Was 11 Episodes Too Long for The Sing-Off?

Measure for Measure

In Measure for Measure, A Cappella Blog contributor takes a look at both sides of a controversial issue in collegiate a cappella. Please note that the views expressed by columnists do not necessarily represent those of The ACB as an organization, nor do they necessarily represent the view of individual columnists. The purpose of this piece is to explore issues and further civil, intellectual debate.

In 2011, season three of The Sing-Off aired for 11 episodes (plus a Christmas special). The show highlighted the largest cast in the show’s history and facilitated the breakout success of Pentatonix. Just the same, the season’s episodes also earned the lowest ratings in the show’s history, leading to its temporary cancellation (before the post-Pitch Perfect spring 2013 announcement that NBC would revive it). In this edition of Measure for Measure we take a look at the statement:

Season Three of The Sing-Off was too long.

True: Television is a business in which big viewership equals big ratings, which equal big advertising dollars. The first two seasons of The Sing-Off, when the show was treated as, essentially, a holiday miniseries, fared really well. Given a finite period of time during which most other major networks were airing reruns or their own holiday specials, casual a cappella fans turned up in droves to make the show nothing short of a ratings success story.

Stretching the season to 11 episodes necessitated venturing out of the holiday season comfort zone and into competition with regular, mainstream network programming like How I Met Your Mother, Dancing with the Stars, and House--a war that the a cappella community wasn’t ready to weather.

Moreover, the prolonged season tested the patience of casual fans. Sure, hardcore acappellaholics, the likes of which read a cappella blogs, were overjoyed to have a full fall slate of Sing-Off episodes. But for the more casual fans, reframing their attention span from two weeks to over three months was a lot to ask. Settling back into a shorter season is key to The Sing-Off’s chances at long-term survival.

False: The Sing-Off is a good enough show that it deserves a “full” season (“full” in quotation marks, because airing 11 episodes still feels like a half-season at best).

The third season allowed a greater diversity of groups than its predecessors, which exposed the world so much of what a cappella can do and be, including the traditional college crews like The Dartmouth Aires and Vocal Point, all-female powerhouse Delilah, old school North Shore, high school kids Soul’d Out, a hip-hop group like Urban Method, a jazz-infused group like Afro-Blue, darlings of the a cappella world Sonos, a quirky collection of acts like The Messiah’s Men and The Fannin Family to round out the roster.

In addition, letting the show air over a period of 11 weeks gave time for audiences to really get to know the talents on stage. Case in point, it wasn’t until episode five that I really even liked Pentatonix, and it was the length of the season that allowed the group to separate itself from the pack and truly connect with a general audience. If a cappella is truly going to continue the process of breaking out and winning over new fans, the form needs more time to do it.