Fans are going to miss watching the story of Grace and Frankie unfold. It has certainly been a hilarious and heartwarming ride. But the hit sitcom’s shelf life, in these modern streaming times, is coming to an end after what will be seven seasons.
There are, simply put, too many high-quality series to choose from. Not only must consumers decide what shows to watch, but where to subscribe to find them. Muddling through the multitude of streaming platforms and cable and traditional networks bombarding us with the latest in must-see TV can be a daunting task, especially since there are only 24 hours in a day. The competition for eyeballs is tougher than ever and even the most popular series eventually hit a wall. Is this what happened with Grace and Frankie?
“The explosion of quality content is leading to massive consumer confusion on what to watch,” says Chief Attribution Officer at C3 Metrics, Jeff Greenfield. “Digital used to be about content curation; today it’s about content confusion and Grace and Frankie’s demise is the paradox of choice come to life.”
The hit show reunited longtime friends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin onscreen for the first time since the 1980 classic movie Nine to Five. And, fans couldn’t get enough of the endearing one-time rivals that form a true friendship after their husbands leave them for each other. The show has made fans laugh for five seasons now and we just learned yesterday that we will only get one more after the upcoming sixth season, which is set to premiere January 2020.
“You have laughed with us, cried with us and grew old with us,” read the announcement from the show’s official Twitter account. When the show ends, it will have been the longest-running series in Netflix history. When you look at past hit sitcoms, this is a relatively short run but par for the course in modern times.
Back in the day, when there were a handful of networks and a clearly defined fall season lineup to pick from, shows regularly ran for an average of nine to 11 seasons. Let’s look at a few examples from the 80s to the early 2000s before streaming platforms and cable networks joined the fray.
Cheers ran on NBC from September 30, 1982 to May 20, 1993 with a total of 275 half-hour episodes across 11 seasons. Frasier aired on NBC for 11 seasons with 264 episodes, premiering on September 16, 1993 and concluding its run on May 13, 2004. The show famously about nothing, Seinfeld, ran for nine seasons with a total of 180 episodes with over 76 million viewers tuning in to the finale.
Two of the most-streamed shows on Netflix to this day are Friends, which ran for 10 seasons from September 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004 with a total of 236 episodes. And, The Office, which ran for nine seasons from March 24, 2005 to May 16, 2013 with a total of 201 episodes.
At the time, series averaged 20 to 25 episodes per season. Grace and Frankie had 13 episodes per season. Netflix ordered 16 episodes for its final seventh season, which will bring the total to 94 episodes when all is said and done.
In this new normal, despite a show’s popularity and brilliance, it’s difficult to survive the massive proliferation of choices. Shows now have shorter shelf lives in general as fans tend to gravitate to the new, star-studded shows we see incessantly advertised. The competition for eyeballs has become too much for a single show to withstand no matter how good it is.
Since the show’s 2015 premiere, fans loyally followed Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) as they picked up the pieces of their lives together, even though they didn’t particularly care for one another. They had to lean on one another for the simple reason that no one else could better understand their plight.
We learned from them. They taught us to be resilient even in the face of heartache and loss. They exemplified for us the importance of friendship. And, they proved to us that life can start over at any age.
It isn’t just the fans that will miss their hilarious escapades. “We’ll miss these two old gals, Grace and Frankie, as much as many of their fans will, but we’ll still be around,” the two stars said in a statement. “We’re so grateful that our show has been able to deal with issues that have really connected to our grand generation. And their kids, and amazingly, their kids as well!”
But, there is that insatiable appetite of viewers to contend with. “We’ve become a society of video velociraptors, voraciously consuming our favorite shows on any screen available to us at all hours of the day and night seven days a week,” says Mike Bloxham, SVP, Global Media and Entertainment at Magid. This, he adds, is a double-edged sword as the amount of content has increased across platforms to meet demand and total time spent viewing has increased. “Average audiences have diminished over time. The most successful shows today have significantly smaller audiences than the most successful shows of the past. Audiences are being spread more thinly across more series, more networks and more platforms. While there is an incredible array of content to choose from, the challenge of attracting and retaining commercially viable audiences is becoming harder than ever.”
It’s not about competition amongst streamers in regards to individual popular shows getting the axe, according to Stephan Paternot, co-founder and CEO of online film finance marketplace Slated. “The danger is in disappointing audiences by not living up to the expectations set by previous seasons. If the audience is there for a show in the first place, they’re going to keep coming back unless and until something fundamental changes. The expense of production is the real issue.”
Netflix, adds Paternot, has to pick and choose because rising competition has hampered its ability to spend. “It’s an opportunity cost to keep ordering new seasons of shows. I would bet that after seven seasons it’s a simple matter of being too expensive relative to its performance. This is hardly a Netflix-specific issue; it’s a fundamental component of the TV business.”
Times are changing and the success of a show is defined differently now. Seven seasons is a good run. It’s about the quality of a show, not the quantity of seasons or episodes. And, there is a silver lining in the world of streaming: Grace and Frankie will forever be available for your binge-watching pleasure.