Does length matter?

What's your preferred length? Our writers discuss their favourite length..of TV show episodes (get your mind out of the gutter!)

multiple writers
22nd February 2021
Image credit: Getty Images, BBC, Wikimedia Commons, TheNounProject.com, Adam Wilson.
Sometimes, as students, we want to start a TV show but can't commit to the length of each episode. Is 20 minutes too short? Is an hour too slow to progress through the show? We asked our writers which episode length they prefer and why. 

20 minutes is by far the best episode length for a student lifestyle.

How often do you find yourself with a random half an hour free in the day? Perhaps it’s in-between Zoom lectures or during a break from writing that strenuous essay or revising for that upcoming exam. It’s too long a time to simply sit there but should also be a break from work. 20-minute TV shows plug this common gap in our daily lives. What better way to detox between work than a quick episode of your favourite show?

The best part of this show length is its flexibility.

The best part of this show length is its flexibility. Is there an important storyline development? Make the episode longer to show its importance and fit more things in, or even make it a two-parter.

Community is a perfect example of how 20 minutes can be enough for a show. Credit: IMDb.

Shows like The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Community are shining examples of this show length. They pack plenty of action, laughs and storyline into (usually) 20-minute chunks whilst not overstaying their welcome.

Sure, the best length for a show depends upon the show’s content. Serious dramas may want a longer runtime and some series offer film-like lengths in exchange for a lower number of episodes. However, I often find myself watching TV in those brief periods of relaxation nestled between stints of working or procrastination. 20 minutes fills these periods beautifully and, thus, I believe 20 minutes to be an ideal runtime.

Joshua Thompson


45 minutes is the perfect middle ground and many genres utilise it.

45 minutes gives you enough time to watch an in-depth show without feeling guilty. Credit: IMDb.

Legions of iconic TV shows – Merlin, Skins and American Horror Story to name but a few – have long supported the claim that 40–45-minute episodes offer the perfect middle ground between binge-ability and narrative development.

The episode is short enough to hold your interest and long enough to allow you to become fully engrossed

One major benefit to the medium episode length is how it walks the line between being short enough to not make you feel quite as guilty for watching six episodes in a row, and being long enough to allow the story of each episode to fully develop. The episode is short enough to hold your interest and long enough to allow you to become fully engrossed in the story you are watching play out. This episode length also houses the ability to span multiple genres, fantasy, mystery and even some comedies have benefitted from its timing, just look at Fresh Meat!

When you sit down to watch a TV show you want to feel satisfies, whether you watch only one, or maybe slightly more than medically advisable - this is what a 40-45 minute episode provides.

Rachael McCreanor


An hour is the best length for a TV show, without a doubt.

Many hour-length episodes give us character depth. Credit: 2019 HBO, IMDb.

When I think about my favourite TV shows, I notice that the vast majority of them last an hour per episode. I usually prefer ones with a complex plot like Game of Thrones or Dark, and such long episodes work perfectly for them. An hour is enough to develop and explore the story, so I’m not left with a feeling that something is missing (not that Peaky Blinders or Penny Dreadful don’t have cliffhangers).

Such long episodes give me almost a cinematic experience

I generally prefer films to TV shows, but such long episodes give me almost a cinematic experience. An hour may seem a lot, especially with a pile of university work to do and deadlines approaching, but I believe it’s worth it. We get a fuller picture of a story than in 20 minutes and usually a deeper, better-developed plot. Even though the attention spam might seem an issue (an hour on Zoom is often just too much), with shows like Big Little Lies or The Queen’s Gambit it is impossible to be bored or tempted to do something else instead. Not only does the hour pass very quickly, but we also feel like watching the next episode straight away. After all, we deserve a treat for studying hard and carrying on in these difficult times.

Maja Mazur

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