'Bones': Final season and what helps a show air for so long?

Fox recently announced that its program 'Bones' will air for a twelfth and final season during the 2016-2017 TV season. 'Bones' is one of a few shows like 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Supernatural' that have ran for a huge amount of seasons in these changing TV times.

Todd Williamson/Invision/AP
'Bones' stars Emily Deschanel (l.) and David Boreanaz (r.).

Fox’s “Bones,” one of the longest-running fictional programs on TV right now, will end after airing a short season from 2016 to 2017.

The series stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz as a forensic anthropologist and an FBI agent, respectively, who work together to solve crimes. The show co-stars T.J. Thyne, Michaela Conlin, and Eric Millegan.

The final season will consist of 12 episodes and will be the program's twelfth.

Creator Hart Hanson referenced the show’s longevity in discussing the end of the show. “It’s comforting to know the world can count on at least one dependable beacon of stability,” Hanson said in a statement. “Apparently, that beacon is ‘Bones.’ ”

In the current TV industry, critically acclaimed cable and streaming shows in particular can run for several seasons – AMC’s “Mad Men,” for example, ran for seven – but often run for fewer episodes than a traditional network show. Therefore, “Mad” aired 92 episodes to the more than 200 already created by those behind “Bones” (and the show isn’t over yet.) 

While “Bones” will now end, there are a couple of other TV shows on network television like the CW’s “Supernatural” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” that have entered double-digit seasons and show no sign of slowing down. (“Supernatural” is currently airing its eleventh and “Grey’s” is airing its twelfth.) How have these shows stayed on the air for so long? 

One aspect can be the obvious one of ratings. Despite its long amount of time on the air and the competition, TVLine writer Michael Ausiello wrote of “Bones” in 2014, “The show… has been pulling decent numbers – a rare bright spot during a rough fall for the network.”

As ratings continue to be unpredictable on network TV – and those behind network TV are still figuring out what defines a success in the days of scattered TV viewing – a network like Fox most likely isn’t turning down a show that is drawing viewers.

Another path to longevity can be that exemplified by “Grey’s”: becoming part of what almost could be viewed as a franchise. “Grey’s” was created by Shonda Rhimes, who created or executive-produces the shows on ABC’s successful “TGIT” lineup, including “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” While it’s certainly possible that “Grey’s” could continue to get good ratings by itself, being presented as part of this successful package no doubt helps. 

“The outgoing chief [Paul Lee of ABC] can be credited with recognizing the power of the prolific producer's brand,” Hollywood Reporter staff wrote of Rhimes. “It was he who stood on stage at the 2014 upfront, revealing plans to introduce a Shondaland block – aptly titled TGIT – on Thursday nights. The shrewd decision to eventize the night around the network's most consistent showrunner was made that much more successful by the social media power of Rhimes and her heavily engaged talent… ‘Grey’s’ [is] still a top 10 show in its 12th season.” 

Meanwhile, the CW show “Supernatural” has one aspect of its success that is no doubt shared by the other shows as well: a large, devoted fan base. “Its Nielsen ratings are, frankly, not that great,” NPR writer Neda Ulaby wrote of the program in 2014. “Yet ‘Supernatural’ has lasted for nine seasons (so far), partly because its fan base makes up in engagement what it lacks in size… Fans appreciate the show's complicated plotting, its rich world of details and its unanswered questions.”

That fan base may be why those at the CW keep renewing the show.

Fox co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman referenced "Bones" fans as well in discussing the end of the show, saying in a statement, "'Bones' has been part of the fabric of our network and studio for over a decade, and during that time it has attracted one of the most devoted fan bases we’ve ever seen."

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