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The Multi-Year Hiatus Is TV's New Normal. But Where Some Show Thrive, Others Dive.

Picking up where you left off pre-pandemic brings unique challenges.
  • Photos: Netflix, AMC, and FX.
    Photos: Netflix, AMC, and FX.

    After COVID-19 shut down TV production in the spring of 2020, the ripple effects were felt across the industry. Some shows — like GLOW, Stumptown, and On Becoming a God in Central Florida — were canceled outright, while other shows were able to weather the pause, ultimately returning to TV many months or even years after their most recent seasons.

    Such lengthy hiatuses were once a rarity on television, but over the years as the network TV model gave way to cable (and ultimately streaming), TV shows have increasingly stretched the boundaries of the between-seasons break. The Sopranos took two years off between its fifth and sixth seasons; Mad Men went nearly that long between its fourth and fifth seasons. And then there's the unusual case of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which keeps to no schedule other than Larry David's inspiration.

    2022 has seen an unprecedented number of high profile shows return after experiencing extended time between seasons, either due to creative decisions, the COVID pandemic, or some combination of the two. In some cases, absence only made the hearts of fans and critics grow fonder. In other cases, the extended hiatus just gave the culture more of a chance to move on.

    Atlanta

    Length of hiatus: 3 years, 10 months, 14 days (May 10, 2018 — March 24, 2022)
    Atlanta was already on a path to an extended hiatus long before COVID. After the second season ended with Earn (Donald Glover) and Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) en route to Europe, production schedules were forced to accommodate for the show's increasingly in-demand stars. Glover had commitments to his music career and was filming The Lion King; Henry was filming Godzilla v. Kong, and Zazie Beetz was going to film Deadpool 2.

    The original plan was to shoot seasons three and four back-to-back, with season three premiering in January of 2021. Then came the pandemic and Atlanta had to wait a whole other year before resuming production, with the third season finally debuting in March of this year. When it did return, the acclaimed, Emmy-winning series delivered a polarizing season full of frequent digressions away from the central characters that some praised but others saw as a "letdown".

    Russian Doll

    Length of hiatus: 3 years, 2 months, 1 day (Feb 19, 2019 — Apr 20, 2022)
    The peculiarity of Russian Doll coming back after over three years was compounded by the fact that the first season of the show — a spectacular and singular season of television that earned richly deserved praise — felt like it could have stood alone as a limited series.

    Instead, Natasha Lyonne and team followed through on a delayed plan to deliver a second season that was praised for its audacity while at the same time leaving viewers even more confounded than they were during the show's twisty first season.

    Barry

    Length of hiatus: 2 years, 11 months, 5 days (May 19, 2019 — April 24, 2022)
    Barry hadn't quite begun filming episodes for its third season when COVID shut down production, but they picked back up in August of 2021.

    Of all the shows that had to take extended COVID pauses, few have returned to the kind of across-the-board praise that Barry has enjoyed in its third season, which continues to earn accolades for its creativity, ambition, and biting humor about the entertainment industry.

    Stranger Things


    Length of hiatus: 2 years, 10 months, 23 days (July 4, 2019 — May 27, 2022)
    The enormity of the production work on Stranger Things has meant it's been no stranger (as it were) to the concept of lengthy between-seasons hiatuses. The show dropped its mall-focused third season on the 4th of July, 2019, nearly two years after season two.

    Had the pandemic not happened, Stranger Things was likely to have returned at some point in 2020. Production had begun in January of 2020 but was halted in March for about six months. When filming resumed, COVID safety protocols showed down a production that was already going to be a lengthy undertaking with filming happening across three primary locations.

    When the show dropped the first part of its fourth season over Memorial Day weekend of this year, it resumed its place as one of the most talked-about shows on TV, and was popular enough to shoot a decades-old Kate Bush song back to the top of the charts.

    Westworld

    Length of hiatus: 2 years, 1 month, 23 days (May 3, 2020 — June 26, 2022)
    The third season of HBO's futuristic dystopian series premiered on the foreboding date of March 15, 2020. Which means fans were consuming it just as the world around them was devolving into a present-day dystopia.

    Production for the fourth season didn't resume until the following summer, and finally premiered this past weekend faced with the Herculean challenge of reminding viewers just what exactly is happening, a task made that much harder with an extra year in between.

    Succession

    Length of hiatus: 2 years, 4 days (October 13, 2019 — October 17, 2021)
    Succession had an even better post-COVID reception than Barry. Filming for the third season was supposed to have begun in April 2020, but got pushed back to the end of that year.

    When the show finally re-emerged after two years away, the appetite for it was absolutely voracious, and it promptly took its place as the TV show of the moment in America. Expect next month's Emmy nominations to reflect Succession's increased dominance, one which the pandemic couldn't slow for long.

    Better Call Saul

    Length of hiatus: 1 year, 11 months, 29 days (April 20, 2020 — April 18, 2022)
    The nearly two-year break between seasons five and six can be partly attributed to COVID delays, but producers also had to contend with the complicating factor of Bob Odenkirk's on-set heart attack in July of 2021.

    The show returned this spring amid a wave of goodwill and support for Odenkirk, followed by the usual raves from critics and fans who were enthralled and put on edge by the first installment of the show's final season.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Barry, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Russian Doll, Stranger Things, Succession, Westworld