I notice this more when watching American shows - but for example, the Canadian show "Continuum" skipped a week after only four episodes in the current season. This is something I have seen frequently and can cite a variety of other examples using the list of shows that I usually watch, namely NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Lost Girl, Dexter, Breaking Bad, etc.

Using NCIS Season 10 as a pertinent example;

  • break after episode 3,
  • break after episode 5,
  • break after episode 10 (this one is presumably for Christmas),
  • break after episode 14,
  • break after episode 20

I have mentioned Breaking Bad, but I am excluding the long term break in the middle of season five, as that isn't an example of the kind of breaks I am querying. Specifically, my question is in relation to the seemingly sporadic one week breaks that occur in the "current" season being broadcast.

Why do TV shows take frequent breaks during a season?

  • 1
    In the case of NCIS, there are some easy answers: after #3, preempted by Presidential debate; after #5, Presidential election coverage; after #14, State of the Union address. I guess you know who to blame now!
    – FredH
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


As FredH mentioned in his comment, in this particular case most of the gaps in NCIS correspond to political pre-emptions. However, even when there aren't these kinds of special things going on, most shows on the big networks have these kind of breaks. The reason is they are trying to make sure that they have shows for as many sweep periods as possible.

What is a "sweep period?"

In the Nielsen ratings system, there are four periods per year (November, February, May and July) when Nielsen does intensive viewer diaries in addition to the electronic metering. These diaries have a lot of impact on a shows ratings. Thus, networks want to make sure they have shows during these times. However, there are 34-35 weeks between late September (the traditional start of the network "season") and the end of May (to make sure that the May sweep is covered).

Since the average TV show only runs about 24 episodes these days (in the early days of TV it was closer to 30 but to save on costs most big 3 network series are only 22-24 today) that means that there are 10-11 weeks difference between the time they are trying to cover and the number of episodes they have to use. This is why there are breaks over the season. They usually group the episodes around the sweeps period and either fill in with other shows, movies, holiday specials, events, etc.

  • How do you know this? Are you in the industry?
    – wallyk
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 9:06
  • 3
    @wallyk Sweeps is a bit of common knowledge with some enthusiasts and easily found on Wiki.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 13:13
  • 1
    TylerShads is correct, however I did work for a local netowrk affiliate for a few years. Commented May 22, 2013 at 15:58
  • This is amazing if true! It's amazing particularly as these breaks must lose viewers whose interest wanes during the breaks.
    – Simd
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 12:02

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