Seven Years Is Enough For Any Television Series, Right?

I had an odd reaction to the news that Fox's Bones has been renewed for a seventh season earlier this week: The feeling that, finally, things could start wrapping up and coming to an end in a sensible, graceful manner. Why was that so odd, you may ask? Because no-one involved with the show has even hinted that Bones's seventh year will be its last. It's just my wishful thinking.

I should add, quickly, that I'm not a Bones hater - Well, unless they try and sneak in more backdoor pilots like the recent "Finder" episode, which... Well, come on, I think you all know what I mean if you saw the ep. Just the opposite, in fact; I got hooked a few years ago, and the wonders of Netflix made it worryingly easy to go back and catch up on what I'd missed. It may not be one of the greatest shows on television, but it's definitely a guilty pleasure that I miss when it's not around. It's just that I think it shouldn't try for an eighth season, is all.

I'm not quite sure where my Seven Season Rule started. I suspect that it's all Star Trek's fault, as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager all stopped after seven seasons, despite being successful shows that could've probably kept going to varying degrees of success for awhile afterwards. It's not something that the rest of the television industry seems to believe in, when you consider the number of shows that have gone past seven seasons (Hi, Smallville) without a sudden or dramatic fall in ratings; in a world where Law & Order ran for twenty years, in fact, the idea of only seven years seems like a lack of ambition.

And yet... I think there's something to the idea of a seven year run. For one thing, it allows the writers to have some idea of the shape and length of whatever longform stories they're telling, so that they can know when to stop adding new elements and complications and instead start thinking of bringing things to something resembling a conclusion. For another, it promises to keep the series more consistent purely from the practical standpoint of not losing your cast to costly renegotiations and/or ends of original contracts - From what I understand, most series' have stars under some degree of contract for seven years (Normally six and a possible yearly extension, I believe?) - which seems... sensible, at least (Again, hello Smallville, a series that never fully recovered from losing Michael Rosenbaum's Lex in recent years). Why wouldn't you want to keep everything running as smoothly and consistently as possible, after all?

Also, seven years just feels long enough. It's a long amount of time, after all; long enough for our cells to regenerate themselves entirely, if some pseudo-science I once heard was true, and definitely long enough to earn its own itch; for length of time to follow characters, it feels like a weighty enough chunk to mean something, but also long enough to be okay about leaving and not feeling like something hasn't had a chance to be said. In a world where shows can make as much money after their initial run, through DVD and digital sales, as well as syndication and online streaming, I find myself wondering whether there could, or should, be an argument for letting shows say their piece and get offstage early instead of keeping successful shows around long enough to ruin their own good press.

Bones may just get better in its seventh season, of course, and make me hope for an eighth that's even better. But right now, I find myself hoping that they take the year to bring all of the character beats to suitable conclusions and leave everyone wanting more.

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