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Episodes: Common lengths for TV seasons, ranked


Emily VanDerWerff

Feb 04 2017

3 min read


One of the big debates we're having in the TV world right now is how many episodes is too many episodes. More and more networks are going to 10 episodes, with a few hanging on at 12 or 13. And the broadcast networks continue to make as many as 24 episodes.

But how long is too long? Which season length is best? Aren't you glad I'm here to tell you?

1) 12-13 episodes: These are basically interchangeable now, and I know that a lot of people are starting to feel like this is too bulky, due to Netflix's constant abuse of the form. But, honestly, if you've seen Netflix's 8 and 10 episode order shows, you know they're just as prone to being hyper-extended. Making 12 or 13 episodes usually means you have a few extra hours to play around with, say, a character-specific hour, or a weird standalone episode. And it also means you can make episode 6 or 7 a hinge episode, with everything building toward, then falling away from it. This allows maximum flexibility while also not exhausting everybody involved.

2) 10 episodes: This is probably the best length if you're going to do something really hardcore serialized, with a more traditional three- or five-act structure. It often leads to shows that are a little too plot-driven, but many of my favorite shows of the last few years are 10 episode seasons.

3) 22 episodes: Long live 22! The 22 episode season will inevitably lead to a handful of episodes that aren't as sharp, but I love the room for storytelling experimentation it allows for. I miss when 22-episode shows would just throw caution to the wind.

4) 18 episodes: This is a little underrated, I think. Much of the freedom of 22, but with the ability to do smaller arcs within the whole. This tends to be a really good length for comedies, which strikes me as weird.

5) 8 episodes: This often leaves me wanting a little more, and it's rough if you want to do really detailed character development. But if you just want to haul ass through a fun plot, this is the best number of episodes to do.

6) 24 episodes or more: A season at this length that features, say, 20 good episodes can often feel like a miracle. Very few shows do this many episodes any more, but boy, I love when a good one arrives out of the blue.

7) 6 episodes: I'm not a big fan of this number, which often ends up way too constrained. It's good for smaller stories -- especially if you have one or two main characters and then a strong supporting group -- but shows like this often seem to end just before they're starting.

8) 15-16 episodes: These usually end up feeling super formless, or maybe I just feel that way because of The Walking Dead.

9) 3 episodes: Get out of here, Sherlock.

Aren't you glad to know that I've answered this question for you?


Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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