There is something magical about a short-run series. Fitting a character’s defining moments and a story’s framework into 12 or 24 episodes forces a writing team to shore any gaps and remove unnecessary “filler.” Agent Carter, Shogun, and other made for TV miniseries tend to fit their shows into the short series box with ease. Many anime series, such as Cowboy Bebop or Shirobako, manage to fit an immense amount of thought and emotion into several half-hour segments.
My current favorite short series is an anime called Your Lie in April. The series starts with a piano prodigy losing the ability to “hear” the music. Of course, he meets a violinist who helps him overcome his fears while dealing with her own performance issues. I haven’t finished the series yet, but I’m looking forward to many heartaches and strategic character-changing events in its 22 episodes.
One of the worst cases for a series is when it doesn’t know it’s dead. Right now, the top three I think of are Bones, NCIS, and sort of Big Bang Theory. Granted, Big Bang has managed to reel old viewers back in with a possible Sheldon-Amy union and problems between Leonard and Penny (again), but when are the producers going to realize it’s hurting the show to meander through random social quagmires in order to continue selling merchandise and advertising spots? Personally, I think they need to tie everything up and ride it to a conclusion before the show wears itself out. Now, Bones and NCIS are a bit past the wearing out stage and into the “let’s finish this before we really embarrass ourselves” stage. Bones and Booth left the show because producers thought Fox would cancel, except now they will probably come back after an episode or two because Fox gave them another season at the last minute. I heard this will probably be their last season, so bravo to them for figuring it out. Also, I think Emily Deschanel is ready to move on and do something else. NCIS has been around forever, and its remaining characters refuse to move on with their lives. Gibbs, Tony, and company continue the same routines, adding more permanent cast to the credits each season. It’s been around since 2003, and those years are showing on the original members. Let’s give them the round of applause they deserve for all of their brilliant episodes, but let them go. Let the story end before it ends badly.
Of course, I’m missing hundreds of good and bad examples of short and long series—Mad Men did well with its seven seasons, minus the whole business of splitting the last one in half. Still, I think the best stories can be worked into shorter timeframes, and the best writers and producers know when to write the final credits.