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Unlucky 13

by Neena Louise

I've long lamented the television season that yields a paltry 22 first-run episodes of any given series per year (leaving the other 30 weeks rife with reruns and increasingly tasteless reality specials). There is now behind-the-scenes murmuring of reducing the season even further to just 13 first-run episodes per year. That would mean there would only be enough first-run episodes for sweeps weeks and nothing else. The horror.

Network executives and sponsors point to the runaway successes of shows such as the Sopranos, Sex and the City and The Osbournes as "proof" that a 13-episode season would be much better received (and, therefore, more profitable) than the current 22. What they don't seem to understand is that these 13-episode series are GOOD. Sure, the creative powers behind these shows have more time to write good scripts, completely flesh out characters, edit the final shows, etc., but can you just imagine only 13 episodes of any given network show? Perhaps the quality would be slightly better with such a short run, but should such laziness and greed be supported? Why should we have to pay for better quality by sacrificing quantity?

The Powers That Be also seem to be forgetting that the 13-episode success stories are all on cable and satellite and, therefore, have more creative freedom (and laxer censorship guidelines) than The Big Three (ABC, NBC and CBS). Assuming that most people have either cable or satellite (and their choice of 100+ different channels), who would even bother to watch The Big Three if there was only 13 new episodes a year of a series that wasn't very good to begin with? Considering that would leave three-quarters of the year filled with repeats of repeats, heavily-censored theatrical movies or - worst of all - insipid reality "specials", I would guess that not many of us would be tuning in.

The networks having been whining for years about their dwindling viewership (and profits), but seem totally clueless about how to "fix" it. I hardly think hacking the television season down is the way go. Perhaps allowing writers more freedom, ditching their censors and giving new series more time to attract an audience would be a good start. Oh, and here's a thought: listen to what the viewers want. Utter crap like Thieves and Love Cruise should never have seen the light of day.

Long gone are the days of the 36-episode television season (sigh), and the 30-episode season and even the 24-episode season, but THIRTEEN?! That's a miniseries, not a television season and should such a ridiculous scenario ever become reality, we really shouldn't stand for it.
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