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.