"Wendell’s Guide to Prime Time TV (part one)"


A MetaFilter thread on the “Save Jericho (It’s a TV Show)” campaign prompted me to write the following…

Okay, here’s the math. Network TV bases a disproportionate amount of their advertising sales efforts on the results of NOT the everyweek ratings, but three 4-week “Ratings Sweeps” in November, February and May. It’s 30-31 weeks between the beginning of November and the end of May. Also, since the ‘traditional’ start of the TV season is September, they feel obligated to premiere the new fall shows 6-7 weeks before the November sweeps start to prevent the other networks from hooking ‘regular viewers’ for all their shows first (it also gives them time to dump the real dogs before the Sweeps start). Way back in the 1950s and 1960s, the then-three networks started cutting back the number of shows in a “season”, from 39 to 36 to 32 to 26 to 24 to a standard-since-the-mid-70s 22. Spreading 22 shows over a 30-31 or 36-37 week period and making sure that 12 of them air during the all-important Sweeps results in long, boring hiatuses. Which is why Fox now airs “24” and “American Idol” form January through May and kisses the November Sweeps bye-bye. And the new deal for “Lost” on ABC will be for 16 episodes a year, aired Feb-May for the next three years. And NBC’s “Heroes” got 24 eps for next year, plus a short-run 6 episode spin-off “Origins” in the same universe with new characters to fill the hiatus periods.

My advice: if an interesting new show premieres (especially on Fox) the month before Sweeps, just TiVo it and store it; if it survives to the end of Sweeps, it’s safer to watch (not safe, just safer). And if a show is described in the press as “on the bubble” for renewal a month before the season is scheduled to end, just TiVo it. It will definitely have a “you don’t dare cancel us” cliffhanger and the network will probably cancel it anyway. If not, you can enjoy the cliffhanger the week before the show returns in the fall.

That said, I’ve been pondering doing predictions for the Fall Season shows the umpteen networks have announced because, privately and informally, I think I’ve had a pretty good track record on such things. Stay tuned.

1 Comment (so far) about

"Wendell’s Guide to Prime Time TV (part one)"

  1. M.B. Says:

    Interesting… I never thought of it that way. I think I’ll take some of your advice about new shows. I’ve been burnt too many times!

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