More and more, broadcast TV is embracing the concept of the split TV season.
It’s an old trend for basic cable. Especially with serialized dramas, having lots of reruns during a season can be disruptive. So networks would split a season into two distinct chunks. Typically, a gap of at least a couple months would exist between the two halves of a split season.
That practice was easier for cable networks. Those outlets haven’t tended to observe the traditional TV season. And they often put less emphasis on the “sweeps” periods that are important to measuring ratings performance for the benefit of advertisers.
A mid-season break isn’t a new concept for broadcast. For the past couple decades, networks have positioned late November/early December episodes of their serialized dramas as “winter” or “fall” finales. It was an excuse to take advantage of the ratings spikes often seen for episodes labeled as finales and premieres. In the past, those breaks tended to be shorter, usually just a few weeks over the holidays before new episodes cranked up in early January.
But with changing viewership patterns thanks to cable and streaming, broadcast networks are under more pressure to have as much new content year-round as possible. That means that long stretches of schedules dominated by re-runs won’t fly.
ABC has been in the forefront of championing the split season in the past couple years. ABC has tended to rely more heavily on serialized dramas than some of its competitors. The momentum drag of re-runs was a concern. So ABC began implementing breaks of two to three months that split seasons for its high profile dramas in half.
FOX, NBC and The CW have jumped on the split season trend to different extents. CBS, which tends to focus on procedural dramas that don’t suffer as much from re-runs and pre-emptions, has been slower to embrace the concept.
Split seasons necessitate “bridge” programming. The proliferation of inexpensive reality shows and the return from the dead of the mini-series have given networks short-term options to keep time slots warm until the back halves of seasons unspool.
The split season seems like a benefit for fans that still watch most programs the old school way. The season split gives them continuous runs of episodes, providing more narrative impact. For viewers that tend to stockpile episodes, the split season gives them some breathing room to catch up during the season.
Another benefit is the encouragement networks have to experiment with short-form programming. That leads to offbeat gems like ABC’s Galavant. It’s also led to a resurgence of the anthology series, an ideal fit for a short run. Limited run revivals of old favorites are also emerging as an option (like the upcoming X-Files).
The split season is another example of the rapidly changing TV environment and the gradual evolution of traditional networks as they respond to the pressures of cable and streaming.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on December 1, 2015.