Documentary

Hitting the Mark: Is it still possible to reach the 100-episode milestone?

For more than 60 years, the threshold of 100 episodes has been a major milestone for TV series, signaling a show’s longevity and popularity. The mark has long been seen ...
June 9, 2022

For more than 60 years, the threshold of 100 episodes has been a major milestone for TV series, signaling a show’s longevity and popularity. The mark has long been seen as important for a series to have enough content to rerun episodes in syndication. But it’s also a signal of a series successfully finding an audience and maintaining that viewership for several years.

Reality, factual and unscripted series throughout the past several decades such as Survivor, The Bachelor, Cops and Hell’s Kitchen have all hit that milestone, and then some. But in the modern TV landscape, with more options competing for viewers’ attention than ever and the influx of streaming platforms, some producers and executives in the industry believe it’s not as easy for series to hit 100 episodes as it was even 10 or 15 years ago.

“FLOOD OF CONTENT”

As CEO and founder of Monami Entertainment, Mona Scott-Young has served as an executive producer on many series, most notably the Love & Hip Hop franchise. The various iterations of the series have totaled hundreds of episodes.

Through her 15+ years in the business, Scott-Young (pictured below) says she’s noticed it’s absolutely more difficult for a series to hit 100 episodes today than it was earlier in her career.

“It’s even harder to get things on air and get things greenlit because it’s so competitive out there with all of the different platforms now,” Scott-Young says. “So the bar just keeps getting raised. It’s more and more challenging to get things past development and into greenlight to series. And then the ability to come back, to capture and hold the audience’s attention, is probably more challenging now than it’s ever been because of the flood of content.”

She adds that the binge-watching phenomenon has played a role in this as well. Viewers can go through an entire season of television in one night, and still be hungry for more. But because of the turnaround time needed to produce the next season of a series, viewers may have already moved on to other titles by the time more episodes are released.

Painless Productions founder Jim Casey is the series creator of The Dead Files (pictured top), a paranormal investigation series that debuted in 2011 and has aired more than 200 episodes, and he agrees that it’s becoming more difficult to hit the 100-episode milestone. He says that when his series first aired, networks were looking for series that could run “as close to forever as possible.” But now he thinks that mindset has shifted.

“We’re all moving towards streaming, and streamers, as we know, embrace a slightly different business model than cable and broadcast,” Casey says. “They’re mostly focused on increasing subscribers, and viewers who haven’t subscribed yet are more likely to be attracted by something new that’s not already on the service.

“So I think the series that break even 100 episodes, much less 200, are going to become more and more rare, because the business model is changing.”

Over the course of his career, veteran executive producer and president of Jupiter Entertainment Patrick Reardon has worked on series such as Project Runway and Snapped that have hit 100 episodes. He maintains that it has always been difficult for series to break out and find audiences, and with the barrage of content viewers face today it’s next to impossible now, he says.

Reardon (pictured below) cites Oxygen’s long-running true-crime franchise Snapped as an example of a series not being an overnight success, and taking time to find its audience.

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“The issue that I see now is that most of these networks, most of these platforms, will not tolerate anything other than a runaway hit from day one,” Reardon says. “So it is very, very, very difficult, if not impossible, to allow a series like Snapped to get to the point where it can even find an audience. The initial orders are much smaller, so maybe you’re getting six or eight weeks, six or eight episodes to find your audience with less promotion than ever in a sea of options — more options than audiences have ever had. Anything short of a runaway hit from the first episode, and the networks lose faith very quickly.”

Reardon says producers need to have more of an honest conversation with buyers to set realistic expectations for new titles, especially ones that aren’t celebrity-led or big spectacles. Even a series that became a widely watched staple of reality TV like Project Runway took time to develop into a success, he notes.

GETTING THERE

Still, while these producers say the 100-episode landmark is becoming more difficult to hit, it’s not impossible.

Rob Sharenow is seeing the shift in the TV landscape firsthand. The president of programming at A+E Networks says that his group of nets still seeks repeatable unscripted series that can run for 100 episodes or more, even as he notes it’s getting more difficult for titles to cut through to audiences.

“There’s so much content, so many choices, so many platforms. But I also think the flip side of that is viewers are craving clarity. They are craving familiarity,” says Sharenow (pictured below). “When you’re in a sea of choices, having a couple of lighthouses that you know you can rely upon and enjoy, I think, becomes even more valuable.”

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Looking at the stable of successful, long-running unscripted and reality series at A+E, Sharenow says Leftfield’s Pawn Stars is a prime example of what typically works for building a long-term audience, by combining a strong format with interesting characters.

Alternatively, he notes series can sometimes prove surprising in how relatable and repeatable they can be, citing GRB Studios’ Intervention as an example of a program that’s proven to be more universal than he initially expected through its tackling of different kinds of addiction for more than 300 episodes.

When it comes to the success of long-running reality franchises such as Love & Hip Hop, Scott-Young says the key is a continuously evolving cast, and access to the whole scope of their lives — their vulnerabilities, fears and growth — that allows audiences to feel like they’re taking a journey with them.

“The advent of reality as a genre is, at its core, about pulling the curtain back on a world and exploring the subculture or exploring something that the general population may have some tangential awareness of,” Scott-Young says. “But here’s an opportunity for them to deep-dive, and get to know the people living these experiences.”

This story first appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click our subscription link here for more information.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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