prime of streaming seeing the episode count
on seasons go down year by year and I have found to prefer 22 episodes. I’ve been seeing the format that championed television for so many years come close to extinction, and I’m not the only one; twitter user @wrathsemilia had a viral tweet this past December saying “tv shows going from 22-25 episodes to 18 to 13 to 10 to 8 episodes was the worst thing to happen to the television industry. I am begging yall to bring back REAL tv shows that ran almost all year long and had well developed storylines, characters, friendships and romance.” and nearly 200 thousand people liked this tweet in agreement.
The longest running American sci-fi/fantasy show: Supernatural is an example of a show that remained with the 22/23 episode format throughout its entire 15 year run. What this format allows for are the episodes that put the characters in unique situations that the new 10-8 episode format of shows don’t have room for. Some of the highest rated supernatural episodes are “filler” episodes such as: The French Mistake, an episode where the characters Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) are transported into another dimension where their lives are a TV show called… Supernatural. This meta episode is just one of the 300+ creative episodes that wouldn’t exist if Supernatural premiered in a streaming focused world.
This format also had the time to truly flesh out characters making viewers feel more connected and involved in a show. Although the current shorter series trend allows for a higher budget per episode, meaning bigger stars as main characters, and higher quality special effects as @wrathsemilia mentioned, 22 episodes allowed for well developed storylines. With only 8 episodes regardless of stars or budget you can not achieve the same relationship with the audience that the 22 episode format was able to achieve.
I’m not here to say the original season format for shows was perfect because it wasn’t, some filler episodes sucked, and you have more chances of falling into a freak of the week style show but even with its cons the pros of: more overall time to tell a story, flesh out well rounded characters and detailed plots beats todays limited 8 episode shows that have proven to at times be the downfall of a series taking off. But to each their own, which do you prefer?