I remember hearing F.R.I.E.N.D.S ran for ten whole seasons
when it closed—ten seasons!—and thinking
the number astronomical. That’s ten years worth of one show! In a decade where
longevity belonged to The Simpsons, F.R.I.E.N.D.S set the bar for how long
successful series’ televised.
Which brings us to our current runners, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Now that each series is winding up for its seasons finale, it’s time to break down some jargon and little-known television programming tidbits.
Like, why did F.R.I.E.N.D.S score 236 episodes before their series close? How closely will TBBT and HIMYM match their record? And why are whole seasons just about the same number of episodes every time?
F.R.I.E.N.D.S averaged (across all seasons, not accurate to each season) around 23-24 episodes per season. But why? The episode number leads to a predictable rise-and-fall for sitcom plotting: pilot episode, some fillers, a plot twist, more fillers, the mid-season finale. Rinse and repeat. While we may adore each and every scenario the shows have to offer--naming their episodes themed, homey titles like The One With The…--the pattern stands true to form.
Here’s why: Each season sets itself up for its future success. Each new season
gets 10-13 episodes for network owners to gauge audience interest (all of your
attention spans) and see if they want to “buy” the rest of the season. Buying a
season usually requires buying half of the following season. And so on.
In other words, I should be thanking you for keeping our sitcoms on the air for so long.
Fun facts: If The Big Bang Theory reaches ten seasons on it’s current trajectory (what a scientific term), it would conclude with 231—233 episodes, roughly. If How I Met Your Mother did the same (time to shed a tear), it would run 232 episodes total. No matter how many ways you spin it, F.R.I.E.N.D.S set more than one standard across sitcom TV.