“Great article, but you buried the lede,” a Hollywood Reporter reader recently fumed in an email. “TWO YEARS before season 2 comes out?”
The reader was referring to our recent cover story on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which included a tidbit that dismayed some fans online: The showrunners noted they planned to work on the sophomore season of the Prime Video fantasy drama for “another couple years.”
To be sure, Rings of Power fans likely won’t have to wait a full 24 months to return to Middle-earth. But the fantasy series nonetheless isn’t likely to return until sometime in 2024. Given its seasons are only eight episodes each, such a long wait time might seem egregious and surprising.
But fans of HBO’s House of the Dragon are in the same boat. The Game of Thrones prequel’s debut season just aired its finale this week, but production on season two doesn’t start until early next year. “Don’t expect [season two] in ’23, but I think sometime in ’24,” HBO chief Casey Bloys recently told Vulture.
The same goes for Disney+’s latest Star Wars sensation, Andor. “I have two more years to go,” showrunner Tony Gilroy told The Wrap when asked about the show’s second and final season. “We’ll shoot [season two] from November to August. And then our post[production] last time was about a year.”
While none of these shows has confirmed a premiere date, it’s clear that epic shows are increasingly making fans wait an epic stretch for new episodes. It’s almost become the standard for a certain tier of lavishly produced dramas. While many in TV are expected to deliver a season of content on an annual basis, a select group can slow their roll (out) to roughly every 16 to 24 months. Such productions frequently spend up to 10 months shooting and then take another 10 months to complete visual effects in postproduction.
To be sure, this idea of a two-year gap isn’t entirely new. HBO’s The Sopranos famously took two years for its final season back in 2006. Likewise, the special-effects-intensive Westworld has been making fans wait two years between seasons since it launched in 2016.
But it was the final season of Game of Thrones that seemed to mark a seismic shift. The 2011 fantasy drama’s first seven seasons aired on an annual basis. Then fans waited two years for the climactic eighth and final season in 2019. Many slammed the final run from a creative standpoint, but the six episodes looked like feature films and broke ratings records. The season arguably set a new standard for how much money, effort and time can go into a season, as well as proving that a long wait won’t deter fans from coming back to a highly anticipated show.
Yet as long as two years for a new season sounds, how do you feel about three years? Because that’s the amount of time fans might be waiting for the final season of Stranger Things, a show that’s expanded its production appetite as its seasons have progressed.
The Netflix sci-fi hit took only one year to make season two, then spent two years on season three, and then a took whopping three years to make last summer’s fourth season — at a reported cost of $30 million per episode — that was split into two parts (Vol. 1 was released while they finished Vol. 2). “With nine scripts, over 800 pages, almost two years of filming, thousands of visual effects shots and a runtime nearly twice the length of any previous season, Stranger Things 4 was the most challenging season yet,” explained creators Matt and Ross Duffer last summer.
In August, the Duffers gathered to begin writing the show’s fifth and final season, so Stranger Things likely won’t begin shooting until deep into 2023 at the earliest — and might not air until as late as 2025.
(It’s worth noting Stranger Things season four could have been out a bit sooner if not for COVID-19 shutdowns. Pandemic delays slowed the production of most titles in 2020 and 2021, which is a separate issue from shows electing to take a longer time due to creative care and special effects — as is the case with the other seasons cited here.)
Also, not every show with the Long Wait is an effects-filled epic. Some are titles where a creator is powerful enough to dictate their own schedule — such as FX’s Fargo creator Noah Hawley, Atlanta creator and star Donald Glover, and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm creator and star Larry David.
The attitude of networks toward this trend seems to be something like begrudging acceptance. Asked about the long waits for more Thrones and Westworld, Bloys once told THR: “As shows get bigger and more complicated, I have to follow the producers’ lead and let go of, ‘It’d be nice to have it every year.’ They have to do the best show they can do. With bigger shows like Westworld or Game of Thrones, sometimes if you want the big show and the big scope, it takes longer.” While Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke recently told Variety she wants “the shortest time possible” between Rings of Power seasons and wants to get season two “out into the world as soon as we can.”
There’s an argument to be made, however, that at least some extra padding between seasons is not a bad thing. In an era of 500 scripted shows airing per year and all content being available everywhere, a longer wait could arguably benefit a series as it gives potential fans more time to discover the show and catch up.
In the case of Curb, showrunner Jeff Schaffer says it also takes the pressure off. “One of the things that I always tell myself when we’re writing a new season is, ‘Hey, I know that last season ended really well and people really liked it but, it’s OK. It’s going to be two years before they see it again. They’ll forget. And they’ll just be so happy to have us back.’ All you need to do to be liked is to go away,” he joked to THR when reflecting on the show’s Emmy attention.
At the same time, it’s impossible to understate how dramatic this industry shift has been. In the wake of the success of ABC’s Lost in 2004, broadcast networks launched a slew of serialized dramas and then would then bite their nails every time they had to pause their weekly rollout. With no easy way for viewers to catch up on past episodes, any break was considered a high-stakes gamble that could sink a show. In 2012, NBC came under fire for letting its postapocalyptic drama Revolution take a breather after airing 10 episodes. Salke was NBC’s entertainment president at the time and assured a reporter, “We believe people will wait for it, and we want to make sure we give Revolution every chance possible to be the hit that we think it can be.” The length of Revolution’s controversial hiatus? Four months.
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