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TV HITS—By the Numbers

Sunny in Philadelphia

by Cary O'Dell

Make no mistake, this season’s return of the sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is great and historically significate.  It is the show’s 14th season!  That a non-animated, non-news TV show, with all its original cast members still intact, has come back for the 14th year in a row belies all of our assumptions about out collectively decreasing attention spans and the supposed high disposability of television product.

As “Sunny,” geared up for its 14th return, the FXX (originally FX) show was noted in the press as now tying the legendary sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” in terms of number of seasons on the air.  And, TECHNICALLY, they are correct…

But, while “Sunny” has been in production for 14 years (the show debuted in 2005), it has always been a cable series and cable “seasons” are (notoriously) far shorter than broadcast and network seasons.  On average, every season of “Sunny” has been about 10 episodes long; the most installments ever produced by “Sunny” in a single “season” was 14 in season number six.

In contrast, “Ozzie & Harriet” (Nelson, of course), which was on the air from 1952 to 1966, was always on network and network seasons are longer and, hence, require many more episodes.  The first season alone of “O&H” consisted of 39 episodes.  The least number of episodes the show ever produced was 25 each for seasons 10 and 12.

Thus, in the final episode tally, the difference is considerable.  The total number of episodes produced of “Sunny” (to date) is 145; the total number of episodes of “Ozzie” produced--435!

All this is not to take anything away from “Sunny,” whose achievement is considerable, but, numbers-wise, the show still has a ways to go.

Of course, some shows pile up a staggering number of episodes, especially if they are talk shows, news shows, or daytime soap operas (every day, no reruns!).  Consider “60 Minutes,” on the air since 1968 and still going strong has, so far, aired 2,325 episodes.  “Saturday Night Live,” about to launch its 45th season, has aired around 800 episodes and “General Hospital,” just one of TV’s long-running soaps, has over 14,000 episodes under its belt!  Before it was cancelled in 2009, “Guiding Light,” aired over 15,000 episodes!

Additionally, animated series can often rack up the episode count too as none of their casts ever age and neither Bart nor Marge has ever called in sick.  For example, “The Simpsons,” which started, as a series, in 1989 has, so far, aired 662 episodes.

But special credit must be given to “Ozzie” and its ilk, or any series, sitcom or drama, that has featured real-life, flesh and blood actors, and kept them all around for all (or most) of their runs and seemed to defy gravity with their number of years on the air and the number of original episodes produced.

The just-departed “Big Bang Theory” aired 279 episodes; “My Three Sons” aired 380 episodes.  And dramas like “Bonanza” (431 episodes), “Dallas” (357 episodes), “ER” (331 episodes), “NCIS” (379), and “Grey’s Anatomy” (343) are all mega-runners--and “NCIS” and “Grey’s” are both still on the air.

Then there are the big mack-daddy shows.  As widely noted in the press over the past few months, “Law & Order:  SVU” has just started its 21st season.  That’s a lot of murder, mayhem and Mariska Hargitay.  (She’s been around since episode one; God bless her.)  “SVU’s” 21st year makes it the longest-running hour-long drama in network TV history, taking over the title from “Gunsmoke” which was on the air for 20 seasons. 

BUT, as with “Sunny in Philly,” “SVU’s” victory is based on SEASONS and not an episode count.  Before it went to that big round-up in the sky, “Gunsmoke” aired 635 episodes.  To date, “SVU” has clocked 459 installments.  Still, Mariska ain’t done yet.  And, before they sign off, “SVU” might just surpass Marshall Dillon and company.

All of this is not to say, however, that a TV series has to enter triple digits in episode count to become an impactful classic.  “The Honeymooners” is one of the most beloved series of all time and bona fide episodes of it number only 39.  “Honey West” aired only 30 episodes.  The sci-fi series “Rat Patrol” had only 58.  “Space:  1999” only 48.  The cult animated series “The Critic” had only 23 total episodes.

And, though, yes, sometimes “less is more,” and sometimes some shows do seem to overstay their welcome, respect must be paid to these long-running epics, that have keep their creativity going and, in the process, maintained our attention.

 

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