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The Real Reason 13 Reasons Why Isn't Coming Back For Season 5

It's not easy to walk out on a hit property. You have to respect a creative team with the will power to leave their audience wanting more.

While many successful shows milk their winning formula for all its worth by plowing on into double-digit seasons well past the point of diminishing returns, some certified hits actually know when to call it. Netflix's teen drama 13 Reasons Why just joined the latter camp with its fourth — and final — season, which started streaming on June 5, 2020. Die-hard fans no doubt would have preferred to see the series soldier on, but the creative team behind the smash hit actually makes a pretty compelling case for ending when they did.

13 Reasons Why has been dogged by controversy since it first bowed back in 2017. Aside from the suicide at the center of series' plot, the show sticks its hand in just about every cultural light socket it can find. Over just four seasons, 13 Reasons Why has addressed bullying, racism, sexual assault, mental health, drug addiction, homophobia, domestic violence, immigration, police brutality, steroid abuse, homelessness, abortion, HIV, and — of course — school shootings. Clearly, the Liberty High School counselors have their hands full.

As a result of all the outrage, many fans assumed that Netflix simply threw in the towel. It wouldn't be the first distributor unwilling or unable to continue standing up against a backlash. That's apparently not the case, however. The real reason 13 Reasons Why went out at the height of its popularity is actually pretty sensible and mundane. According to showrunner Brian Yorkey, it was a matter of verisimilitude. He's a firm believer that high school shows shouldn't last any longer than high school (via Cosmopolitan).

13 Reasons Why was just following the academic calendar

13 Reasons Why was originally adapted from a young adult novel of the same name, but the TV show has moved far beyond the four corners of its source material. Yorkey and his writing team managed to concoct all manner of interesting storylines to extend the plot for three additional seasons, so it's not hard to imagine they could have managed a fourth if they really wanted to.

Yorkey explained to Entertainment Weekly that he's always skeptical of high school shows that last beyond the standard four years of high school. For him, watching his original cast graduate "felt like the logical ending point." Of course, shows have always found ways to work around this inherent limitation. Some series opt to keep their stars in a state of suspended animation, essentially trapping them in a never-ending high school experience that can wear on for years. Others choose to bring in a new cast of underclassmen to replace the graduating cohort. For what it's worth, Yorkey doesn't think either life-extending procedure works particularly well.

"I'm always a little bit suspicious of high school shows that go beyond four seasons because high school is four years long," he said. "So when somehow high school shows become seven and eight seasons long—don't get me wrong, I watch them all—but I tend to get a little suspicious of something that began as a high school show."

Sounds pretty definitive, though Yorkey did offer the show's mourning fanbase a tiny ray of hope. While he can't imagine heading back into Liberty High for another high school story, he could imagine exploring his character's lives beyond high school. "I'd be very interested to see how some of these characters do at college," he told EW. "But I love the idea also of leaving that up to all of our imaginations and making this a four-season high school show."

Who's in for 13 Reasons Why: The College Years?