The reasons why two-hour reality show episodes exist

Bloated, expanded reality show episodes and results shows may irritate almost everyone, but they’ve also become the norm because they work.

One network executive anonymously (surprise) told TV Guide that two-hour shows “a big commitment, and they are so unbelievably padded with crap. At the beginning of the TV season people may go, ‘There are things I want to check out (rather than) watching this for two hours.” A producer for either Dancing with the Stars or The Biggest Loser said, “Two seasons ago we started talking about pulling back to an hour, but no one wants to do it.”

Why not? There are multiple reasons, as TV Guide details in its report: “viewers are still more likely to stick around than if the credits roll and another show comes on”; “audiences build throughout the evening, making that last half hour the most valuable”; “costs can be amortized over two hours,” meaning it’s far cheaper to produce a second hour than another, separate hour of television; and “talent and producers love the two-hour episodes because most of them get paid by the hour — and this essentially doubles their salary”; and “two-hour shows at least allow producers a chance to use more of that footage” they have already filmed.

One other factor that occurred to me: Sometimes a two-hour episode actually does work, especially for someone engaged by a particular show. I cannot stand to sit through two hours of feet-dragging during The Biggest Loser, but I barely notice that The Celebrity Apprentice is two hours long. That’s in no small part because Apprentice doesn’t kill as much time, but it’s also because I’m far more engaged by what I’m watching.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.