CBS defends loooooong seasons for TV dramas

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Who has time for 22 episodes nowadays?

With all the high-quality TV dramas to choose from, both currently on the air and the older titles stacking up in our Netflix queues (hey, let’s binge Oz!), does anybody really want nearly two dozen hours of any drama series every year?

CBS sure does. Though the broadcaster experimented with cable-like shorter order seasons last year for Under the Dome and Hostages, the full-season 22-episode order remains the standard on the network.

At CBS’ Television Critics Association press tour session in Pasadena on Wednesday, we asked the network’s entertainment president Nina Tassler about a rival’s comment made earlier in the week criticizing the format. Fox’s chairman Kevin Reilly said he agrees with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, who declared while¬†pitching critics his new HBO drama The Leftovers that “when you slow the conveyor belt down, the quality tends to go up.” Fewer episodes per season = higher quality. We pointed out to Tassler that fewer episodes does indeed seem to boost a show’s perceived value, given how cable tends to dominate the drama categories during awards season.

Tassler pointed to the critical acclaim of CBS’ The Good Wife this season and the overall popularity of Person of Interest as full-season shows with varying degrees of serialization that are exhibiting success. “I think it’s definitely harder to do 22 episodes a year, there’s no doubt about it,” Tassler said. “But I think the bottom line is — and I talk about this all the time to other creatives — yes, it is harder, yes, it is challenging. But when somebody has the goods, when you’ve got a great writer, they’ve got to make decisions in a pressurized situation, [and] they’re going to make the right and best decisions, period.”

As for Lindelof, Tassler shot back: “I want to hear Damon Lindelof complain about broadcast when he goes to the bank to cash his Lost checks.”

Oh, if only Lindelof were still on Twitter! Though Tassler’s barb was a funny one, readers pointed out below that Lost isn’t the best example of full-season broadcast triumph given that Lindelof and fellow executive producer Carlton Cuse were in favor of shorter orders, especially after the much-maligned third season. Seasons 4-6 were actually reduced runs (between 14 and 18 hours), especially when compared to the 25-hour first season, and fans generally thought the show improved.

On a later panel, Elementary showrunner Rob Doherty noted doing more episodes is harder, yet said he was up to the task. “Your order is your order,” he said. “You have an obligation. If it’s 24, we find 24 good stories. It’s hard. I think part of it is not looking too far ahead and not panicking if production is about to start up and you only have three solid stories. We’d all love to have 10 but you just have to set them up and knock them down one at a time. I dare say it worked out last year and it’s been a relatively smooth process for us this year.”

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