Over the past five to ten years there has been a trend in TV series to contain less episodes per season. The common range on Netflixs or Amazon Prime seems to be 6-10 episodes per season.
This constrasts to the previous time where it was usual for a season to contain 24 episodes with occasional half length series containing 13 episodes.
While I have no evidence I put this down to changes in the way people consume media. It is more usual to stream a whole season over a period of a week rather than watching one episode a week and taking around half a year to watch a season.
I also suspect that scheduling on broadcast television was easier if a season had a certain number of episodes and a certain duration. This is not a factor for streaming services. Again no evidence.
Finally I suspect that streaming services have desire to make a season containing fewer episodes. That is their goal is to get new people to susbscribe and to do that they need to generate hype and the feeling of missing out. From this point of view I suspect that making 3 difference seasons with 8 episodes works better as you get 3 periods of hype. It may also acts migitage finacial risk. Again no evidence - just conjecture.
A steady stream of new seasons of old favorites or new programes is probably more effective than longer seasons at keeping you suscribed.
This change has effected story telling in both positive and negative ways.
More experimentation. Acceptance of shorter seasons allows more risks to be taken and that means more niche or experimental stuff get made. Although with increased data on viewing habits that is not something that is guarenteed to continue.
Less time with the characters. Increased reliance on sterotypes and less minor story arcs are possible. At the moment we are watching Game of Thrones and it is fair to say that parts feel rushed and while I am not sure 24 episodes per season would be ideal, perhaps 16 episodes per season would had allowed for better development of the characters. Spending more time with the characters would increase the emotional impact when a death occurs.
Binge watching inhibits certain story telling. If over a period of a few episodes you want a character to become dependent on alcohol it is easier to do if they are spaced a week apart to give a feeling of time passed.
One the other hand the ability to binge watch means the writers are freed from having to end each episode on a cliff hanger to ensure you tune in next time! This probably frees up time in the episode to counter some of the negative points I have mentioned.
Time spent with the series
Most of what is written above is talked about elsewhere but I wanted to touch on the way you “live” with a series depends on how you view it. Ok I could not think of a better word than “live”. Suggestions welcome.
And this leads me to Person of Interest. We first started watching it when it first came out on boardcast TV. I think it was the last series that we watched/discovered on boradcast TV. In fact we missed the final two season when they were broadcast, instead we watch the 4th on Netflix and eventually brought the boxed set to get hold of the 5th season.
Having the boxed set opened up the opportunity to rewatch them with our oldest child. He was pretty young when he we started but loved the series. We would watch perhaps one episode a week but often skipped a week or two for various reasons. By the time we finished the 4th season it have been a few years of watching. The younger two children were now old enough to watch it. So we start again, telling the oldest child we could watch the final season as a whole familiy as none of use had seen it.
The oldest child while not happy eventually joined the other two in watching the earlier series, and really enjoyed them all again as it was not older which brought greater understanding of some of the ideas. It helps that it is well written and produced so you notice things you miss the first time round. The combination of good characters, near SciFi and action made it a hit with all the children.
Finally we get to the final series and as a family we watch it. It was a great hit and for once a series that had a satisfying ending. The oldest child annouces he has been watching Person of Interest for a significant part of his life and is saddened by the ending. The other two felt similarly although were not so vested.
We came up with the idea of watching the pilot episode before watching the very last episode. While for some series this wouldn’t work well with Person of Interest it fitted brilliantly. The hints at things to come really set up the series finale.
I suspect if we had binged watched it in a few months the emotional impact of the series would not have been there. The feeling of a friendship with the characters would not developed quite so much.
So if you are a parent and can find a series that appeals to the family then a slow watch over a couple of years is a really nice gift to them. Memories are formed from the joint experience of watching it that will probably last a lifetime for them. Plus if you watch Person of Interest you can have great conversations about AI, tech and hackers.
I should warn if you are reading this a decade after it was published then Person of Interest may have dated somewhat as it is a near SciFi police procedural story, I suspect/hope it will remain a good watch due to the good writing of the characters.
So while I don’t think shorter series are a bad thing we are losing the ability to create certain experiences.