Network television, which is increasingly facing fierce competition from streaming top talent programs and absorbing all the oxygen from the media atmosphere, has already gone through difficult times before the coronavirus pandemic closed in new productions around the world, leaving a 22- and 24-part television series in the air with unfinished seasons and the big seasonal villain still to come. At a time when infection rates are rising rapidly worldwide and many companies are discussing the possibility of continuing to meet face-to-face until the Covid 19 vaccine is ready for distribution, it may be time to rethink network television.
The average network episode consists of 13 or 22 episodes (sometimes more, sometimes less), and many of them – including almost every type of series you can think of – have extensive plots covering the entire season. In recent years, when fans’ favorite series were weighted to 8 or 10 episodes per season in streaming, fans and station managers began to question the need or wisdom of this format.
And now, about a month after the start of the production of several genre programs, The CW and the expected end of their previous seasons, which will probably only be solved now, may require a long and careful look in the mirror.
Eight months ago, most people didn’t think that we would still have to deal with thousands of deaths each week by feeding cows. However, now that we are here, it seems increasingly likely that we will be stuck in this mode for several months, until the FDA can quickly find the coronavirus vaccine and make it widely available.
This means that many people are stuck at home, but also that there is a very real chance that production will be stopped or interrupted, perhaps for a few weeks, as production will continue to follow best practices during the pandemic.
With all this in mind, maybe it’s time to think seriously about going back to the kind of unique stories that were normal on days when everyone could easily record their favorite shows on a DVR or buy them the next morning on Vudu. Gotham and Marvel’s SHIELD agents were able to convince their audience by reducing the long story from more than 20 episodes to 13 or less and having about two to four episodes per season. This allows viewers to enjoy a version of the long story without the risk of feeling that they have invested 18 weeks in it, only to stop it in February and suspend the last four episodes for a few months.
These formats cause certain problems: It’s hard to get guest stars to travel all over the world, so less long stories and more disposable ones are probably a bit of a bottleneck in the cast, because you can’t expect to come back to such a big disaster to edit an episode about every four weeks.
It is also more difficult to keep the public in the investment if there is no full story because the bets seem smaller. It’s a problem that prevents comic book lovers from buying spare parts or whatever happens just before or during a big crossover in which the book is not involved; anything can make you feel drunk or unimportant. Keeping these fans week after week instead of throwing them out of previous seasons – or watching other shows in general – is a challenge that is likely to impede a radical review of the structure of history after VIDOC.
However, these problems can be turned into benefits. By drawing up a more practical digital publishing plan or developing other means of reaching and engaging the public, networks can create user-friendly structures that will be useful to everyone once the pandemic has stopped raging. And while things like police procedures and sitcoms are very different from the genreshows we love today, there are certainly lessons to be learned from those shows when it comes to keeping your audience busy without immersing yourself in pornography based on continuity.
And, of course, some shows will be more appropriate than others. In the first season of tomorrow’s DC Legends, where the seasons are shorter than in other Arrowverse series, there were already many similar stories, which were built into the same arc at the end of the season. It is not a favorite season of the show, but the identity of the show has changed a lot since then, and each season has at least two or three different episodes that turn out to be the favorites of the fans. A show like this seems ideal to turn your season into something that won’t die out as quickly if the numbers continue to grow and production has to be suspended again.