Half-hour episodes: the bedrock of just about every television success story. Efficient, profitable, and rapidly becoming outdated. The Simpsons owes a large chunk of its success to the format, but it blunts the show’s formerly raw edge.
It’s terribly obvious today that the Simspons is the product of another era. Casting aside the nuclear family and its sole-breadwinner basis, the show can’t be more irrelevant today. It’s use of pop-culture references and social commentary is legendary, yet the show’s method of portraying them is not.
It takes six months to make an episode of the Simpsons, and as recent seasons have made all too obvious, that’s simply too long if you want to make fun of something happening today. Modern western culture moves so fast, that half a year is close to an eternity, and nothing makes you appear out of touch except attempting to cash in on something that was popular.
So why does the show cling to a format that so clearly doesn’t work for it today? Blame entrenchment in an established business model, and an unwillingness to leave it behind. Here’s a few reasons why the show should ditch the half hour format if it wants to regain its pop culture relevance and influence.
Simpsons Episodes Take Too Long to Produce
The show’s biggest obstacle is time. Animation demands a lengthy production schedule, and at 6 months for a half-hour episode, modern society simply moves too fast to maintain a degree of relevance. South Park maintins its relevance with a frighteningly short six-day production schedule.
It’s Length is Out of Style with Audiences
Despite its popularity, half-hour shows are on the way out. Teenagers, kids, and plenty of adults, are content to watch short-form content on YouTube instead. The new, fresh, and up to date content of vloggers, YouTube stars, and musicians/celebrities indicate where trends are heading.
Half hour episodes do provide more opportunities to explore characters and stories. However, the show ran out of steam in that regard a long time ago. The ‘Flanderization‘ trope is so-named for a reason.
News that the show will broadcast its first-ever hour long episode just compounds the problem.
It’s Trying to Kill Two Birds With One Stone, and Failing
In 2016, creators are faced with a choice. Going high-end and expensive a la HBO and Netflix can pay good dividends. Except that it requires your content be the absolute best. The other option is to go rock-bottom and cheap in the hope that you’re more unique and trend-worthy than anyone else.
Right now, The Simpsons is trying to do both, and its failing. Arguably, its time as an excellent, expensive show is over. It reached the pinnacle of that paradigm in the md-90s and will never reach it again.
They’re Already Ignoring It
The show is expanding beyond the half-hour format with short vignettes or shorts put out on a regular basis. These keep the show in the public consciousness between seasons, but also serve to keep the characters relevant if not exactly full-bodied. The show’s already done a few of these like taking a pot shot at Donald Trump, and satirising the Pokemon Go craze.
The benefit of such a strategy is that it helps maintain an interest in the show’s unparalleled library of episodes, while still validating its pop culture credentials. Even House of Cards got caught up when actual politics in the real world became much more exciting than the fictional politics of Frank Underwood’s.
The Simpsons Can Rise Again
Can the show have a second era of glory? It certainly could given the right circumstances and effort. The show continues to tower over every other scripted comedy despite being well into its third decade. Change is one hallmark of the show that’s slowly disappeared down through the years, and it would be nice to see the show get a bit of a kick in the rear. The Simpsons mocked and satirised 1990s culture like no other, and we need that not more than ever.