I know that usually British sitcoms have far fewer episodes than US ones, but Sherlock kind-of takes this too far. I mean, one season has has only 3 episodes, and even the seasons come about 1-2 years apart.

I was just wandering if there's any specific reason for this? And also the running time of one episode is well above the par (90 minutes against the usual 40).

  • 11
    Because it isn't so much of a classic 45 min TV-show. It's more like individual feature length movies. More similar to, say, Columbo and such things, I guess.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Mar 18, 2014 at 11:42
  • One episode? I thought they all were 90 minutes? May 30, 2014 at 14:17
  • They are all 90 minutes long.
    – Gwyn Evans
    Jun 1, 2014 at 20:14

4 Answers 4


You've already stated the fact British shows tend to have fewer episodes than their American counterparts (see here for a great explanation).

However, there are a few other things to consider when discussing Sherlock. From a Digital Spy article:

"[The format is] very closely held," [PBS Executive] Eaton told Collider. "Steven [Moffat] crafts them, and Mark [Gatiss] writes some of them. It's a lot of work, and [Steven] also does Doctor Who and he worked on Tintin, so there couldn't be more than three."

Eaton argued that Sherlock co-creators Moffat and Gatiss use up all of their "creative juice" on the show.

"I think there will only ever be three at a time, if we're lucky," she said. "It's getting harder and harder to do another season, not just because Benedict and Martin [Freeman] are getting such high profiles, but Steven and Mark are busy and in demand."

So it does appear that, in addition to the excellent answer I linked to discussing the shorter British seasons, the fact that Moffat has so many other shows to look after means they are on a very tight schedule and don't have time for more episodes.


Also, to give more background on the schedules of Cumberbatch and Freeman, consider just Cumberbatch's acting roles since Sherlock began:


  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • War Horse
  • The Hobbit
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Fifth Estate
  • August: Osage County

That's a lot of production in a short period of time. Not only are the creators of the show busy with other projects, so are the lead actors.

  • Thanks! The link explains it nicely... But IMO, they should focus some more time on Sherlock, given its popularity. Would love if some more episodes come out.
    – Roshnal
    Mar 18, 2014 at 8:34
  • 2
    True, but look at the popularity of it compared to Doctor Who! Suddenly it's not so hot :) Mar 18, 2014 at 8:35
  • Yeah, good point :D
    – Roshnal
    Mar 18, 2014 at 8:42
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    @Roshnal When you change your perspective and think of them as three feature length movies (instead of episodes) you get a better idea of how impressive a feat it is. (Especially given everyone's schedules.) And there's at least three more movies on the way! Mar 18, 2014 at 9:18
  • 3
    Since Sherlock and Watson are both in The Hobbit (which took place a long time ago), should we consider it a prequel to Sherlock? (Sure, they changed their names, like that's gonna fool us...) Mar 19, 2014 at 3:36

To quote co-creator Steven Moffat (February 2014):

We deal with scheduling. I’ve also got to do 'Doctor Who'. I’ve got no choice about that. That’s the day job. Everyone is a little bit busy.


If we made 'Sherlock' the ordinary way, and did a run of 6 or 12, it would have been over by now. It would have been done because Martin [Freeman] and Benedict [Cumberbatch] would never have been able to find the time, after the first [season]. It would be done.


Who says that the only way to make television is to make loads and loads of episodes for five years, until everybody is absolutely sick of it, particularly the people who are making it?


I’ve heard so many American showrunners talk about the shorter run – which for them is 12 or 13, but that’s quite a long run for us – and that all you’re losing are the filler episodes, and I think that’s true.

I do think that sharpening the appetite and having shorter runs of more shows is a better way.

If you make a star of somebody, you have a chance of keeping them, if you’re not insisting that they work nine months of the year on your production.

US Shows

  • Mike Kelley, the creator and showrunner of Revenge quit after the second season because

    the pressure to churn out 22 episodes a season while maintaining the quality has taken a toll, sometime causing tension on the set and ultimately leading to Kelley’s decision to move on

  • Marc Cherry, the man behind Desperate Housewives says:

    If viewers like a show, they want more. Networks want more. But for a writer, the pressure can be overwhelming. At the end of ‘Desperate,’ I felt completely wrung out.

  • Noah Wyle, who currently stars in Falling Skies had this to say:

    When I was doing ‘ER’ we’d joke about the ‘episode 13 to 17 malaise’. You’d feel like you were sleepwalking and repeating a lot of what you’d already done.

    And about 'Falling Skies':

    We could push to 12 [episodes], maybe. But if we went beyond that, we’d start having storylines where I find someone’s wallet and try to figure out how to return it.

  • Kevin Bacon wanted to do only 15 episodes a season for 'The Following':

    That lightens the load on the actor who can continue to do multiple features a year and spend time with his family.

Note: It can take 8-9 months to produce 22 episodes.


In addition to the other reasons given here, limiting specifically the time available by the Sherlock cast and crew, I'd like to point out that three or four 60 to 90-minute episodes is actually a very common format for a "series" in UK television, and Sherlock is far from the only series to use it. It seems to be particularly popular with detective/mystery shows.

In fact, the 1980s John Hawkesworth Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett actually reverted to that format for The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (6th season). In more recent times, Case Histories, The Bletchly Circle, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Foyles War, Endeavour, and The Casual Vacancy, have all been only three or four, 60 or 90-minute episodes. The examples are legion of this type of shorter series format on UK television, both from the BBC and the commercial channels.


Time constraints and I would imagine Gatiss especially is a more 'quality over quantity' kind of fellow.

  • 4
    Hello and welcome to Movies & TV. Your answer is opinionated and doesn't contain any reference to source material to provide evidence for your claims. For a better understanding of how to answer questions, take the Tour under the Help menu. Mar 18, 2014 at 14:50
  • And Moffat isn't? He only wrote and show-ran the most simultaneously viewed TV episode in history last year. Mar 18, 2014 at 16:19
  • I said Gatiss especially.
    – Alan B
    Mar 18, 2014 at 16:53

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