TV News

Why It’s a Good Thing That Fox Has Decided to Limit Sleepy Hollow to 13-Episode Seasons

UPDATE: 12/8/2013-Fox has decided to air Sleepy Hollow‘s final two episodes of its first season as a two-hour finale on 1/20/2014.  As per insidetv.ew.com, “We’re still getting the same number of total hours of Hollow (13), only now the last two episodes will run back to back.”

Fox’s Sleepy Hollow has thus far proved its naysayers very wrong, debuting to a total audience of 13.6 million viewers (10 million overnight, 3.6 million additional from three days on DVR).  This was good enough to qualify as the network’s most-watched fall drama premiere since 24 in 2001.  Unlike ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow has managed to hold its audience beyond its colossal debut, with Fox touting statistics that point to 97% retention.  As such, even though only 3 episodes have aired thus far it was not entirely shocking yesterday when Fox announced they were renewing Sleepy Hollow for a full season.  We just didn’t immediately realize they meant they were renewing it for a full second season of 13 episodes as opposed to following tradition and exercising their “back-nine” option to up the current season’s total number of episodes to 22.  Nope, once the 13 first season episodes air the show will be off the air for most of the spring and all summer until returning this time again next year for a second 13-episode season.

In announcing the decision, Fox’s CEO of Entertainment Kevin Reily offered the following observation about Sleepy Hollow:

“The show has proven to be a risk well worth taking – it’s a conceptual blast unlike anything else on television and it all holds together with inventive writing and a fantastic cast.  I can’t wait for fans to experience what else is in store for this fall and even more of this wild ride into Season Two.”

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Fox said from the get-go that Sleepy Hollow was being treated as limited series, and they clearly meant it.

Sleepy Hollow fans: this is good news.  In its limited run thus far, Sleepy Hollow has emerged as a perfectly innocuous supernatural show which crucially realizes the goofiness of its own premise:  Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) (from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) is resurrected in modern-day Sleepy Hollow, New York, at the same time that the headless horseman re-appears as a herald of the apocalypse.  We’re talking lots of biblical references, a ghostly ex-lover (Katia Winter) who it turns out was a witch now trapped in a mirror realm by a nasty demon, and plenty of Kate & Leopold-style humor about a man thought to have died in 1781 awakening in 2013 (e.g, he drops to the ground and discards a semi-automatic handgun after shooting it just one time thinking guns can only carry one bullet).  Partnered with a local cop with a supernatural past of her own (Nicole Beharie), the show is set-up for Crane to solve mysteries of the week while building toward a climactic battle with the architects of the impending apocalypse.  

Plus, the British-accented Mison as Crane is like a walking and talking version of a Harlequin romance novel cover, which is exactly as goofy as it is enticing. Well, he gets to continue being lovely for at least another 13 episodes beyond this first season.

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There are those who would campaign for Mison to never button up that shirt.

This news serves to somewhat alleviate a very well-founded concern about this show: how on Earth do they prevent this from going completely off-the-rails?  To this point, Sleepy Hollow works better than it ever should due to compelling lead performances, just the right amount of levity, and a knowing knack for world-building from the same guys who gave us Fringe (a show which benefited greatly from having a limited, 13-episode final season).  With such an obvious narrative endgame, i.e., preventing the apocalypse, forcing 9 more episodes upon the current season of Sleepy Hollow would simply give it more rope than it knows what to do with other than hang itself.  How long can this thing really be stretched out, lest we forget a show like the increasingly padded Heroes that could never carry through on its initial promise.  Supernatural similarly tackled the apocalypse storyline, stretching it out across 5 seasons, though most explicity across 2 seasons.  However, it did so by being rigidly formulaic and monster-of-the-week with only occasional burts of narrative momentum, which worked for it but does not appear to be the speed (or lack thereof) at which Sleepy Hollow wishes to operate.

As another example, a story-generator for Sleepy Hollow to this point has been the extensive diaries left behind by the departed Sheriff (Clancy Brown), who was keen to Sleepy Hollow being a hotbed of underground (figurative, not literal) supernatural activity.  However, at which point could these diaries become eye-roll inducing due to overuse-straining-credibility?  

Some shows just aren’t designed for a 22-episode season, i.e., the longtime standard season length for TV shows on major broadcast networks in the United States.  British television has continually proved the artistic viability of mere 6-episode seasons, and for quite some time now cable networks have made strong arguments for the creative superiority of 13-episode seasons (and recent experimentation with 8 episode seasons).  Serialized shows, in particular, benefit from such limited runs, which offer far more manageable structure for storytelling.  It is often only the most formulaic of shows (crime/legal procedurals, standard sitcoms) that lend themselves to 22 hours (or half-hours) of storytelling per season.

In the wake of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, we are forever weary of shows which clearly get away from its own creators and writers, whose “making this shit up as they go all along with no real endgame” becomes disturbingly apparent.  Fox’s decision to limit Sleepy Hollow to 13-episode seasons not only cuts down on budget as well as possibly makes it a more attractive option for purchase by foreign networks but also provides its creators with something many shows need but would never ask for: limitations.

What do you think?  Wish to see longer seasons?  Agree only partially with me, thinking they could pull off a 22-episode if need be but a 13 might be better?  Let us know in the comments.

4 comments

  1. I am excited by this news! I think this makes the show more watchable, not less. With storytelling, less is often more, and shows like you’ve mentioned have done a great job of proving this. Holly and I plan on someday rewatching Battlestar Galactica by skipping all of the filler episodes – turning it into the show it could have been. But here’s a show that is doing that work for us.

    1. I agree. Maybe it’s because I’ve been burned by prior shows or am a bit of a cynic, but my enjoyment of Sleepy Hollow has been constantly tempered by constant fears of, “How the hell are they going to make this last?” This decision to contain it to 13-episode seasons alleviates that for me. This allows the writers an opportunity to at least plan out a story that can function as being shown in two 13-episode chunks. It is a long overdue adoption of a format which has recently been illustrated to present far more benefit than a traditional full 22-26 episode season. However, I think the trick here is for Fox to train its viewers to adjust. We’re used to watching shortened seasons for shows on cable but not on a major broadcast network, and many shows which have been attempted as half-season only shows on the major broadcast networks have struggled to retain audiences across seasons. Like you said, though, less is often more. It’s an ongoing discussion among TV fans. On a somewhat related note, I have found it amusing reading DenofGeek.com reviews of episodes of the British Being Human in which the reviewer complains about the seasons being far too long and stuffed with filler with 8 episode seasons since British viewers are used to 6 episode seasons.

      Also, that sounds like a cool idea to marathon BSG minus the filler episodes, although I have to admit that my first ever viewing of the show came via Netflix marathon-binge watching meaning it really does all blend together on me.

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