Ideal Lifespan

Here’s a little reader’s poll for you. Many successful TV shows like _Buffy, the Vampire Slayer_, _Stargate SG-1_, and _Alias_ have fun for 5+ seasons. _Buffy_ ran for seven seasons, _SG-1_ ran for 10, and _Alias_ – well, I never watched the show so I don’t really know exactly. Now, _Battlestar Galactica_ is scheduled to end after its fourth season, and “a comment has been made”: that maybe the show should have and could have ended successfully after three.

What do you think is the ideal lifespan for a successful TV series (any genre). Is seven seasons too long? Three seasons too short? Five seasons just right? I’m curious to see how people weigh in on this topic.

4 thoughts on “Ideal Lifespan”

  1. I think that for most good shows either the creators themselves lose steam or interest (BSG’s 3rd season, IMHO), or the networks F things up and cancel something too early (ie, Firefly).

    I for one thought all 7 seasons of Buffy were brilliant and would probably still be watching it if it were still running, but I am a Joss Whedon junkie and therefore cannot be trusted.

    Even Russel T. Davies of Dr. Who fame has publicly said he’s done after 4 seasons. It will be interesting to see if Dr. Who stays as good as it has been once he’s gone.

    Get out while the getting is good, I say: leave them wanting more. Five seasons is a good spot to stop assuming your show hasn’t degenerated to a ratings-loser and you are still on top.

    Just my 2 cents…


  2. As long as they can sustain the series without getting too far from the template. What is the template? The template consists of the core hooks and focus that drew people to the show in the first place.

    Battlestar is about a ragtag fleet of ships containing the last human survivors, fleeing the cylons who are hell bent on the destruction of humanity.

    New Caprica is where the show went downhill, because that conflict of escape and looking for Earth hit a serious stalemate. With the humans captured, and seemed to be permanently grounded, the series was no longer about space survival and escape. It became about prisoner camps and prison camp politics, in addition to more… domestic conflicts.

    Thankfully, Stargate SG-1 never strays too far from gate travel and exploration, so I think they’ve stayed true although obviously fans may take issue with some of the things they decided to do. I know some people who don’t like the whole spiritual ascension track, etc. But I think overall they’ve done a good job. Atlantis on the other hand, while I enjoy it, dangerously straddles that line of violating template and why a spinoff series can be difficult to manage. It is no longer really Stargate, as the focus of many episodes center around the city and gate travel takes somewhat of a backseat to other features of the series. I can’t really think of a solution to solve that problem, it’s the inherent problem in doing a spinoff.

    So long story short, however long they can successfully maintain the show’s template is how long a series can endure. I guarantee if you look where certain shows lost their footing, it was inevitably a violation of the template in some fashion.

  3. I think the main consideration should be plot development (or, in a character study, character development). I know sometimes the company cuts a show before it’s really finished, but I think in an ideal situation, the entire show should have a workable plot and when the plot is finished, so is the show. This may be different time spans for different shows, obviously. The way I see it, TV series, movie series, and book series have a lot in common – some are very coherent and obviously fit together showing careful thought and the series isn’t a “totality” without all of them. For others, the first few books/seasons are good, but then it gets “popular” and drags on too long after it was really finished. And then the third kind (the “why waste my time?” kind) start off with something half-way decent for a single book/movie/season/episode, but then tell the SAME story over and over and over without really progressing or changing the plot much, just adjusting the setting. Why make a sequel if you don’t have anything new to say?

    In most cases, I would say three or four is a good number for a series. If you get longer than that (unless you tread very carefully) you run into the danger of becoming repetitive and meaningless. Sometimes, when a series is either planned or at least executed with care, you can pull off something longer. Definitely no more than seven, though. And if you are trying to depict something that happens in real-life, don’t go longer than it would normally last. (What’s up with MASH lasting 11 years when the Korean War only lasted for 3?)

  4. I agree, Mandie – I think the ideal lifespan of a show (or book series) is however long it needs to be to tell the story. And if that means running for only three seasons or for ten, I’m fine with either. Just make sure the story is still good and interesting. As soon as it starts repeating itself, though, that’s the time to fold the whole thing up and move on to the next project.

Have anything to add to the conversation?