Is it time to rethink the TV ‘season’ concept?
With Battlestar Galactica returning to finish up its fourth and final season soon, I’ve been thinking again about the concept of a television “season” and what it means. This is mostly an academic question, as it ultimately doesn’t have any huge significance, but it’s something that I’ve been pondering lately.
BSG might just have the most protracted ending in the history of television, with the obvious exception of The Sopranos. In March 2007, when BSG season three ended and it was announced that season four would be the final season, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where we would be heading into 2009 and the show still wasn’t over. Think about it: When Battlestar airs its final episode, presumably in late March, it will have been two full years since the previous “season” ended.
Of course, part of that might have been the writers strike. But most of it was Sci Fi wanting to hold onto a critically lauded asset as long as it possibly could, and have blocks of episodes sitting around to air when it thought made the most sense for the network, advantageously speaking.
All of that is fine and good — I’m not slamming it, even though BSG‘s fans have had to be mighty patient in watching their show’s ending unfold. But it does make me wonder how on earth this can be considered a single “season,” with half of it airing in 2008, and the other half in 2009, nearly a full year apart, and with hiatuses existing not simply in the air dates, but also built into the production schedule of the show itself.
The other thing I look at when wondering about this is the DVD box sets. BSG will be releasing “season 4.0” on DVD in January before “season 4.5” starts up. Again, given the long layoff between the seasons, this makes sense for the network. But I would argue that at this point all pretenses should be dropped and season four should just be a 10-episode block of its own with its own DVD set, and what they’re calling “season 4.5” should just be called “season five.” Why not? Especially when you look at the story structure of the show: “Revelations,” the season 4.0 finale, had the structure and impact of a season finale. Why not just call it the season four finale and be done with it, and pick up the next batch of shows as the next season? Why is every BSG season (except the first) conceived as two acts?
The Sopranos did the same thing with its final season. It aired season six in two blocks — of 12 and nine episodes — and then released two separate DVD sets. At that point, why not just call them seasons six and seven? Why should I have seven DVD sets for six seasons of The Sopranos? And why should I have six DVD sets for four seasons of Battlestar?
With the way cable series orders go, with 10 or 12 or 13 episodes being the typical norm, BSG could easily have justified calling its 20- or 21-episode fourth season two separate seasons. I point to the just-finished The Shield as proof of just that: It took its 21-episode fifth season and then, realizing it would hold the second half for a year, simply renamed that second half of season five as season six. And then it finished everything off with a seventh season.
Is this even worth as many words as I’ve devoted to it? Probably not. But I’m thinking that the way cable series work — with fewer episodes per season and longer layoffs between seasons — why cling to this notion that a season must be a set number of episodes under some original plan? Certainly in BSG‘s case, which isn’t fooling anybody in the way these episodes are scheduled and aired, why not just rename the episode blocks? Then you can say your show went for at least as many seasons as actual episode blocks your audience had to wait for.