Thursday, April 02, 2015

Speeding up sitcoms

Back in the old days of Top 40 radio, some stations would adjust the turntables to play 45's at 47 or 48 RPM's.  The point here was to make the records seem brighter and faster.   And in comparison -- duller and slower on the competition.

Eventually this got out of hand.  The other station started playing their records at 48.  To keep up, the first station began playing them at 49, and all of sudden songs were going out of key, singers were sounding like the chipmunks, and the audience began to notice -- and dislike.

And now television is doing the same thing -- very slightly speeding up the playback of syndicated sitcoms -- not to make them brighter or funnier or enhance them in any way.   They're doing it to squeeze in more commercials.  TBS and TNT are two culprits.  By compressing the show they can add two whole minutes of spots to shows like SEINFELD.

Here's an article from SLATE along with a sample. 

Personally, I think this is insidious, and it will prove to be yet another nail in the coffin of broadcast networks.   When you can stream SEINFELD, when you can buy SEINFELD, when you can see SEINFELD on local channels, and you know the show is distorted on TBS, why would you watch? 

These networks are insulting you, and being patently dishonest.  Subliminal advertising is not allowed.  Why should this be okay?   Are there disclaimers warning viewers that the shows are compressed?    When radio was exposed for speeding up records it just sent listeners fleeing to FM and contributed to the downfall of the Top 40 format.

Networks like TBS are mortgaging their future and the future of broadcast television.  Is the mistrust of your brand and eventual audience exodus worth the revenue of those two extra minutes?    My guess is the people in charge would say yes.  They're not going to be in those jobs in five years so what do they give a shit?

So what if they speed up their demise -- by four minutes an hour? 

58 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

Are you also counting when they squeeze the credits in a side box while they run promotional spots? Disservice to all the production staff who worked on the show and their brief time of recognition.

Dan Ball said...

AMC used to do this with FIRST BLOOD. It would always drive me nuts because I think I have something near perfect pitch and I'd listen to the movie for its score. When it would be on AMC, it would always sound like it was on helium. It was bad enough it had commercials and had been edited, but it didn't sound right, either. It's lame. At the time, I just thought it was a problem with the broadcast, but this explanation makes a lot more sense.

I think if they could get away with it, stations would just air commercials 24/7. Programming is just an afterthought.

Jonathan said...

Their choice is between speeding them up and cutting out more content to add commercial time. Kind of a Sophie's Choice for Seinfeld...

Neil D said...

Network television finished me off a long time ago when they started running first logos, then full advertisements, across the bottom of the screen. The radio equivalent would be, in the middle of a song, suddenly the volume diminishes and a jingle for the local pizza joint plays over top.

tim said...
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tim said...
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Oat Willie said...

I've been ranting about this kind of thing for several years without successfully starting a violent revolution. And yes, they'll not only speed it up but also cut bits out and add banner ads. The Corporation will do absolutely everything, no matter how big or small, to maximize profits and they don't care about the long run because it's not NOW.¡Viva la Revoluci√≥n!:

Anonymous said...

In the test the Slate article has, I scored 6 out of 9. The ones I did correctly were the ones I was already familiar with, so I had no trouble remembering what they were like at a normal speed.
For example, the scene from Frasier's Room Service would be a completely different experience (or, at least, it would be very different) if Niles got up any faster when Frasier wakes him up.
This is really completely ridiculous. Imagine, if they did this with The Big Bang Theory, the episodes themselves would only last about 16 minutes.

(First time in the comments)

tim said...

I have long wondered if speeding up the turntables was noticeable to most listeners - at least from 45 to 46 RPM. That is an increase of 2.2%. Going from middle C to C sharp changes the frequency from 261.6 to 277.18 Hertz (or cycles per second for us old school ham radio guys). That is an increase of 6%. Now here is the dangerous part of an engineer (even one who was a college radio DJ)speculating about music: Would a listener really be influenced - even subliminally - by a difference of 1/3 of a semitone. Heck, I'm sure I sing farther off key than that every week at church. I do notice that the same people rarely take the pew in front of us from week to week.

Was that era of radio subject to research that showed an influence of 1 RPM increase? Perhaps the "extra air time was more important." The average song back then might have been 2-1/2 minutes - 150 seconds. Say 15 records per hour, and the 2.2% gets you about 50 extra seconds per hour. Back to my slide rule now, while I listen to RichBroRadio.

MikeN said...

I've said before, I think this really impacts reruns of Becker.

The timing is just off.

Gary West said...

And - how busy/distracting is the TV screen is these days? Logo lower right - promo to the left - pop up here - bury the credits for another promo: bottom screen scrolling... you name it. No wonder why we love our DVD's, TCM, HBO etc.

John Hammes said...

... Well, timing IS everything ...



ODJennings said...

Radio stations didn't invent the idea of speeding up the records, the jukebox operators were doing it, well, about 15 minutes after the invention of the jukebox. After all, time is money.

kent said...

I hate those on screen banners as much as the next guy but now that we all fast forward through the ads what are the sponsors to do? Would you pay big dollars to air commercials few watch. I've long wondered why they don't design ads that visually sell the product on fast forward while blending sound and picture at normal speed.

V. Anton Spraul said...

Kent, the thing is, when cable television first arrived, the idea was that our subscriptions would cover the cost of the content so there wouldn't be any need for ads. Almost all of the early cable stations were effectively ad-free. Then someone decided we should pay to watch ads. For that matter, I can remember when the only ads you saw at a movie theater were trailers for other movies. Now I'm expected to pay to sit through a Coke ad? No thanks. Paying for content and advertising should be an either/or.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Re: V. Anton - "Then someone decided we should pay to watch ads."

I remember going to the movies when there weren't any ads. Now, it's like watching TV before you get to the feature.

tavm said...

When I saw Airplane! on my 13th birthday back in 1980, when it came to the part of the Saturday Night Fever spoof sequence, the recording of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" sounded a little different but I couldn't put my finger on why. Then I read some IMDb posts saying it was speeded up and that put a light bulb in my head and I just chuckled!

Daniel said...

The worst offender is Nick at Nite. Not only do the characters sound like chipmunks, but sometimes there are more commercials than show. You can't tell when the episode is going to begin or end: Instead of running from 11:00 to 11:30, it ends at 11:36ish, or whenever they run out of ad spots.

YEKIMI said...

Wait till they figure out the can speed up the commercials to....so they jam more of THEM in a stop set and rake in even more cash. When I was in high school I remember winding a little bit of masking tape around the drive shaft of a record player to speed up the song a bit. Didn't know the professional DJs [well, station management probably] were doing it also.

Mike Schryver said...

Dan Ball said "Programming is just an afterthought.".

Well, it is. The product is the eyeballs, and the programming is just a means to capture them. All of us would like it if there were less advertising. I remember FOX promoting some programs as having "limited commercial interruption", and I wish that had gotten more people to watch. Today, a promotion like "presented without crap all over the screen" might get me to watch.

RockGolf said...

@YEKIMI: Actually, a lot of commercials are already sped up.

Especially on that legalese about "APR financing over an 18 month period, may cause side effects including nausea, redeye, flatulence, consult your doctor, not available in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands" stuff that sounds like the guy can speak at 300 mph.


They've actually got computer software that can squeeze the spaces out of such speech without changing the tone and making it indecipherable.

John Mansfield said...

Just last night I was discussing orchestra tuning with my wife, who plays violin, and remembered this topic of 45s coming up before in Ken Levine's writing.

Nineteenth Century orchestras had a similar issue. Tuning to a higher pitch gives instruments a more brilliant sound, which is desirable, but it creates a race to the point that the increased tension breaks strings. The first "strings" to break are singers' throats. This led the French to create a law in 1859 setting concert A at 435 Hz, half a semitone higher than the 422 Hz that Mozart used, but considerably lower than the 450 Hz that some companies were pulling off. The English pretended to use the same 435 standard as the French but contrived to really tune at 439, which for convenience was shifted to 440 ninety years ago. It's nothing like the 19th Century, but there are still orchestras that top the others by tuning a bit higher, like the New York Philharmonic at 443.

A. L. Crivaro said...

I love Seinfeld. I do NOT love TBS reruns of Seinfeld. Or any other sitcom for that matter... I wonder why Larry David allows this travesty to continue. Is it out of his control? Why isn't Seinfeld on Netflix? Why, God?

Anonymous said...

This has been going on for years, when I was watching MASH 3 times a day (re-run at 2:30, re-run at 6 then new 'live' at 8pm on Mondays). Slow scenes were sped up, and some parts cut out. Minutes of commercials were added. Refreshing to see the whole episode when DVDs came out. Nothing is going to change, because it brings in more $$ for the station. When you tire of it, you change channels, MASH is then replaced with Friends.

McAlvie said...

Gah, because they don't run enough commercials already? This makes me think of the handful of 'specials' that I was intially looking forward to and then blew off when I realized they were just strings of commercials interrupted occasionally by a plotline. There are already several shows I wait and watch on MY schedule for just that reason. If I can't avoid the commercials altogether, at least I don't have to be a slave to them.

Tim Dunleavy said...

Cozi TV, the nostalgia channel owned by NBC Universal, is the worst. It does everything it can to maximize commercial time - it speeds up scenes, cuts out scenes, and eliminates the closing credits sequences. On HERE'S LUCY they smash cut from the final punch line to a newly added card: "Distributed by Paul Brownstein Productions." Yes, even Lucille Ball's old production company is cut out of her own show.

When they started running MAVERICK, I recorded an episode, edited out the commercials, and compared it to my copy of the same episode on the official DVDs. Turns out the episode was 49 minutes on the DVD, but only 43 minutes on Cozi.

How do the copyright holders let them get away with this stuff?

Eric J said...

I got 8/9 on the Slate test. The only one I was completely unsure of was The Simpsons and I guessed wrong. There are no clues to work with because the movements aren't natural to begin with.

On the others I used a combination of slightly-off lip sync and unnaturally fast body or hand movements. Lip sync comes and goes erratically as the software corrects, I think. I was sure of every one of my responses, and they were correct.

If I didn't know it was a test of this kind, I'm not sure I would notice. I definitely wouldn't notice a speed-up on an animation.

For audio, this kind of software is very inexpensive now. Audacity is one such. I'm pretty sure mid-range video editing software can do this as well, but I've never used video editing software.

Scott Cason said...

Not just that. They are cutting entire scenes. My daughter gave me for Christmas last year the first and second seasons of Roseanne on DVD. I didn't realize how much they are chopping off to make room for more spots until seeing the shows uncut again. I've totally stopped watching TVLand because of their 5 and 6 minute stop sets.

Gerry said...

After hearing about this trend a few weeks ago, I started noticing that on "Law and Order" reruns, when they do what I call the Law and Order Walk (where they are all walking toward the camera endlessly while interviewing suspects and witnesses) they were literally RACING around in scene after scene.
And yes, with digital media they can easily speed up the tempo while the pitch remains unchanged.

Charles said...

They do it with dramas too, at least with the credits. I swear the Law & Order and SVU theme songs are more uptempo than they were originally.

benson said...

I guess I'm a cynic, but a couple of folks asked how can Larry David/rights holders put up with this. Well, the original airing showed it as it was meant to be seen (thus serving the need of the artist). And now Larry David and the others are getting paid (thus paying the mortgage). If you want to see it the original way again, shell out $8 and get Netflix or Hulu or buy the DVDs. (thus helping with the yacht payments)

Barry in Portland said...

I, for one, can't wait to be able to watch Citizen Kane in 18 minutes!

Jeff C in DC said...

I've been a pro video editor for years. The best way to see if something is sped up is to watch horizontal camera pans. If it stutters, there's an excellent chance it's been sped up (though other things can cause that too). You won't hear sped up sound these days, as software skips tiny intervals of audio to drop the pitch back to normal. Nope, you won't win.

First time I heard this make a splash was when Christopher Reeves' SUPERMAN first ran on network, waay back. Yep, they sped it up to "fit the long movie into the time slot", but also to hammer it with extra commercials. The defense is that it's better than simply chopping out full minutes of the show. But the term "unedited" remains literally true when you simply speed it up, so you won't win. Buy it or abbreviate it.

Brian said...

Bummer, shows should be played back as recorded. This has to wreak havoc with their production and traffic systems. At least with books you can read any speed you want and savor every word. That's how I read "Must Kill TV".

YEKIMI said...

@RockGolf I wouldn't have noticed. I either zip through the commercials or just tend to tune them out or go to the bathroom. The only way they'd get my attention is if they'd be able to reach out of the TV screen and stab me in the "joy department" with a pencil.

kent said...

I'm 60 and remember the birth of cable tv. The network shows always had ads because the sponsors money finances the production. No Gillette ads, no MASH.

Johnny Walker said...

I hate this, and I agree that it's another nail in the coffin of the networks. What are they even offering any more?

But: What did everyone score on that Slate quiz? I think it takes time to notice the difference, myself. Probably need to see a few examples and THEN take the quiz. Some shows I guessed correctly immediately. Others I couldn't tell.

Generally it's the actor's movements, or the occasional vocal jump, that makes it obvious.

My worry is that things will seem less funny (comedy is timing, after all) and people won't know why. Ugh.

What about anyone else?

Igor said...

IIRC, this tech-whiz speed-up thing started waaaay back in the late 1980s (maybe early 90s). No?

What I don't get is: Why do they still run the end credits?

I mean, they should. But they often squeeze them to about half-screen size, and always speed them up with abandon. It's easier to read what shows up on the supermarket checkout display when Maggie is scanned on the Simpson's opening seq. (Or the disclaimers on Ron Jeremy's pill commercials.)

So, question: Is there anything that compels licensees of shows to actually run the credits?

Howman said...

This has been going on for some time. In the '80's, I cut all 207 episodes of The Cosby Show for syndication. I spent quite a bit of time working closely with Tom Werner deciding on the 2 minutes of content that would be removed. It was very hard to decide what content would be removed. They spent (and I earned) a fortune doing it right. At the same time, Witt/Thomas decided to put their shows through the hideous process of speeding them up. They woiuld just send their master through the 'machine'. On Cosby, I would search through the original show tapes to make better edits, then I would on-line them and eventually resweetened them before dilivering them.

Deanna said...

I've noticed for years that some channels seem to cut frames (not the entire scene) out throughout episodes to shorten them. I've particularly noticed it on episodes of Star Trek: TNG.

Mike said...

I agree with what an earlier poster said about Nick at Nite. At least some channels do the time compression in such a way that the actors still sound like themselves. I tried watching an old That 70s Show on there a few months ago, and it was like they had just used the "1.5 x" feature on Youtube. The actors were ridiculously high-pitched.

Like I said, other channels are more subtle about this. With Hallmark's repeats of Frasier, the most egregious time compression comes during the silent end bit. That's quite obviously sped up, to the point that all the characters are moving like they were characters in some 1920s silent movie.

It'd be one thing if time compression meant the show itself would be unedited (well, assuming the compression were handled better than Nick at Nite handles it). But that never happens.

H Johnson said...

Tired of paying a fortune to cable companies that couldn't even take the time to provide a decent program description, I cancelled my subscription 5 years ago. The only time I watch live network television now is during football season at my local bar.

So I'm missing most of this wonderful progress. Speeding up music or visual shows is idiotic and insulting, and exactly what we should expect from untalented suits still making most of the money in an industry where most of the real talent is unemployed.

I buy a lot of "Complete Series" DVDs and have Apple TV to access most everything else I want.

It's sure not the way it used to be, but not much else is either. We're probably all doomed.

Ugh, I gotta get in the water. Aloha.

Mark P. said...

If most people can't tell the difference in quality, why doesn't some enterprising production engineer speed up the commercials and leave the show alone?

Anonymous said...

Agree, lots of commercials are sped up.

And I was reading a script of MASH. The read went fast. It was like fast and furious. I don't KNOW if graduate school is giving courses on becoming a reader.

Reader tend to read at what speed , who knows.

D. McEwan said...

Bad as this practice is, and it is awful, it's better than cutting the show to make more room.

Jason Roberts said...

There are 45 comments so i am going to make it 46. ;)

Buttermilk Sky said...

Do you watch FRASIER on Hallmark? It isn't just speeded up, it's censored -- they bleep out words like "ass" and "bitch," presumably to protect young children who are watching twenty-year-old sitcoms at two in the morning. It ruins the jokes and it's insulting. I've never stayed up late enough to find out if they do the same thing to CHEERS. Where do I go to sign up for Netflix?

Jabroniville said...

I got a 6 out of 9 on that test. It can be tough in many instances, but having SEEN some of the originals, it makes it clearer.

Especially when the actor has a low-pitched voice- Norm & Homer Simpson both have very distinctive voices, and when they're sped up, they raise the pitch too high. It's very noticeable.

Diane D. said...

I got 7 out of 9. The Office was the worst. I actually got dizzy. This is outrageous.

Jake said...

I don't know what it's like now, but when Golden Girls entered syndication, not only did they cut content and add an extra commercial break, but they extended the opening credit montage!

Markus Ponto said...

In Europe we are accustomed to sped up movies. Everything is broadcast in PAL with 25 frames per second instead of 24 fps.
So when we got bluray players that were effectively showing movies and tv shows at 24 fps suddenly there often occurred another problem: Shows had been dubbed for television in 25 fps. And suddenly the pitch of the voices of the actors and the music was too low and everyone sounded a bit drunk.

roger said...

Are there disclaimers warning viewers that the shows are compressed?

Some channels actually do have disclaimers, although I generally see it more for movies than TV shows. They will run a screen at the top of a movie (or TV show) that has little icons and notes such as Edited for Time, Edited for Content, Time Compressed, Time Expanded(!), Formatted for TV, and usually the TV rating.

Don Elliot said...

...
I, like most, criticize what I do not understand… In full "condemnation without investigation" mode. In the syndicators defense, to make the deal fly at all and pay everyone involved, it's entirely possible this speed up abomination was necessary to make the bottom line.

Here's what's really more likely: They are too greedy to even allow technical staff the time to simply run the audio through harmonizer to at least restore the pitch after shrinking. Secondly, it's inconceivable to me that agencies and clients whose spots are bundled with the syndicated show aren't demanding or even suing for the balance of the 60 seconds that they traded, bought or bargain for. There's 10 that they are missing of airtime per minute. Another remedy even more advantageous to the advertiser would be a demand for "make-goods".

Overall quality on cable is already so bad it's pathetic, with audio tracks so far out of sync them sometimes they are running a second or two behind the lips… Frankly I am dazzled that claims for make-goods aren't already running rampant in the industry. Everybody is just too busy, too busy, too busy… Attention lawyers reading this… take advantage of this fact. I'll take 10% here for the idea of giving you a new farm. And remember Ken in the deal because of using his platform here, after all!

I know I have taken a side view here by focusing on being in the shoes of the commercial advertiser as opposed to those providing content, but the subject is necessarily included.

Let's watch what happens next!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

The one thing I really hate about SEINFELD reruns is how channels and networks keep cropping and recropping the show because everything has to be widescreen (or, as they like to call it, "HD", but cropping something in widescreen doesn't magically make the quality of the program any better than it was before).

And that brings to mind another Friday question:

Back in the 60s when color was coming into vogue, networks didn't suddenly go back and start coloring black-and-white shows (unlike today such as BEWITCHED, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, and I LOVE LUCY -- all of which looks terrible)... so why is it necessary today to go back and crop shows that were originally filmed or taped in 4:3 (fullscreen) into 16:9 (widescreen)?

johnnyeff said...

"They're not going to be in those jobs in five years so what do they give a shit?"

Let's not let that inconspicuous statement go by unnoticed. You just put your finger on the root cause of many of society's problems.

AAllen said...

Tim: Maybe I'm a frustrated non-musician (someone who should have, but never did, learn to play music), but I can notice speed differences that small. As another poster pointed out, the 24/25 fps difference in European TV is noticeable. When MTV played the video for "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty, it seemed noticeably slower than the song on the radio. Now I know it was because it was meant to be shown at 25 frames per second, and it was imported as a film and transferred at 24 frames per second.

The visual cues for compression are getting harder to notice, but I still notice the sound. Even the new episodes of Modern Family has compressed-sounding speech.

JRAnderson said...

The destruction of classic tv is one of the reasons why I began watching pbs. The shows from the UK have commercials cut from them and other shows are shown commercial free. They never run past the top or half hour and most end a bit before. Granted at that time Subaru advertises and pledge weeks are a drag but all in all it is usually my choice.

Russ Bullock said...


I also prefer PBS, If more folks would do the same, the producers of sped up shows might lose

sponsors.