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


Outlander Poster

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

  • Kathy Neier

    Be interesting to see how the episodes are divided. Also, whether they’ll be a chunk of time at the beginning of the episode devoted to bringing the audience up to the minute from the prior episode.

  • David R

    Something to keep in mind is that Outlander and Game of Thrones are structurally VERY different! Outlander is almost ENTIRELY a story telling what Claire has witnessed – the biggest changes Ron is making in his adaptation is adding “non-Claire” scenes not in the book. The number of non-Claire “scenes” IN the book is pretty minimal.

    In contrast, GoT is the simultaneous telling of several (barely) related stories. The viewer (during each ~50 min ep) jumps through the worlds of at least five major players. Production-wise, it is a FAR more complex tale, and its producers have lamented that they barely can put together it’s annual 10 episodes. They wouldn’t mind have more eps/yr, but there literally isn’t enough time to produce more of what are effectively feature-length features (that are filmed all around the world).

    Also, I am unsure how many of these series are shown during the “Summer-season” – if this is true, 12 eps is about all that will fit.

    • Sarah Ksiazek

      One big one that is a summer show is True Blood.

  • Techno Git

    Outlander will be aired on Saturdays, not Sundays as seems to have been the convention for bigger budget series on HBO and Showtime. I’m a little nervous about that choice and would be interested to know how that decision was made.

    • Rolling Joe

      Starz premieres new episodes of their original programming on Saturday, probably so they don’t compete with HBO and Showtime. Each episode of Outlander will air numerous times over the following six days. Everyone will have plenty of opportunities to watch or DVR it.

    • Christine

      Da Vinci’s Demons is the time slot that Outlander will be in. Da Vinci just finished, then there will be a short interim series before Outlander takes over in August,,, Yeah!!! Outlander will do great in that time slot.

  • Rolling Joe

    As for when the sixteen episodes will air, based on Starz’s past scheduling, my prediction is they will air on consecutive weeks, with a break for Labor Day (Saturday, August 30) and Thanksgiving (Saturday, November 29). The final episode of season one will air on Saturday, December 6.

    It won’t run past December, as the premium channels always air new shows or new seasons of old shows in January.

  • DonnaMaree Austin

    Aside from a massive best selling fan base for nearly two decades the promotion of this series via social media and conventions etc have been massive: bigger than I have ever seen in both pre and post production. From this newsletter to author participation to recipes and gaelic lessons to name a few the promotions teams have done an outstanding job and the series is set to be a block buster bigger than both G.O.T and The Walking Dead.

  • WizardMage

    Game of Thrones only gets 10 episodes a season because it might be the most expensive television show. They film all over the world, have a crazy production and costume superior value with special effects that creates Direwolves and Dragons. That’s why.

  • Mary G

    As a long time avid fan of the book series (yes of course I’ve read them several times!) I was excited to see Outlander was finally coming to the screen, but doubtful it could measure up in any real way by comparison. So imagine the thrill I’ve experienced thus far at this excellent treatment of Ms. Gabaldon’s work. Yes, I find myself mentally nitpicking a few unimportant details (“Jamie” isna tall enough ya ken, “Claire’s” hair’s a wee bit too dark, etc…) but none of that has detracted from the essence of the excellent story telling that made readers literally fall in love with Outlander. Kudos to the producers and crew for doing this “the right way”, i.e. costumes, filming on location (you can’t beat the Scottish Highlands for a background– and no substitute would ever have really made this work), the script (Ms. G must be helping here in some way to ensure the screenwriters don’t stray too far), and even the excellent casting (despite Jamie missing about 8-10″). I’m not at all surprised that they decided to invest in 16 episodes right out the gate. In for a penny, in for a pound! Besides which, given the enormormity of the baked-in uber-loyal fan base from the book series (these guys have websites, conventions—Outlander fans are seriously loyal), coupled with big successes from other well made TV series such as The Tudors, and GOT, even Downton Abbey. What does surprise me is the gamble they are taking by deciding to take a months’ long respite after the first 8 episodes, just as they were gaining a lot of momentum. Diehard fans such as myself will wait with baited breath until April, most likely watching the reruns multiple times. But I’m concerned that those that have not read the books (and therefore don’t know how much good stuff is yet to come) may lose interest or find another TV show to watch during those long months. It’s not an unrealistic fear–I know quite a few fans of the book series who had difficulty getting through the first half of Book One, many of whom only stuck with it because of coaching (and all were very glad they did, because at that point Ms. G has got you well and truly hooked!) If those viewers new to Outlander have a similar experience and don’t return, then ratings may plummet, and that would be a damn shame. Ms. G has provided enough excellent material for 10 seasons easily, if not more. I just hope this decision to take a long winter’s nap so early in the game doesn’t cost the show the game. I know a few hundred thousand Outlander fans that would be crying in their pillows for a long time if that were to happen! I’m sure the producers that sunk money into this project wouldn’t be too happy either. Is it too late to change that decision? What a merry Christmas it would be for Outlander fans if Starz decided to run the next 8 episodes in December rather than April. “Back by overwhelmingly popular demand!” I’m just brainstorming here…

    • Bobbi Gruman

      Jamie is missing only 1″ compared with the books. Sam Brigham is 6 ft 3 in and book Jamie 6 ft 4 in. The error may come from TV Claire being quite tall.