Contrary to popular opinion, I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing." If you agree with me, you might find yourself wondering on occasion why John Olivier's show Last Week Tonight has such short seasons. Season 1 was just 24 episodes long, airing from the end of April to the beginning of November in 2014. Season 2 was significantly longer, with 35 episodes airing between February and November of 2015. Season 3 was bumped down to 30, which aired between February and November of 2016. That might sound like a lot of episodes, but it's strikingly low for a news series — especially one that airs just once a week.
In contrast, The Daily Show, where John Oliver got his start, has filmed 2,897 episodes as of press time on this article, which, divided by 22 seasons, comes down to an average of 132 show a year. With four shows a week — new episodes air Monday through Thursday — means they work about 33 weeks a year. So why are seasons of Last Week Tonight so short, comparatively?
During a roundtable interview at HBO on Feb. 6, Oliver explained to reporters that, even though there's just a week between episodes, some individual pieces take months of research. That, of course, slows down production significantly. On top of that, in Oliver's own words, "everything is fact-checked rigorously; we do a lot of work fact-checking everything we do."
Last Week Tonight is also structured differently from its competitors, eschewing the traditional news program formats like sparring and interviews, which would, ideally, make the show easier to produce. After all, those aren't as research intensive. But the exclusion of those elements was intentional on Oliver's parts, as he explained Monday, "I don't see the point in sparring, for us. For us it’s only a value if we can get something out of [the guest] for the story we’re working on."
When nearly every story you report on is a deep dive, your seasons are necessarily going to get shorter, as you need to stay focused instead of spreading yourself too thin. And Oliver has indeed stayed focused. Despite the breaks in the airing schedule of Last Week Tonight, the host claims he doesn't take breaks between seasons, something he joked might be confusing considering his "relaxed face and tan."
So basically, the answer to the question of why seasons of Last Week Tonight are so short is because John Oliver cares about you, and he wants you to get solid, reliable information. Instead of being content just to show you the tip of the iceberg, Oliver wants to reveal the whole floe, and he's proving that he's willing to work nonstop if that's what it takes to do that.
Additional reporting by Kelsea Stahler