Quality or Quantity: Which is More Important

 Television, TV writing  Comments Off on Quality or Quantity: Which is More Important
Feb 252012

Scott D. Parker

I saw this image on Facebook yesterday and it gave me quite the chuckle. I am, like a millions others, an avid Downton Abbey fan and have been since the first episode. The quality of the writing and acting to say nothing of the sumptuous costumes and sets sweep me away to a time I never knew. And the characters! Mr. Bates. Lady Mary. Carson the butler. In the hours I watch these two seasons I am lost to the modern world. Nary a telephone call is received in my house when Downton Abbey airs. Be ye warned.

When I mention “seasons,” we Americans typical think about 20 to 24 hour long episodes. In fact, when one of my favorite shows gets an order for an extra episode or two, I count myself lucky. From September to May, I can count on nearly nine months of new episodes that make an American season of television. Naturally, not every episode is great, but you get a steady dose of your favorite characters each and every week. And, when sweeps months break, you get the “special episodes” which are often very good.

Not so with the British or, at least, the British material I see on this side of the ocean. Be it Prime Suspect, Foyle’s War, or Downton Abbey, the British version of a season is vastly different. Foyle’s War typically was three to five 90-minute episodes, movies really. Same for Prime Suspect. I’m not sure how Downton Abbey was broadcast in England, but here in America, PBS showed the second season over six Sundays, with a couple of evenings showing two hours to the usual one. Where the typical season of CSI: Miami lasts from September to May, we Downton Abbey fans had to content ourselves with a few glorious weeks in the winter of 2012. But oh the quality of the shows!

I would love to profess my love of quality over quantity, but I have to admit that I like both. And it all depends on the show. For something like Castle, CSI: Miami, Grimm, or Body of Proof, I want my morsel each and every week. I like knowing that, for an hour on one of these nights, I can sit back and enjoy some good television. But every now and then, I’ll easily take fewer episodes of a great show like Downton Abbey because everything else about the show makes up for it. (Truth be told, I’d love to see what it’s like to have 24 episodes of Downton just to see if its specialness would be diminished.)

Which way is do you prefer? Do you like the American way of a season (24 episodes, delivered weekly, with sometimes varying quality) or the British method (fewer episodes, greater quality)?