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Seven Years Is Enough For Any Television Series, Right?

I had an odd reaction to the news that Fox’s Bones has been renewed for a seventh season earlier this week: The feeling that, finally, things could start wrapping up and coming to an end in a sensible, graceful manner. Why was that so odd, you may ask? Because no-one involved with the show has even hinted that Bones‘s seventh year will be its last. It’s just my wishful thinking.

I should add, quickly, that I’m not a Bones hater – Well, unless they try and sneak in more backdoor pilots like the recent “Finder” episode, which… Well, come on, I think you all know what I mean if you saw the ep. Just the opposite, in fact; I got hooked a few years ago, and the wonders of Netflix made it worryingly easy to go back and catch up on what I’d missed. It may not be one of the greatest shows on television, but it’s definitely a guilty pleasure that I miss when it’s not around. It’s just that I think it shouldn’t try for an eighth season, is all.

I’m not quite sure where my Seven Season Rule started. I suspect that it’s all Star Trek‘s fault, as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager all stopped after seven seasons, despite being successful shows that could’ve probably kept going to varying degrees of success for awhile afterwards. It’s not something that the rest of the television industry seems to believe in, when you consider the number of shows that have gone past seven seasons (Hi, Smallville) without a sudden or dramatic fall in ratings; in a world where Law & Order ran for twenty years, in fact, the idea of only seven years seems like a lack of ambition.

And yet… I think there’s something to the idea of a seven year run. For one thing, it allows the writers to have some idea of the shape and length of whatever longform stories they’re telling, so that they can know when to stop adding new elements and complications and instead start thinking of bringing things to something resembling a conclusion. For another, it promises to keep the series more consistent purely from the practical standpoint of not losing your cast to costly renegotiations and/or ends of original contracts – From what I understand, most series’ have stars under some degree of contract for seven years (Normally six and a possible yearly extension, I believe?) – which seems… sensible, at least (Again, hello Smallville, a series that never fully recovered from losing Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex in recent years). Why wouldn’t you want to keep everything running as smoothly and consistently as possible, after all?

Also, seven years just feels long enough. It’s a long amount of time, after all; long enough for our cells to regenerate themselves entirely, if some pseudo-science I once heard was true, and definitely long enough to earn its own itch; for length of time to follow characters, it feels like a weighty enough chunk to mean something, but also long enough to be okay about leaving and not feeling like something hasn’t had a chance to be said. In a world where shows can make as much money after their initial run, through DVD and digital sales, as well as syndication and online streaming, I find myself wondering whether there could, or should, be an argument for letting shows say their piece and get offstage early instead of keeping successful shows around long enough to ruin their own good press.

Bones may just get better in its seventh season, of course, and make me hope for an eighth that’s even better. But right now, I find myself hoping that they take the year to bring all of the character beats to suitable conclusions and leave everyone wanting more.

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Comments

  • http://guidovision.blogspot.com Guido Rosas

    That seven seasons rule doesn’t need to apply with heavy-on-continuity dramas. Imagine a world where Seinfeld or The Simpsons ended after seven seasons!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/haversam [A]

    I usually give up after season seven (it happened with Friends and The X-Files). Bones is terrible, though.. what are they doing with six seasons already? Nuts.

  • Anonymous

    I know I do.

  • Bill Reed

    I can’t believe it’s been on that much longer than Angel.

  • Palmer

    Bones just kept getting ridiculous and repetitive with each passing season, it really should’ve stopped around the third season. And I somewhat enjoyed the Finder episode since barely any of the main characters showed up. But after that, I think it’s time for the show to go before it’s completely about people driving a car that can drive itself.

  • Summer

    I actually have to agree. I mean, as much as it hurt when Buffy ended, I think that seven seasons was a nice, long run for the show. Did I wish for more? Of course, but after a certain point, a show starts to lose it’s magic. Though, I have to say, Smallville’s been pretty great this season, but I think it’s because they’re finally letting loose and no longer dragging things out.

  • Anonymous

    It depends on the show itself because I don’t mind Smallville went on for ten years, i just think that they didn’t do enough with those ten years. Even though i love supenatural, i dont want it to go on for ten years because season 5 seemed like a good place to end it and now season 6 + 7 is sort off pushing it.

  • stealthwise

    I’m amazed that Bones is still on the air, and that it’s been seven years… Then again, I’m shocked that House is still going.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Man… I do imagine that world… Quite often in fact. (i know I have a problem!)

  • Kguillou1

    I think shows that have an ongoing story narrative (like 24, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Prison Break, Smallville etc etc) should definitely have a 7 season maximum, because after a while it just seems like your dragging the main story out. But procedural shows like The Simpsons, Southpark, Seinfeld, Two and a Half Men, most sitcoms in general, can really go on for as long as they have material to use. Its shows that have a specific mythology that need to be weary of dragging it all out too long.

  • Faust

    I don’t watch Bones, but if I love a TV I don’t really want it to end. No matter what season it is. Buffy is a great example of a show I would have loved to continue (on TV), as well as Gilmore Girls (don’t be a hater! haha…) and Medium, and I would be extremely upset if Doctor Who finished at season 7.
    Then you have SVU, Cheers, Frasier, Smallville (like you mentioned) and a whole heap of reality tv I love, that I am glad continued on.
    Although I do see your point to an extent – Shameless UK is in its 8th season, and it is really a pale imitation of the earlier seasons. It has basically just turned into a comedy, when it used to have alot of character depth and emotion. But I guess I’m a glutten for punishment, because I still watch it. On the plus side the US remake has been AMAZING!

  • Tomfitz1

    Didn’t Enterprise come to an end after 4 seasons, therefore, breaking the 7-year Star Trek francises?

  • Anonymous

    Dexter has proven that some shows should have far shorter runs than 7 seasons. There is no rule.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Of all the shows you could use to prove that point, you choose Dexter?

  • Anonymous

    Have you not noticed the severe drop-off in quality as of last season? It was awful. The season that, by the way, came right after a plot device intended to extend the show’s run well beyond its natural life. It’s the exact same problem Supernatural had with extending past season 5.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Severe? No. There was a drop in quality, but not beneath either shows normal. It just so happens that the preceding seasons were the best for each show. The Trinity Killer? Lucifer? Any show would have a hard time topping those stories. But both shows came back great. I loved season five of Dexter, and I’m loving season six of Supernatural. They just feel worse because the bar was set so high (they’re two of the best shows on television, after all).

  • Anonymous

    Lol we’ll have to disagree on this one.

  • demoncat_4

    given how shows like the simpson’s and law and order are still around . think the seven year rule is now really useless for if a show is still bringing in viewers and revenue the networks will want to keep it as long as they can. though think bones for a seven season is pushing things.

  • http://www.graphicxtras.com Andrew Buckle

    Seven years is a decent run for most series (I could only wish some of the UK series would have ended after 7 years but instead they seem to be ongoing for the next 20 or so without end). Smallville has improved after the seven year, the last few season have been excellent (but then again, to me it was a very different series from the earlier ones once Lex / Lana etc vanished out of the storyline). My favorite show at the moment is Murdoch Mysteries and as much I would like that show to run and run forever – I really hope it rounds off well in the seventh season and doesn’t go into a terminal decline.

  • John Lees

    I kinda hope this 7th season of House is the last. Not because of any severe drop in quality. But simply so it can go out on something of a high. Wrap up the season with House and Cuddy together again, and THE END. Because apparently, after this year, they’d have to continue without Wilson and a couple of other characters, as the actors playing them will have reached the end of their contracts.

  • Invasion

    The other Treks were ended because the creators decided to end them. Enterprise didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/WarmOtter Matt Rower

    One show that shouldn’t last seven seasons? Community.

    Not because it’s a bad show, but because it shouldn’t take seven years for anyone to graduate from community college.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Okey doke. ^_^

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TYO6UJKUW6FDPARJLIF6T6JT2E Helene Geiger

    The characters became “family” and casting the right people!
    Star Trek on DVD’s is a must!

  • Sugargl1der

    Seinfeld could have easily ended after seven seasons. The last few were pretty weak, IMHO.

  • Sugargl1der

    Most dramas start out with some sort of overarching premise, i.e. a journey, solving some mystery, a character acclimating to a new environment, etc. When a show starts to get past five or six seasons, that premise is often either A) changed so much because they’ve switched the focus from the original premise to situations and characters that weren’t originally there or B) artificially kept alive by manipulative plot developments that stretch things out too much and leave the viewer groaning with disbelief as the show stretches credulity.

    Shows, like people, animals, plants, and everything, have a natural lifespan. It’s hard to pinpoint just when that is, but we all kind of feel it at a certain point. What normally happens is that networks, unwilling to let go of a cash cow, extend shows past that lifespan and end up creating a bad lasting memory for people. Think of it as a person who is vital and productive and ends up living to 100 or something, but the last ten years of his life is mostly lying in bed and just ‘existing’. He’s still alive but the spark of his life is long gone. So, too, with TV shows. How many shows can anyone name that DIDN’T fall off in quality the last couple of seasons? I admire creators who are able to make that tough decision to go out when the show is on a high note creatively, no matter what the ratings are.

    Examples are damned few; I’d include most of the Star Treks in that, but otherwise, most of the examples I can come up with aren’t in the fantasy realm, but sitcoms like Mary Tyler Moore, and Barney Miller.

  • Seven_2100

    Bones has gotten a little repetitive for me, the will they won’t they thing has gone on too long now that I no longer care anymore. I used to love it but now I think it’s day is done.