Is This What the Future of TV Looks Like?

How long is an episode of a TV show?

Image credit: Wired

If you’re like me, your mental image of a TV show is 30-60 minutes (or 21-42 minutes if you have a TiVo). That’s just the way it is, and how it has been for a long time as the result of network and cable programming.

Because of this structure, if you write for TV, your scripts are almost always the exact same length. You have a target, and you know that the show will probably be edited down to that 21- or 42-minute constraint.

But what if that wasn’t a constraint? What if sometimes New Girl is 21 minutes, while other times it’s 15 minutes or 34 minutes or 47 minutes, depending on what’s best for the story you’re trying to tell? We’ve seen this a little big on HBO, which isn’t confined by ads.

Netflix, however, has now shown us that TV shows have the potential to be exactly as long as the need to be. This article on Slashfilm talks about a recent Netflix show, The OA, that has episodes ranging from 30 minutes to 71 minutes (though most are around 50 minutes).

I absolutely love this, especially the idea that some episodes simply have a shorter story arc than others. Rather than add a bunch of filler and subplots to fill the time, those episodes simply are shorter. That’s brilliant. And I like the opposite too–sometimes you just need extra time to tell this week’s story.

I think it’s somewhat inevitable that more and more TV will be delivered in formats that give writers and directors more flexibility, and I’m excited about what that means for the future of TV. How do you feel about it?