TV Shows Should Be Shorter: A Manifesto | Gradient

TV shows should be shorter: a manifesto.

shorter tv

Over the past few months, three TV shows have been released to widespread interest: HBO’s twisty prison drama The Night Of; Netflix’s audacious love letter to rap / rap letter to love The Get Down; and the spooky sugar rush of ’80s sci-fi nostalgia Stranger Things. These shows are varying degrees of good, and we’ve covered them at length on this site, but there is one way in which they all suffer (though, as we’ll see, Stranger Things suffers the least).

They are too damn long.

It’s not fair to point the finger at these three shows in particular, but since they’re the ones in the zeitgeist right now, let’s break it down. The Night Of ‘s pilot episode is over 80 minutes long. Stranger Things averaged around 50 minutes per episode. The Get Down’s pilot came in at a brain-melting 93 minutes. For a television show!

My friends, this should not be.

There are those who say the TV shows are the new movies. Do not listen to these idiots. True, the lines between cinema and television grow ever blurrier in the post-Sopranos age. Marvel and Star Wars are serializing their movies like television shows while HBO and AMC eye a-list movie stars for their TV shows. But the one thing that sets television apart from movies; the feather it will forever be able to set in its cap, is convenience. It’s manageable in a way movies are not. The commitment level is low. Even if a show is only pretty good — like, say, Jane the Virgin or The Path — you still watch it because you can! It costs you literally nothing. Movies, be they good, bad or somewhere in between, cost you money and time. Movies are demanding. Movies are risky. It’s easy to watch TV.

Or it used to be. There is nothing easy about The Get Down. I have a full-time job, hobbies, a dog, downloaded podcasts, and even a few friends I like to see now and then. I have a wife. I am interested in Baz Luhrmann’s exploration of 1977 New York City, but I do not have endless hours to devote to his mission. Likewise, I am hooked on The Night Of, but I am overwhelmed by the time investment. And that’s to say nothing of Mr. Robot. When am I going to watch that?

There is too much television for any one person to consume. That is beyond contention. But it’d be a lot easier to consume it if every show wasn’t narcissistically hellbent on sucking my entire evening away with one episode. TV should be shorter. TV must be shorter. This is the only way it can be sustainable. This is the only way I can sustain my own life.

At around 50 minutes per episode, Stranger Things isn’t much better, but that extra ten minutes stacks up over the course of the season. There are eight episode in the first season of Stranger Things. That’s eighty minutes I’ve saved by watching Stranger Things and not The Night Of. That’s almost an entire The Get Down pilot!

And then the world of sitcoms, perhaps the only genre that still understands what television is supposed to be. Each episode of You’re the Worst clocks in at about 23 minutes. New Girl episodes come in at 21 minutes. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None rarely broke 30 minutes. It’s a blessing. These are beloved, popular, critically acclaimed shows and you can watch an episode in the time it takes Postmates to deliver your ramen. You can watch a season on a lazy Sunday if you’re so inclined. Watching a whole season of The Night Of would require canceling your weekend plans, calling in sick and perhaps a leave of absence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Great television has been short. Great television continues to be short. The only thing keeping more great television from being short is the bloated hubris of starry-eyed content creators who will go to their cocaine-fueled deaths insisting that less is LESS. If TV was shorter, more people could watch it. Parents wouldn’t have to hire a babysitter just to watch a television show. Teenagers would watch more television in between Snapchats and sexting. President Obama would probably watch TV if it was shorter. You think the President has time to watch The Get Down pilot? Of course not. Maybe he would if it was shorter, which it should be. Which all television should be.

We are living in the late-era golden age of television in which every season brings a slew of must-see TV, but nobody can see it if it’s too long. Limitations breed creativity, and TV needs to limit itself. It will be good for television and good for viewers. It is the obvious way forward. The next era of great television depends on it. The only question is whether or not the gatekeepers will heed the call.

New Pod Flow: Sounds Good With Branden Harvey “Jason Russell”


Jason is the cofounder of the iconic non-profit Invisible Children which was founded to increase awareness of the horrendous activities of the LRA in Central Africa. Jason was also the director of the iconic Kony 2012 film that took the world by storm. In this two-part interview Jason and Branden talk about what it means to create a movement, what Jason experienced during his breakdown and subsequent recovery, and Jason’s experience in the world of theater.

New Pod Flow: Animalators, “ Aharon Rabinowitz”


Aharon Rabinowitz is the head of marketing for Red Giant based in New York City. During our conversation, we discussed the importance of work life balance, his start as a production intern at Sesame Street and why artist’s feel personally offended when you reject their work.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 040


United gets their cheap on, fake news, and Trump hired who?

New Pod Flow: Scribble & Jam, “Artist Matthew Perryman Jones”


Welcome to Episode IV. This week, Dan spends some time with his favorite singer/songwriter, Matthew Perryman Jones. Matthew and Dan talk about panic attacks, growing up in Atlanta, the way music is informed by pain and suffering and the way music gives freedom.

If you have spent any time watching television in the last decade you have most likely heard one of Mattew’s songs on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill and many others. His insightful writing and voice have drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and he is on the short list of songwriters who skillfully weave the deeply philosophical and the vivid utterly human without ever losing sight of either.

To get his new album Cold Answer, (which features the three songs from him you heard on this episode), visit

Subscribe on iTunes.

New Pod Flow: Sounds Good With Branden Harvey “Next Steps After the Presidential Election”


Branden sits down with writer and speaker Tyler Huckabee days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States to talk about empathy, justice, listening, and where we go from here.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 039


Special Election Edition, President Trump to legalized weed and everything in between.

This week we reflect on the election and discuss our strategies for staying sane.

New Pod Flow: Animalators, “Illo


Luca and Ilenia are the founders of Illo, a studio based in Turin, Italy.  During our conversation, we discussed their self-driving video bot named Algo, how Illo was formed and how they’ve crafted a unique office culture.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 038


This week we discuss Beyonce’s night at the CMAs, last minute election plans and how SNL might save us all.

Subscribe on iTunes and Stitcher.

New Pod Flow: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Podcast: Doctor Strange


We appreciate everyone sticking with us through this long hiatus but are planning our return even as we speak, with a bunch of new goodies and an updated format. In the meantime, here’s a brief primer on Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange — just so you can go into the movie knowing what you’re getting yourself into.