One of the interesting side effects of the trend towards continuity-heavy, serialized television dramas has been a decreased tolerance for reruns. It’s difficult enough to follow a sprawling, epic story arc over the course of a nine-month TV season; trying to keep up with it through seemingly random breaks in the production schedule can be too much for an audience to bear. It turns out that in many cases, a season-long arc can almost be too much for the producers to bear as well, as the oft-variable episode quality on shows like Lost and Veronica Mars last season showed.

24 has gotten around this problem by waiting until after New Year’s to start its season. Obviously, though, the networks can’t do that for every show, or else they’d have nothing to air in the fall but Dancing With the Stars and Deal or No Deal. The thought of that is too terrifying to consider, and so programmers have been forced to think up other ways to keep audiences engaged with their favorite shows.

This year, a number of series are experimenting with the idea of breaking their seasons up into chunks, showing a batch of episodes in the fall, going on hiatus for a month or two, then running straight on through May sweeps. The break in the schedule, in addition to giving both audiences and producers time to catch up with things, gives shows an opportunity to tighten up their plots. Instead of having to spread clues and character arcs out over 22 episodes, they can treat the broken-up season as two separate mini-seasons, complete with mysteries that get solved, red herrings that get deboned, and in Lost’s case, more of the usual non-answers to lingering questions.

The only downside to this format is that nearly all of the shows I follow — Lost, VM, Prison Break, Heroes and probably a few others that have slipped my mind — seem to be going on hiatus at the same time, which means that the next two months are going to be pretty dry for me. I guess this is a good time to work through some of that Netflix backlog.