The Era of Neverending Television

How season-hungry showrunners are driving modern TV into the ground.


Grey’s Anatomy is arguably one of the biggest offenders, currently totaling 18 seasons.

Law and Order: SVU. Grey’s Anatomy. NCIS. What do all of these TV shows have in common? Aside from being staples of American pop culture, these three shows currently have 15 or more seasons, and two out of the three are still running to this day. The current television trend heavily favors shows that run for as long as physically possible, but is this really what’s best for the industry?


To preface, the three shows listed above are procedurals, and these shows tend to suffer the least from this trend. Procedurals can and will be replicated ad nauseum, but their structure makes this effect less dramatic than on a story-based show. While procedurals often have overarching storylines, their base format is still a “story-of-the-week” plotline, where most individual episodes won’t affect the others in a significant way. The nature of shows about law enforcement is that there are near-infinite storylines to choose from. 


The one pitfall that can harm long-running procedurals, however, is power creep. Power creep is a video game term that’s used to describe when new content grows more and more powerful, rendering old characters or features obsolete. Although not technically the same thing, this phrase can be applied to procedural TV as well. Many a procedural will keep heightening the stakes and eventually hit a peak where nothing else can go wrong. How do you top a nuclear episode? A plane crash? The main character being saved within an inch of their life? Shows can attempt to subvert this by making stories more character-driven or being more creative with plotlines, but more often than not this just makes some episodes feel dry and boring compared to the high-stakes episodes in the past. As a whole, however, procedurals and “monster-of-the-week” shows suffer the least from the growing trend of unending seasons. Their problems are nothing compared to what happens to shows with more linear storylines. 


Riverdale, which probably should’ve ended around season 3, is continuing its run onto seasons 5 and 6.

We’ve all watched them. Riverdale. Scandal. Glee. It happens in every genre of TV, where showrunners let a show run for far longer than necessary. Some shows can sustain 10+, but the majority start to fall off around the season 4 mark, for a variety of reasons. Riverdale, for example. This CW spinoff of the classic Archie Comics cast was met with glowing reviews after its first season, with Rotten Tomatoes calling it “an amusingly self-aware reimagining of its classic source material.” By season 2 the storylines had become more complex and began to enter into the realm of the unrealistic, but the show was still amusing and interesting to follow. Season 3, however, was the last straw. The show struggled on all fronts: the acting was subpar at best, plotlines were too complex to realistically follow, and the story grew increasingly bizarre. Riverdale really should have stopped at the 2-season mark, but the show is still running, and has been renewed until at least its 7th season.


Like everyone, I’m guilty of falling into this trap as well. Every time a season of The Librarians or Motherland: Fort Salem ends, I rush to see if it’s been renewed, even when I know the next season won’t live up to the show’s past glory. It’s hard to let your favorite show go, but it’s often for the best. Shows with set season counts from the beginning are often far more organized and enjoyable than those who just run on forever. 


From the showrunners angle, it’s understandable. Shows with higher viewership bring in more money and therefore are continued. Even “bad” shows like Riverdale have loving audiences and cult followings, and because of their controversial nature garner more attention. The trend of favoring revenue over artistic merit is one that is not constrained to the film and TV industry, but it is still concerning. Is the future of the TV industry one of thirty-season shows and overwhelming mediocrity? Likely not, but every new, underwhelming, increasingly complex season of Grey’s or The Blacklist brings us closer to that unfortunate conclusion.