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In Defense of a Shorter Series: Why More Shows Should Aim For Fewer Episodes

By Emily Cutler | Miscellaneous | November 13, 2014 |

By Emily Cutler | Miscellaneous | November 13, 2014 |

Maybe this is just my own personal bias talking, but is anyone else surprised by the number of “The Newsroom is a failure” articles? Vulture published an article that seems to nice wrap up feelings on The Newsroom from the beginning. Even Sorkin himself has apologized for the show, and sworn off tv.


Like I said, I’m biased. I like Sorkin, and I like The Newsroom. I don’t think it’s perfect and I don’t think it’s revolutionary tv, but I think it’s good. And I definitely don’t think it’s a failure.

But maybe I’m wrong. It is after all, a poorly reviewed, little watched show, right? Actually not so right. Rotten Tomatoes gives the first two seasons an average critic score of 57.5. Remarkably mediocre. But the audience gave it an 81.5. Metacritic gives it a slightly better 61 and 7.85 out of 10 from the audience. And it might be little watched, but not compared to some of HBO’s other shows.

So is the “failure” only because it was canceled after the third season? I don’t call “well received, little watched, canceled too soon” shows failures. I call them “my favorite” shows. Arrested Development, Firefly, Veronica Mars, Party Down, Sports Night, etc., etc., etc. Is it fair to say a show is a failure if it doesn’t make it to 5+ seasons?

We know shows can be successful with a shorter number of seasons or overall episodes. The Wire had 60 episodes, and Breaking Bad finished with 62. What I’m arguing is that forcing some shows to clock in at 60 or under could have saved them. Play “What If” with me for a second, and see how you’d feel about an edited version of:

1.) The Office
Holy unwieldy episode count, Batman. 201?! Ok, The Office, you get a little break. Instead of 60 episodes, I’ll give you 60 fulls hours. That puts us at roughly the end of season 6 so after Jim and Pam’s wedding, after Holly was introduced, before Nard Dog started Narding all over everything. Cut half the plot lines from both seasons 6 and 7, and merge them. Show Michale leaving to be with Holly, and the documentary stops filming. Throw in some sort of interview showing Michael agreeing to the show because he thought it would make him famous. The show within the show clearly never materialized. Scene. This was easy.

2.) Lost
Huh, I might have spoken too soon. This one is going to feel like a bit of a hatchet job because I’m going to hatchet the shit out of the first three seasons. The overall plot is still going fine then, but we need to trim the fat. Shannon and Boone, your weird incestuous back story is gone. In fact, Boone, were not going to spend a lot of time on you anyway so your death scene is out. The Tallies get half the screen time, Charles Widmore’s boat never appears, and Jack spends 30% less time telling people what to do while also shouting that he’s not a leader. We do four truncated seasons of 15 episodes. Season 3 does end with Jack telling Kate they have to go back to the island, but Kate tells him to go to hell. Jack goes back to the island, but everyone there is pretty much cool. In fact everyone except Jack is pretty much cool. Jack realized that, much like the Others, he was allowing the “power” portion of the island’s healing powers to corrupt him. He stops trying to fix everything, and just goes home to get on with his life. Hurley continues being awesome throughout.

3.) Dexter
God, this one was so, so close. Up through the end of season 4 is totally fine. And even though it wasn’t always “great” or “believable,” the Trinity Killer was amazing enough to make up for it. And it was a simple fix. Seasons 1 - 4 remain the same. Season 5 would have Deb acting like an actual effing detective, and thinking “Huh, the two women in Dexter’s life have both been attacked by serial killers. What’s up with that?” She realizes over the season he’s a serial killer, and the confrontation leads to Dexter begging her to kill him rather than turn him in because he can’t bear to think about his kids knowing what a monster he is. Deb reluctantly kills her brother, adopts his children, and this never happens. treadmill.gif

4.) True Blood
This is another easy one. It should have been 4 seasons of Pam and Eric being awesome. The end. But if you insist on letting Bill and Sookie be characters, fine. It should still have ended at season 4. That’s right, True Blood, you get sent to bed early with only 48 episodes. You should have been better. At the end of season 4, after boning both Eric and Bill, Sookie has to chose between them. But she pulls the ultimate Kelly Taylor, and chooses herself. Just like she did 3 goddamn seasons later. So cut the Layfette killing Jesus while possessed by Marnie and Debbie shooting Tara in the head plot lines, and just call it a day. Bill become Night Mayor of Bon Temps, Sookie marries some dude, and Eric still does this for some reason:
eric book.jpg

5.) Weeds
Weeds, you don’t get any extra hours like The Office did because you have hurt me the worst of all. So promising, so funny, so genuinely touching at times. What in god’s name happened to you? You get 37 half hour episodes, and that’s it. The plot itself can actually stay the same with some minor changes to the tone. Nancy realizes how grossly she’s been neglecting and endangering her kids, and uses the fires to get out of the drug trade and town. She makes it clear that they’ll use whatever fire insurance money they get to set up legit lives in a less expensive and less superficial town. Because the weed was fine. Agrestic was the danger. She does continue to grow a small, private supply because she’s still a bit of a badass.