Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cycle of Television

A reader from nearby Oz, Nick has a question.

In American the TV seasons seem to be set in stone (September - April; is that right?). Two questions to ask - when was this decided, who decided and why and - secondly if the summer season is the non-ratings period because it's off season then how to networks determine how much to charge for advertising during shows that run during summer? Or is the idea of a non-ratings period more a label than an actual fact.

Two main reasons, and they go hand in hand. Summer ratings in the U.S. are the lowest of the year because the weather is good, it stays light later, and really, who wants to watch television when you can do anything else?  But come September the nights gets colder, the kinder are back in school, you're broke after taking the family to one Yankee game, and all of a sudden the ol' flickering magic box looks pretty good to you.  TV draws its largest audience of the year in the fall.

Also, that's when auto makers would traditionally unveil their new models for the year.  This was a big deal!  All summer we were teased with car commercials showing the new models hidden under sheets and a bombardment of promos for the new shows.

By September they had us whipped up into a complete frenzy.    Think of the crazed anticipation fanboys have for the new Dark Knight movie opening this summer.    Now multiply it by a thousand.  That was us over the new Corvair '62 and the premiere of PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.

Advertisers pay networks based on the size of the audience.  So rates are adjusted accordingly. 

One difference between now and the early days of TV -- the fall schedule is now locked in in early May.   It used to get set in February for a late September start.   But that was also when shows delivered 39 episodes a year and not, at the very most, 24.   Producers needed that lead time.    Of course, back then networks didn't yank shows after only two airings.  On the other hand, they never made shows as bad as WORK IT. 

Sorry - that was like five questions. I'm curious though because here in Australia we start playing all the high rating shows in early February (rule of thumb says they all premiere the week after the Australian Open (Tennis) finishes) and they run to about June. Then we enter a non-ratings few weeks... but it includes some very high rating sport events, before a second season of shows that weren't played in the first half of the year (generally the CSI's are played in the 2nd half of the year) runs run like July - November. December and January are completely dead TV wise. Hence I am writing this instead of watching Ice Road Truckers :)

But that makes sense because your February begins your Fall.   You're pretty much on the same cycle as we are just flipped.   So you can expect WORK IT around July.  Enjoy!  Meanwhile, I'm bringing THONG CHALLENGE back to the U.S.

17 comments:

Paul Duca said...

I don't quite think your comparison of the interest generated for the new cars and TV shows every fall back in the day to the passion of modern fans for the latest superhero movie is quite accurate, for the fact that the increase of intensity was spread out over a much wider portion of the population. Individually, people may not have gotten as worked up over them, but everyone from old men to little girls would have their curiousity piqued by one, the other, or both.

VP81955 said...

The TV season concept generally goes back to the days of radio, although it didn't truly firmly evolve until the television era.

Chris said...

Can you tell us a little more about the play you wrote with David that Jason Alexander was in? How is that process different from writing for television and how much do you feel the need to rewrite something that didn't quite work or get enough laughs?

Eric J said...

"Meanwhile, I'm bringing THONG CHALLENGE back to the U.S."

Sounded like an interesting cultural exchange until I looked it up and it involves giant flip flops not micro thongs.

Al said...

While I (thankfully) never saw WORK IT, I can't agree that they never used to produce shows that bad. Like anything else, we tend to remember the higher quality shows, and forget the stinkers. Growing up in the 70's I was always struck by the difference between shows like Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart, and shows like Mayberry RFD. Even as a kid, I couldn't understand how one show could be so damned funny, and one show could be so dull.

I recently picked up Challenge of the Super Heroes, which was a set of two, two hour specials that were produced in the 70's starring DC Comics Characters like Batman and Hawkman. When I was a kid, this was the best thing ever created. I watch it now, and it's like driving hot needles through my eyes.

BigTed said...

Ken, why do they still have "sweeps"? Presumably ratings companies are better able than ever to tell how may people are watching a show at any given time. So why do advertisers spend their money based on these particular periods, when networks trot out special programming intended to bring in viewers who might not tune in otherwise? It doesn't seem as if it would be an accurate gauge of who's watching the rest of the time.

Angie said...

Friday question: It really seems like Hollywood is in desperate need for original ideas. So many stories are being retold. I have a fantastic, original idea for a screenplay. I have looked into how to write a screenplay, software, outlines, margins, etc. However, I am not a writer and have no desire to submit one. I lived this story and want it to be told. I have 75% of a book proposal complete for this idea, only missing the sample chapter. Therefore, I have done all the necessary research on how many people this topic would touch (it is high). Any suggestions on how to pitch a story idea and get it told?

michael said...

Hey, "Work It" lasted twice as long as "Turn On" (ABC, 1969). Yeah, 1969 back when the networks left shows on long enough to develop.

Kirk said...

"That was us over the new Corvair '62 and the premiere of PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES."

I wonder what Ralph Nadar thought about Pat Crowly in the Doris Day role.

Carol said...

I have a Friday question, that's possibly a bit complicated, but I'd really like to hear your opinion about this.

I've seen criticism of Stephen Moffatt (Show-runner for Doctor Who, for any of you non-geeks)accusing him of being slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) misognistic in his potrayal of women. Briefly, people feel all his women seem to need to be 'completed' by marriage and babies.

I remember being sort of annoyed at Cheers and its female characters. (To be fair the show aired during my formative high school and college years, when I was far more opinionated than I am now.) Basically though I felt both Diane and Rebecca got stupider as the series went on.

I know the short answer to this 'it's funny' but this brings me (finally) to my point. As a writer, how do you deal with this? What's the line between trying to portray people without invoking stereotypes and telling the story you need to tell? Not just with female characters, but any character that might be aised up as an example (Jack from Will and Grace, for example.) Do you worry about backlash or just tell the story and hope for the best?

Joseph said...

It was in the pre-television days of network radio that a broadcasting season became established as beginning in September. People didn't listen to the radio much at nights during the summer, for reasons Ken noted, and advertisers saw no point in paying their high-priced talent to do shows during June, July and August for a minimal number of listeners. So the Eddie Cantors and Jack Bennys (look 'em up, kiddies -- they were big once) went on vacation during those months and other talent, generally lesser known and always less-expensive, was hired to fill-in. Sometimes the summer talent was well enough received that they went on to bigger things. Abbott and Costello, for example, started out as a summer replacement before being promoted to their own long-running radio show.

Anonymous said...

Didja know: ABC had a drag sitcom on during the 1968-69 season, a series titled "The Ugliest Girl in Town," about a man who, through contrived circumstances, becomes a sensation as a female fashion model and continues the charade because he happens to be in love with a girl who lives in London, and his "female" modeling career happens to require him to fly there regularly. It lasted three or four months.

Anonymous said...

"I felt both Diane and Rebecca got stupider as the series went on."

Happens to every sitcom character: Homer Simpson, Bud Bundy, Matthew from Newsradio, the pilot neighbor from Bob Newhardt, Jez from Peep Show, Rachael Green, the couple from the show between Friends & Seinfeld. They all get ruined through the success of their series. I can't watch M*A*S*H because of what Hawkeye became.

Lisa Miller is almost an exception: she rationalized/subverted childbearing & marriage. By the end though, she was a caricature, too; maybe not as much as Diane or Rebecca.

Paul Duca said...

Ken...I heard that the baseball officially starts the end of March with the Mariners playing in Tokyo. Are you going>

Mike McCann said...

Ken,

The whole "marketing" year began right after Labor Day: as you noted, new cars, new prime time lineups (and fresh episodes) on TV, plus -- back when we grew up in the '50s, 60s and early 70s -- introduction of the new TV sets (bigger screens, better performance, technological improvements), led by a barrage of spots on then-RCA-owned NBC. Remember when the electronics makers (RCA, GE, Zenith, Admiral, Motorola, Westinghouse) tried to out-do each other with breakthroughs and the occasional "streamlined" cabinetry? And not to be overlooked, new clothes for us back-to-school kids! Completing the cycle, it all roughly coincided with the New Year on the Jewish calendar. Coincidence?

Nick said...

Thanks for answering my very long winded question Ken...

And of course just to prove me wrong the networks in Australia this year decided to start all the new shows DURING the Australian Open which meant I had to choose between watching the 2nd episode of Homeland and watching Rafa and Docovich play in the final. In the end the final went for six hours so i could do both :)

cadavra said...

The concept of a fall season goes even further back than that: to live theatre (especially in the pre-air-conditioning days, when theatres could get plenty hot in summer), and then to the movies. In fact, for the first few years, the Academy Awards were given out for the "season" (i.e., September thru August), rather than the calendar year; that switch was made around 1933.