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Why Networks Split The Seasons Of Popular Shows

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The popular cable TV series "The Walking Dead" has vanished from AMC after just seven episodes. But fans of the show have little to fear - it will return; it's just taking a break.

Variety's Andrew Wallenstein is here to explain why splitting up TV seasons is becoming increasingly common.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: The mark of a great show is one that makes you relate to its characters. But the two-month hiatus on "The Walking Dead" has me feeling like one of its zombie cannibals.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE WALKING DEAD")

WALLENSTEIN: Can you blame me? I've been conditioned by the TV business to expect a show's season to run as long as 22 episodes, with only the occasional rerun to interrupt. But more and more, scripted dramas like "The Closer" and "Psyche" are being parceled out in batches of six or seven episodes at a time. If you've got me watching week after week, why risk a long layover that leaves me open to finding other shows?

Well, TV networks split seasons for a number of reasons. If you're a network like AMC, you have just a handful of water-cooler shows with which to spread the wealth across your schedule. So people will watch year-round, and advertisers will pay to reach them. It also makes sense for a network to schedule a batch of episodes so that the season finale airs just as another of its shows starts up. There's no better way to expose a new property to an existing audience.

Another reason for breaking up a season is to duck competition. A Sunday show like "The Walking Dead" doesn't want to go up again postseason football, TVs biggest attraction.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Aww, yeah. It's Super Bowl Sunday. Let's make it happen.

WALLENSTEIN: Look, the reality is, people don't leave their favorite shows between seasons. If you like a show enough, you'll wait until the end of time for its return. And as for the risk of losing viewers to a show in the same time slot, that's kind of an outdated concern in a world TiVo, On Demand, Netflix, DVD and endless reruns.

But keep in mind that splitting seasons doesn't always work. A show like TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" took a siesta, only to find few woke up for its return. But that show had other issues that sealed its fate, as did last season's critically maligned NBC series "The Event."

Still, my hope is that splitting seasons isn't going to happen too often. I enjoy riding a narrative for a good chunk of the year. Is it too much to ask to give me a break?

Let me rephrase that, don't.

BLOCK: Andrew Wallenstein - he's the TV editor at Variety. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.