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Why TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “Grey’s Anatomy” keep getting shorter

Characters from "The Simpsons" pose at the series' 350th episode party in Los Angeles.
Reuters/Fred Prouser
Getting shorter.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor


Over the last several decades, the TV show has shrunk.

With fewer people watching, figuring out how to maximize revenues has been a tricky balance for network executives. One approach taken by networks has been to reduce the length of their shows in order to cram more advertisements into an hour of television. More ads means more revenues in the short term, but may also cause even fewer people to tune in. A number of networks now think they went too far, and in an attempt to better compete with ad-free platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, have reduced time devoted to ads.

Take The Simpsons, the longest running primetime TV show in the US. In the legendary Fox cartoon’s first season in 1989, the average episode was exactly 23 minutes long. By the show’s 29th season, which aired in 2017-2018, the average run time fell to 21.3 minutes, according to data from Amazon analyzed by Quartz. That is more than one-and-a-half minutes less of action, and more of advertisements.

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