In this edition of Ask Andy, questions about one of my favorite competition shows of all time, The Great Pottery Throw Down, and about the TV industry’s trend toward shorter seasons.
Have a question? Ask me!
What’s up with finales in January?
Why are some TV shows having season finales in January? So used to season finales in May! —Karen
The basic trend in scripted TV has been toward shorter seasons: six, eight, maybe 10 or 12 episodes.
Contrast that with the old model, where sitcoms and dramas would crank out well over 20 episodes every year.
- In the 1980s and 1990s, The Golden Girls had 25 or 26 episodes for each of its seven seasons; in the 2000s, CSI had 23 to 25 episodes for each of its first seven seasons.
- Jump forward to the mid-2010s, and The Handmaid’s Tale had 10 to 13 episodes per season, while The Blacklist was airing 22 episodes a year at the same time.
- Last year, Bridgerton had just eight episodes; Squid Game had 9.
There are exceptions and lots of variation, but that’s the general trend.
One of the shows you mentioned to me, The Resident, had 22 episodes in the 2021-2022 season, but it was renewed for just 13 episodes for the 2022 season. Its creator, Amy Holden Jones, tweeted that 13 is “the new normal for many shows.”
Shorter seasons means they cannot span the entire TV season, but instead make way for other shows.
There are many reasons for this trend, from budgets to the way some shows tell one story across multiple episodes, rather than standalone episodes. It’s also less of a risk for a network to order 10 episodes than 20+.
Back in 2015, Vulture‘s Joe Adalian wrote about how “10 Episodes Is the New 13 (Was the New 22),” and noted that this is “just a continuation of a decades-old trend in television: As the quality of programming has improved, seasons have shrunk.”
He breaks down some of the reasons, including shorter seasons being able to attract bigger stars and how the number of episodes matters less for streaming.
I’ll give unscripted TV some credit here. Long before scripted shows started with their shorter seasons, Survivor: Borneo shattered ratings records with a 13-episode summer show.
While two seasons of Survivor still add up to 26 episodes a year, they’re distinct entities, and helped get people used to the idea that stories could be told over 13 episodes instead of 26. And of course, most competition reality TV follows that model. That said, shows like Guy’s Grocery Games with distinct, separate episodes produce more of them.
Ultimately, it seems like there’s more room these days to produce a show with the length of episodes necessary to tell that story—though there are also plenty of shows that are far too bloated!
Where are The Great Pottery Throw Down seasons 4 and 5?
I am obsessed with two of the Great British showdown shows: Throwdown (the pottery one) and Sewing Bee (the, um, sewing one). Do you have any intel on when season four of Throwdown will come to HBOMax? And do you know if anyone is planning to pick up Sewing Bee? Thanks! —Adrienne
The good news, Adrienne, is that since you asked this, HBO Max has added both The Great Potter Throw Down season four and The Great Potter Throw Down season five in April of 2022. Yay!
Considering HBO Max has also been purging shows from its library, both originals and licensed shows, I’m so glad this show remains: it’s absolutely wonderful, and in many ways eclipses more recent seasons of The Great British Bake-Off for me.
That means seasons 1 to 5 are now and still available in the U.S. If you’re new to it, you have a treat waiting for you! Season 6 just started airing in the U.K., so we’re not really behind in the U.S.!
As to The Great British Sewing Bee, there are now eight seasons of it. Somehow they’ve not yet come to the U.S.
I expected HBO Max might bring it next, and while I asked them a while ago, I haven’t heard back (though its parent company is, uh, a bit of a mess right now!).
The Great British Sewing Bee seems like a perfect opportunity for another streaming service, network, or platform—maybe PBS, which first brought The Great British Bake-Off to the United States.
Licensing isn’t cheap, but it’s also not as expensive as developing and producing a show from scratch, and it’s certainly less of a risk to license a popular show. Sure, American audiences might not adore it like British audiences do.
Decider’s Meghan O’Keefe suggested that the pop music used in The Great British Sewing Bee could present a particular problem, and thus “cost of the music rights might be the issue.” Replacing music is possible, but that’s not as easy as just rebroadcasting a show.
Or maybe network executives think Americans just don’t care about sewing. Well, we care about baking in a tent and pottery with tears, so I think it’d find an audience.
Until it makes its way stateside, there are several Great British Sewing Bee books that might help tide you over, not that reading is the same stimulating experience as watching reality TV!