Why the 16 Episode Order for Season 1 of ‘Outlander’ Is Significant

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It wasn’t until recently that I thought about how extraordinary the first season order of Outlander really is.  This is a brand new show, untested in viewing numbers or marketability.  The best thing going for it is that the show already has a large fan base due to Diana Gabaldon’s novels.  This helps with potential buyers considering the show has not aired yet.  We have known basically from the beginning that the series will premiere with 16 episodes.  Will we have a mid-season break or will the series continuously air every Sunday for 16 weeks?  Regardless, scheduling a one-hour drama for that long period of time can be challenging, especially if you have other original series or specials to fit in.  Again, my thoughts drifted to how unique a 16 episode order is for a premium cable original series, so I thought I would do some research to compare Outlander to other original series that have aired on Starz and the other premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime).  Here is what I found:

One Hour Original Series on Premium Cable and Number of Episodes per Season (Dramas Only):

Game of Thrones (HBO) – 10 episodes

True Blood (HBO) – 10 -12 episodes

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – 12 episodes

Big Love (HBO) – 9 to 12 episodes

Carnivale (HBO) – 12 episodes

Deadwood (HBO) – 12 episodes

Dexter (Showtime) – 12 episodes

Homeland (Showtime) – 12 episodes

Masters of Sex (Showtime) – 12 episodes

Ray Donovan (Showtime) – 12 episodes

Shameless (Showtime) – 12 episodes

The Newsroom (HBO) – 9 to 10 episodes

The Wire (HBO) – 10 -13 episodes

Treme (HBO) – 5 to 11 episodes

True Detective (HBO) – 8 episodes

The Sopranos (HBO) – 9 to 13 episodes

Six Feet Under (HBO) – 12 to 13 episodes

Rome (HBO) – 10 to 12 episodes

Oz (HBO) – 8 to 16 episodes

Da Vinci’s Demons (Starz) – 8 to 10 episodes

Spartacus (Starz) – 6 to 13 episodes

Camelot (Starz) – 10 episodes

Magic City (Starz) – 8 episodes

Black Sails (Starz) – 8 episodes

The Tudors (Showtime) – 8 to 10 episodes

The Borgias (Showtime) – 9 to 10 episodes

Half Hour Original Series on Premium Cable and Number of Episodes per Season (Dramas Only):

The Big C (Showtime) – 4 to 13 episodes

In Treatment (HBO) – 28 to 43 episodes

Hung (HBO) – 10 episodes

Californication (Showtime) – 8 to 12 episodes

House of Lies (Showtime) – 12 episodes

Weeds (Showtime) – 10 to 15 episodes

Girls (HBO) – 10 to 12 episodes

Sex and the City (HBO) – 8 to 18 episodes

The only shows that come close to Outlander in terms of episodes are In Treatment and Sex in the City, which are 30 minute shows, and one season of Oz.   None of these series are period pieces that require historical sets or elaborate handmade costumes (I guess Sex and the City did have couture fashion).  Most series have 10 to 12 episodes per season. It is not easy to compare production costs since this information is not readily available or accurate.  That would be another indicator of how Outlander measures up.  I certainly do not think it is being cheaply made or on a meager budget.

(Updated since first posted because I forgot to include this discussion!) Let’s focus on Game of Thrones.  This is the most popular series on premium cable hands down.  People salivate at seeing these characters coming to life and what is next.  Game of Thrones, the novel, by George R.R. Martin is 807 pages long in the mass trade paperback.  Outlander is 850 pages long in the same version.  How did Game of Thrones only get a ten episode order?  I have not read the novel yet, but there probably is enough material to have expanded the season.  Currently, Martin has only five novels in the series out, and the TV series is on Season 4 right now.  If anything, I would have expected Outlander to be conservative and go for 10 episodes.

While I am not a film or TV insider, having only experienced them through the press side of things, it still amazes me that Sony, Tall Ship Productions, and Starz have so much faith in the material, the actors, and the whole production to warrant a sixteen episode order.  They are giving the world its first adaptation of the beloved Outlander series.  Most of us already believe that the investment will pay off, but I will be anxiously waiting for the viewer numbers on August 10th.

Sources: Starz, HBO, Showtime