What Is the Most Padded TV Episode You’ve Ever Seen?


One theme I return to a lot is how episode length shapes the TV episodes we see: half-hour storytelling is different with 21 minutes or 24 or 29. A sub-theme is that whereas episodes today tend to run long, and need to be cut down to get them to length, TV episodes in the Old Days used to have the opposite problem, running short and needing to be padded out. This was especially true with hour-long single-camera dramas, where footage is expensive to shoot and staying on budget often means shooting less than 47 minutes’ worth of story. But it could also depend on production methods. On The Simpsons, every episode produced for the fourth season ran short and had to be padded with extra-long couch gags, footage lifted from previous episodes, the “rake scene,” etc. When new showrunners took over, though the running time was the same, they created extra-long episodes with lots of deleted footage.

Extra long establishing shots, voice-over conversations dubbed over generic automobile driving footage, musical montages, clips from previous episodes inserted into the new one — all these devices and many more have been used to get episodes up to length. The need to fill out 48-50 minutes often created a problem different from the one network shows face today: whereas today’s episodes have to be cut to the bone, often sacrificing character and atmosphere for the stuff that’s essential to the plot, older shows sometimes had to include scenes that weren’t really necessary, or repeated information given elsewhere, or filled us in on stuff we would have known anyway — just because taking it out would have left them with a too-short episode.

My semi-interactive question, then, is: what is the most-padded episode you’ve ever seen?

While I’m tempted to go for a Season 4 Simpsons episode, I have to pick an episode of The A-Team called “When You Comin’ Back, Range Rider?” This was a special double-length episode from when that show was at its peak of popularity, but either they miscalculated how long it would be, ran out of money, or had to turn a one-hour episode into two at the last minute (maybe all three). Not only was there all kinds of redundant re-hashing of information, but a portion of the first act consisted of clips from earlier episodes (as some dude explains what the A-Team is all about), even though this was not a clip show. Then they put it all together and it was still short, so the end credits ran almost five minutes — which may well be a TV record. On the bright side, if they ever make that A-Team movie they can use this extra-long theme song over the end credits of the movie.

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What Is the Most Padded TV Episode You’ve Ever Seen?

  1. I don't have a pick for most padded episode–if I think of one later I'll post again–but one great thing about HBO is the way it doesn't force its shows into uniform running time. So there needn't be any padding or any cutting of important scenes. I'm watching the first season of In Treatment right now, for example, some of the episodes run close to half an hour while other episodes are much closer to 20 minutes.

    I realize that there might be logistic difficulties with this, but some enterprising network really ought to consider giving its shows more leeway to determine running time on an episode by episode basis. If the episodes are finished far enough in advance, I wouldn't think it would be an issue to sell the right amount of ad time.

    Fox's Remote Free TV was nice, but both Fringe and Dollhouse (especially Fringe) often felt padded. The nonuniform running time seems like a better option to me.

  2. Obama's ABC (all barak channel) health care fiasco

  3. There's an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast where he's walking along the ground trying to find something just before commercial break, and at the return he keeps doing it until the next commercial.

    Man that show is for stoners.

  4. ANY clip show is obvious padding.

    From childhood memory: any Dukes of Hazzard show. That souped-up vroom-vroom sure got around.

    • Ya, but the General Lee was COOL! At least to this ten year old.

  5. If memory serves, any time you saw Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner driving to or from the station making (improvised) small talk on "Dragnet," it was padding. (And there's a possibly apocryphal story that one of those scenes was never used, because when Harry Morgan's Bill Gannon complained that his hair hurt, Jack Webb couldn't stop laughing long enough to respond.)

  6. I've recently seen a few episodes of Cold Case for the first time. They seem to end every show with a ponderous montage of flashbacks and people staring sadly off into space to some suitably heartfelt Sarah Mclachan type song. Maybe it's part of the artistic vision of the show, but it feels like padding to me.

    Also I notice shows like Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch, Amazing Race end every segment with a "coming up next", and then start every segment with a "what's happened so far". As though I can't be trusted to wait two minutes, nor remember what happened before, after the two minutes has passed . Drives me nuts! And it's clearly padding.

    • It's padding, but it's also a way for the channel flippers to get instantly engaged with what's happening.

    • The Cold Case example can certainly FEEL like padding, but I don't think it really counts, as they do that montage flashbacky thing in every episode (I'm sure the producers would say "it's not a bug, it's a feature"). Sometimes it's subtle, but that whole ending thing connects the contemporary characters from the Cold Case just solved, to their younger selves (from when the case was still "hot") to kind of wrap everything up, with a pretty bow.

      As I said, it certainly has the character of filler, but as it occurs in each and every episode, I don't think it's really "padding" in the traditional sense.

      P.S. I liked Cold Case much better back in the late 90s, when it was in Vancouver and called Cold Squad.

      • And they do have to pay for the music, which would argue against the idea that they're striving to fill time on the cheap.

  7. Dude. The rake gag? That was amazing.

  8. Almost every episode of "The Monkees" had some sort of padding: stand-alone music videos, interviews with the band members, blooper reels, guest appearances by other musicians, etc. The padding was more often entertaining than the actual scripted episode.

  9. The first thing that came to mind was "The Alternative Factor" from Star Trek TOS. Just scene after scene of Lazarus wandering around the Enterprise for no reason at all. According to Memory Alpha, that's because a romantic subplot was cut when a black actress was cast in what would have been the love interest role.