What is the Ideal Episode Length?

Theo Howe 28 November 2016

Serials have been around for a very long time – from Dickens’ and Dumas’ novels and 1930s radio plays to The Wheel of Time and Netflix, people have consumed stories in a continuous format for centuries. The precise form that popular serials take tends to reflect the society the content is created in. Today’s world demands constant movement and competition, and the stories we consume should respond to that.

For me, the ideal length of a shot of escapism depends on the total number of hours I am expected to waste on the show. There is simply not enough time as a student for 90s or noughties style 23-episode arcs. Many a TV show, from Charmed (which is finally on Netflix – I can feel like I’m 10 again!) and Once Upon a Time (hardly watchable by now, but I’ve committed to it) to The Vampire Diaries (a guilty pleasure) and Elementary (in my opinion, the best recent revival of the Holmes story) would benefit from being cut by half.

The rise of streaming services should spell the eventual death of the filler episode, and I only wish this change would come sooner rather than later. A perfect series would be between ten and thirteen episodes. The length of the episode itself matters less, but is also important: although Netflix makes it very easy to just stop an episode whenever and come back to it later, it's always tempting to watch in one go. And squeezing in an hour long episode just isn't really feasible.

If it’s a ten episode series, and especially if it doesn’t come out all at once, I am happy to tolerate 50-55 minutes per week. If I am expected to sit through 12 or 13 of them, and especially if they are all temptingly dumped on me at once, I would greatly appreciate not spending more than 40-45 minutes on each individual one The less temptation, the better. And no adverts!