Ryan Murphy is the King of television excess, a crown well-earned after years of producing American Horror Story, Scream Queens, and Glee. In 2016, however, he did something fascinating — he toned down all the typical elements of what makes a series a Ryan Murphy series and turned in The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and American Horror Story: Roanoke, two of his most complex and subdued series yet. Now, with Feud: Betty and Joan, it looks like Murphy is going back to his roots and going all-out for this biopic series. However, Murphy may have learned that more is not necessarily better and is showing that approach through how many episodes are in Feud's first season.
Television seasons have been growing shorter for years now, with 12 or 13-episode seasons becoming the standard for many television series, and even less for others. Murphy cut his teeth on full length network series like Glee, and for the five seasons of American Horror Story, Murphy took on 12 or 13-episode seasons. However, The People Vs. O.J. Simpson and Roanoke both came in at just 10 episodes and proved to be two of Murphy's best products yet. Now Murphy is going a step further and is telling the story of Feud in only eight episodes.
While the prospect of having more hours of a television show is good in theory, the truth is that it's a lot more work. Not only are the filming, editing, and all the other behind-the-scenes post-production work more complicated, but writing it becomes difficult too. With so much time to fill, it's easy for a series to lose its way and become unfocused in the name of filling up time.
A shorter season also bring benefits in terms of cost and talent. It's cheaper to make an eight-episode series than a 10-episode series, and it's easier to get big-name actors to sign on for a shorter season as opposed to a longer on-going commitment. Murphy has been frequently blessed with some of the best all-star casts on television, and Feud may be his most high-profile cast yet — featuring AHS superstar Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kathy Bates, and Murphy's most frequent partner-in crime Sarah Paulson. Having a shorter season helps make casts like that affordable and pack a lot of great talent into a swift eight episodes instead of stretching it out over a longer period of time.
Eight episodes of Feud may not seem like many, but if that's all that Murphy needs to tell the story, then maybe it's for the best. Two of Murphy's greatest seasons of television so far have been only 10 episodes long, and, while that shortened length isn't solely responsible, it certainly plays a role. Feud has already been ordered for a second season covering Prince Charles and Princess Diana, meaning that while the story of Betty and Joan may be over in eight episodes there is still plenty of Feud to come.