Are We Doing TV Wrong?


I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I saw the pilot episode, I loved the pilot episode, but for the first two seasons of the show I didn’t have AMC on my cable package, and by the time I did it made more sense to wait for it to all wrap up so I wouldn’t have to deal with the most infamous feature of the show.

The waits.

The long long looooong waits.

Breaking Bad debuted on January 20, 2008. It’s 62nd and final episode will air on September 29, 2013. That’s 2,079 days between debut and finale, or an average wait of 34 days per episode. It aired in fits and starts, running in seven, thirteen, or eight episode chunks, with fans waiting as long as 399 days between seasons three and four.

Compare that to The X-Files. 202 episodes over 3,173 days, an average wait for 15.8 days per episode. One off season was even bridged by a movie. If Chris Carter and company had given us those 202 episodes at the same rate as Breaking Bad, the series finale would have aired sometime in November of 2012. Deep Space Nine would have run until 2009. Lost would still be running until 2015, Fringe until 2017.

It’s perhaps not fair to compare cable and network television here. Cable runs by different rules. Shorter seasons, longer off seasons, it’s the expectation. However, Breaking Bad is still an outlier. Thus far fans of The Walking Dead have waited 26 days per episode, and Mad Men fans have waited 28 days per new episode. Dexter, also ending soon, 27 days.

All of these cable dates tend to float right around a magic number. On average the fan of these major cable series have waited one month per episode. Which leads me to wonder: what if a series aired one episode a month? Reliably. Every month. No off-season. From episode one until the series finale. It means that fans would have to wait for every episode, but would never put up with waits of over one year, which both Breaking Bad and Mad Men have put their fans through.

It probably wouldn’t work with production schedules, but I’m curious about this from a theoretical point of view. Would you watch a show that gave you one hour of content, reliably, the same time every month?¬† Perhaps as a two hour block paired with the previous month’s episode. Perhaps a cable network that provided a genre per night of the week. Four dramas rotating on Mondays, four SFF shows rotating on Wednesdays. Is monthly television inherently more arbitrary than weekly television, especially when many cable shows are doing it on average already? Is that run of 13 straight weeks worth the long wait between seasons? Would plotlines be harder to follow? Would it be harder to get into a new series this way?

I don’t necessarily have answers for these, though I’m curious about opinions.

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