TV Seasons, Past vs Present
by, 05-20-2012 at 05:32 AM (791 Views)
The quality of TV is definitely in trouble, but what is irking me today is the notion of what constitutes a full season. The record books are no longer clear because how can you compare a TV season in 2012 with that of 1960?
Let's look at today's version of a season. A full complement of shows is accepted as being 22 episodes. These 22 programs are then stretched out as much as possible over time. Some shows go entire months with reruns before the advertising pops up promoting the "all new" shows, typically for the more important ratings months of February and November.
Those 22 shows are not even given to all series. In fact, for the new season, NBC has only given the full order to 2 of its returning comedies (The Office and Parks and Recreation) with the others getting an order of 13 new shows.
13 shows. That's essentially a three month order and that is a season? Using this logic, five years of 13 is just 65 shows. In the past, five years used to be the magic syndication number because it meant a series would have 100 shows filmed. Most networks felt that was a key number to being able to rerun a show successfully. The 22 episode season makes that mark with a tiny rollover for cushion.
Now let's compare these hardworking actors and crew who make these tiring 13 or 22 shows per season to those of the vintage Hollywood days, and if you are young and clueless, you are about to get the shock of your TV viewing lives.
From 1958 to 1961, Lloyd Bridges starred in Sea Hunt. That is four seasons worth of shows. By today's standards, that would be somewhere between 52 and 88 shows. Season 1 had 39 episodes, followed by 39 more in the second season, 39 in season 3, and 38 in season 4. The popular The Dick Van Dyke Show ran for five seasons and aired 30 shows in its first year and 32 for the other four seasons.
These shows were not the exception, but the rule. The Fugitive starring David Janssen was one of the most successful dramas. Its four season run aired 30 episodes each year.
The 1970s really began to show the drop off when a season order dipped below the 30 mark. Mission: Impossible, for example, began with 28 episodes in 1966 and was down to 22 when it went off the air during the 1972-73 season. Bonanza debuted in 1959 with 32 episodes and followed up with 34 for the next five seasons. It went down to 33 for season 7, back up to 34 for the 8th and 9th years, then down to 30 for its decade of TV on the air. It was the 1969-70 season that had the show with its first 28 show renewal. It was the same for season 12. The next year it was down to 26 shows. Bonanza lasted for 14 seasons, the last being the year after Dan Blocker died. It was canceled mid-season, which in that era was 15 shows -- 15.
There is no way in my mind that any show today that claims to be awesome because it has celebrated 5 seasons on the air doing what is equal to just over 3 seasons in the days of vintage Hollywood. These seasons today aren't seasons, they're like mini-series when compared to the veteran shows. Look at some of the shows that get even fewer orders for a season like the CW's Gossip Girl that was renewed for 10 to 12 shows. Last year, in fact, ABC gave only 8 shows to GCB and The River. NBC beat that with a season order of a whopping 6 shows to Bent and Best Friends Forever.
These numbers are highlighted even more when you look at show length. An hour show today is lucky if it has 44 minutes of plot in it. Back in the day, that hour program had something like 56 minutes of drama in it. A half hour program then that had 28 minutes of showtime today is dramatically less. It just does not even out. We need two record books.
Seasons yesterday and today are apples and oranges, and I prefer the apples.