Saturday, October 20, 2018

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? 

51 comments :

Roger Owen Green said...

Yeah, it's about money. But I wonder if it's also their thinking that people have shorter attention spans and think (FALSELY) that they are somehow providing a service.

You're on social media, but you write a blog, do a podcast because it's like slow cooking, compared to the fast food of Facebook and Twitter. And slow cooking is almost always better.

Michael said...

Any thoughts on decision by DGA not to allow Audrey Wauchope and Rachel Specter to share co-director credits for episode of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend". They are a long-time writing team who directed the episode together, but the DGA ruled only one could get director credit. Here is a twitter thread from Audrey on this, https://twitter.com/audreyalison/status/1053373282429231105

Janet Ybarra said...

Networks got away with it when they started hacking the guts out of reruns to make room for more commercials--at the expense, sometimes, of entire key scenes.

So now they probably figure they can get away with this, too.

Nolan Howe said...

I’ve noticed this in syndicated dramas as well. Many years ago when the West Wing was in heavy rotation on Bravo they sped them up to cram in more commercials. When an actor has a very recognizable voice like Martin Sheen you can immediately tell something’s not right. I think they should not be allowed to do this but in all honesty I’d take it over a channel like the Hallmark channel that unmercifully chops up shows to fit in more commercials with no regard to how it effects the story.

B. Alton said...

Yes, it’s especially strange hearing the end title music of a show like Get Smart, Batman or Green Acres sped-up 20 or so percent.

And just as bad, Ken, is certain cable networks removing key scenes, scenes sometimes containing dialogue necessary to understanding the episode plot and/or dialogue as well as closing scenes from rerun series (especially noticed in repeats of old Screen Gems shows, like Bewitched) just so they can work in another minute advertising a bunch of junk that never works as advertised (which you are always offered two of after paying a separate handling fee) or for yet another scmaltzy life insurance commercial (‘and I can get this coverage simply by calling this number?’) I can’t help but think what this time compression of programs means to composers royalties when scenes they’ve scored are no longer there (not to mention how it affects the writers, whose story structures/resolutions are destroyed, a supporting actor whose already “blink and you’ll miss it” performance is expunged). I know this has always been done to some degree when shows were syndicated but now it makes these shows nearly unwatchable.

My “two cents” for a Saturday.

benson said...

Don't get me started on TBS...

I am not a prude by any definition, but they are running soft core porn on Tuesday nights. After the playoff game this past Tuesday, they ran something called "the guest book". And these people are running around humpin' and pumpin' with VR headsets and all tied up in bed and this old guy is giving this other guy oral stimulation. And there was other stuff, too. I guess this is what passes for entertainment in 2018. LCD is back to meaning lowest common denominator.

(BTW, I was in a sports bar. Couldn't avoid it, for those wondering why I didn't just change the channel)

外國人 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

1. "Abe Martin" (Kin Hubbard):"When a feller says, ‘It hain’t th’ money, but th’ principle o’ th’ thing, it’s the money."
Which is to say, some of Hollywood's time compression complaints might vanish if the shaved minutes- currently given over to ads- were instead devoted to an extra sitcom daily.
2. "Gresham's law is a monetary principle stating that "bad money drives out good". For example, if there are two forms of commodity money in circulation, which are accepted by law as having similar face value, the more valuable commodity will gradually disappear from circulation." Compressed/edited episodes are "bad money."
3. An "over-abundance" of content - 60+ years of re-runnable programs- decreases the value of- and respect for- each individual show. The creative community, unlike MLB, should have spent more time between pitches.
4. Watch enough digital subchannel re-runs with the closed captioning activated, and you'll occasionally see captions for scenes that were subsequently excised.

Mike Doran said...

It's not just sitcoms.

Any filmed series can be digitally speeded up to trim the running time.
The way you can usually tell is the theme music: it seems a bit faster than you remembered as a kid.
The digital tech can be adjusted so people's speaking voices can be "normalized"; they still talk faster, but don't sound like they took a helium hit.
Isn't technology wonderful?
(Yes, it isn't.)

Lisa said...

George screaming and fighting with the kids on the beach.

Can someone please tell me, which episode is that from?

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

They've been doing this for years, but you know what I've figured out? You know how some DVD players have that "Rapid Play" feature, where you can play a DVD at 1.3% faster speed? I've tried that one time when I was trying to binge-watch all of M*A*S*H over an entire weekend for its 40th anniversary in 2012 since none of the cable networks that aired it cared.

I discovered that a full 26-minute episode actually played out to 17 minutes in Rapid Play mode. Most shows today, without commercials, are anywhere between 17 and 21 minutes anyway . . . so, why can't networks just do that without having to cut out parts of the show altogether? Some shows are butchered up horribly in syndication, and M*A*S*H is probably one of the worst offenders of this, with often times entire scenes cut out in reruns, resulting in some really poor continuity within an episode.

E. Yarber said...

It's awful when you have to watch them broadcast that way, and even worse when the studio expects you to pay for them at the same speed. There's a 40-disc DVD set of the series COMBAT! in which every single episode of the five-season run is time-compressed. Guess they figured that the patrons of such an old show would be satisfied with whatever they could get.

A. L. Crivaro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Nichols said...

I agree that speeding up without notifying the viewers is unethical. But in fact, most people can comprehend program material, at least the dialog, quite well at increased rates of delivery. What may be needed to counter the effect is a way to record the programs and play them back a little slower and at the same time drop the commercials or play them at 300 times normal speed.

Janet Ybarra said...

Hate to tell you, Hallmark is not the only one that does this.

For example, I've noticed WGN America is particularly unmerciful when it comes maintaining the integrity of MASH episodes.

The most bizarre is CoziTV. They fade away to commercial at random points during ADAM 12 but where the scenes naturally break for commercial they ignore those and keep the show running through those.

Janet Ybarra said...

You know, it may be because I'm older but with cable TV prices rising all the time, why are paying for television that is also filled with commercials?

I realize the realistic answer, of course, is profit. But I am still bothered by that.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

@E. Yarber I had wondered why full episodes of COMBAT! generally ran 44-45 minutes, when back then, an hour-long show without commercials could run up to an even 50 minutes.

Does anyone have any knowledge if I DREAM OF JEANNIE is time-compressed or trimmed on DVD? The reason I ask is upon observation, most episodes of IDOJ on DVD run about 23-24 minutes, which is odd given, as I previously mentioned, half-hour shows back in those days usually ran at 26 minutes.

John Mazur said...

Welcome to the world if Donny trump.
What can specifically help ME in the next 5 minutes. That’s all anyone cares about. Zero forethought going on here in
what used to be leadership in our country.

sanford said...

I did the first three videos and all were speeded up so I didn't do the rest. At least to my ears it is imperceptible. I don't know what is worse speeding up the show to cram in more commercials or cutting scenes down to do the same.

Professor Herb said...

Here's what I don't understand. The costs of these old reruns are not going up. The broadcasters don't need the extra commercial minutes per hour to be profitable. At the same time, the increased advertising clutter makes the commercials themselves less effective at any price. Intuitively, an advertiser would be willing to pay slightly more to be in a more desirable program slot, a better, cleaner program in an environment with fewer distracting commercials.

The benefit should be obvious. Why doesn't anyone realize this?

Once upon a time, the FCC has limits for broadcasters on the number of commercial minutes per hour. When these rules were eliminated in the early 1980s, the deregulation priesthood argued that competition between stations would prevent commercial clutter, what they called "excessive commercialization." The first visible result from the change was infomercials were now possible. As cable grew and the size of broadcast audiences declined, the broadcasters didn't think they could charge advertisers a massive jump in the cost of commercial time per 1000 viewers. This meant that the smaller audience reach forced a declining value of cost per 30 seconds (in non-inflated dollars) leaving an increase of commercial time per hour as a way to make up the "lost" revenue.

Up to a point it seems logical. It makes sense at least as an explanation of how prime time went from 8 minutes of commercials per hour to almost 20 today. The costs of shows didn't drop, with more commercials per hour making the increased number of commercials charging advertisers a cost-per-viewer that was increasing at a rate not much more than that of inflation.

But that only explains why the number commercials per hour are up for original programs. For reruns decades later, especially if the programs are already owned by the cable network (such as Turner), there are numerous benefits for running them with fewer commercial minutes per hour: advertisers would have more effective commercials; cable networks might see increased ratings with the drop in the number of commercials; audiences might be more willing to choose a program or cable network where the old programs are shown in their original glory.

This is not a new or original idea, presented in many places going back to 2004. It is so obvious. Why is there such reluctance to even try it? It is easy to blame avarice, but the long-run outcome is increased revenue.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/07363760610674301

Sparks said...

What I find particularly noticeable are scenes in shows like Bones or NCIS which involve chases. No dialogue, so an easy spot to speed it up, watch these people run like the six million dollar man, it makes me dizzy.

DwWashburn said...

Are there different ways to time compress?

I've noticed some syndicated reruns that are compressed but the only way you can tell is because the actors' voice tones are elevated. The compression seems to be constant throughout the program.

The compression that drives me crazy is a method that seems to compress for about ten seconds and then goes back to regular speed for about 5. You can really tell that this method is being used when you listen to the themes or background music. I know that when Boomerang used to show the Flintstones, they were using a method like this. Since cartoons have constant background music it made the program almost unwatchable.

Lisa said...

Just read that twitter link.

DGA decision is not fair.

Lemuel said...

This post really nails my pet peeve. I only have antenna TV and it's a rat salad of ambulance-chasers and catheter ads. (When I had cable it was twice as infuriating; they'd show a three hour movie and gas it up to six)

MikeKPa. said...

Tack on another 30 seconds of commercials with the credits running in agate type at the bottom of the screen while the next show begins. Question: Would you ever consider being a "consultant" to punch up jokes on a series like Ronny Graham did on MASH and Sam Simon did on numerous shows?

Ralph C. said...

Boy, my decision to cancel cable in August 2001, and canceling it again a brief dalliance from mid-September to mid-October of 2003, was such a brilliant thing to do. Yay me!! :-)

LarryK said...

John, this has been going on a long time! Long before his taking office. And why are you trying to put politics into a subject that has nothing to do with the political landscape?

George Adelman said...

As much as I want to support "retro" networks like MeTV, this tactic is an immediate deal breaker. It's disappointing to be flipping through channels and come across a favorite like Mary Tyler Moore or The Honeymooners, only to immediately turn it off because it's been butchered to the point of distraction. I've never seen a show on AntennaTV that was sped up, so I watch it frequently. Similarly, the Amazon Prime app that comes built in with Smart TVs expands everything to fit the aspect ratio of a 21st century flatscreen. Sacrilege!

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken, Its funny that you singled out TBS & TNT. I don't mean to get political, but Ted Turner would always parrot liberal points of view like a shameless democrat while simultaneously running his businesses like a ruthless, republican capitalist. Talk about conflicted. Let's not forget that he was one of the first to "colorize" old black-and-white movies and T.V. shows; figuring they would get more viewers. T.T. may not be directly involved with the networks anymore, but his spirit is still present.
M.B.

thirteen said...

I first heard about this more than thirty years ago, when the CBS Evening News did an endpiece on how local stations were beginning to speed up movies. One example I remember is Sydney Greenstreet bounding out of a chair in Casablanca. I also remember Paul Simon complaining back in the day that his singles with Artie were being sped up on New York's WABC, then the biggest station in the market.

Obviously, the situation has not improved. At least nowadays they correct the sound on TV — sometimes.

Also, @Janet Ybarra: Cable does this all the time with vintage TV. It's maddening. Maybe the worst example was FX's run of Mission: Impossible back when the network was starting up. The endings would be interrupted by three minutes of ads.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Right now I'm watching Alan Alda on BookTV being interviewed about his book "If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?" Sadly he's showing the effects of Parkinsons, but as mentally sharp as ever. You can stream the interview on booktv.org.

MikeN said...

E Yarber, Combat! ran 152 episodes. At 45 min for each without commercials, this would be 3 hours per DVD, well within its capacity unless they went for highest video quality, unlikely for a 50 year old show.

YEKIMI said...

Hey, they're doing it to music on the radio also. https://www.culturesonar.com/radio-edit-songs/

And some radio stations still speed up songs today. Yeah, everything's on computer now but they're still ways to accomplish it. There's one guy on a radio board that beats this issue to death complaining about some station in Florida somewhere that is always playing the music at a faster pitch than it's supposed to be....to the point where the other posters finally told him he's "beating a dead horse so shut up about it because we [other posters] have no so say in how that station programs itself. Call THEM and bitch about it." I play the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events [no vocals] and one is 1:14, the other 1:19 and I have people complain that "it's too long" I've been able to speed it up to where I can get it done in 52 seconds but I refuse to do that; #1 reason is it sounds like shit, 2nd is it's disrespectful, at least in my eyes.

The issue with TV stations doing it could be brought up when they set out to syndicate shows. They should stipulate that shows are to be shown at the correct speed and if the stations refuse to do so then the syndicator should tack a 10-20% surcharge onto it when they sell it to them. Of course then the station could refuse to show it at all, I guess.

E. Yarber said...

There are four episodes per disc on the COMBAT! sets. Technical reviews describe picture quality as "muddy" and "poor." The compressed time was also evident to fans when selected episodes were released on VHS before that. Apparently there are no real-time prints of the show available for either broadcast or home video.

One reviewer tried to explain the shortened time by citing a Vic Morrow interview where the star claimed the episodes were only 47 minutes long. It may be that he was leaving out the opening and closing titles, which ran significantly longer than shows today. I checked out an episode on a DVD of THE FUGITIVE, which ran on ABC at the same time, and it clocked in at 52 minutes. THE FUGITIVE had its own problems en route to disc, which delayed the release of the second two seasons, but it seems to have emerged relatively intact.

And a technical review of an I DREAM OF JEANIE set specifically noted that no compression issues were visible.

If you're having to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a complete set of a series, you'd expect at a minimum to get a reasonable approximation of how the shows originally appeared. I recall DARK SHADOWS fans getting in arms when the company transferring the shows to DVD corrected a scene by removing the voice of an off-screen crew member feeding lines to an actress who had gone up on her part. The distributor had to assure customers that future episodes would include every mistake that took place during filming.

E. Yarber said...

One other story comes to mind. When Criterion first put SEVEN SAMURAI on DVD, they included a restoration demonstration as a special feature. The original Japanese studio was highly offended by this and demanded it be removed from future releases, since in their eyes the comparison implied that they hadn't taken good care of the film over the decades.

Kaleberg said...

I first noticed this with syndicated shows in the 1990s. I'd watch an old Simpsons episode, and my favorite gag lines had vanished. It could be worse. Mark Evanier pointed out that they often shuffled the reels of The Three Stooges on the air which is another explanation for why they seemed so incoherent.

Mike Erickson said...

Big fan of Vince Guaraldi. When I watched "Great Pumpkin" Thursday on ABC, I was appalled at how much it was sped up :(

B. Alton said...

Some adult contemporary radio stations are even editing out lyrics in songs, one example being the ‘then some you don’t want’ lyric in Daughtry’s song ‘Home’ the line originally squeezed in between the repeated ‘careful what you wish for’ lyric. Another one that is very noticeable is Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, the original version having an almost classical music-like structure. Broken Wings and Fly Like An Eagle both have their afffecting endings often curtailed with station IDs. Ironically, two of the longest pop songs in recorded history, Hey Jude and American Pie, remain intact when played on classic rock stations.

BTW: Why do married men in radio commercials mostly sound like idiots and how did the word amazing become such an overused adjective, used to (positively) describe everything from the way someone looks after losing weight to the taste of butter substitute (what ever happened to delicious)? In one commercial ad broadcast in the LA area the dialogue between the two women involved employs the word amazing five times in under thirty seconds:

Not the actual script, but illustrates the point:

Jessica and Sarah run into each other at their local coffee establishment...

Sarah (recognizing her former gym friend): Jessica! Wow! You look amazing! (of course she does)
Jessica: Thanks. I’ve just discovered this amazing new, minimally invasive (important), pain free (important) procedure at The Perfect You. They have an amazing staff, even a supervised play area for the kids, a juice bar and free WI-FI (because these days magazines in the waiting room/fruit flavored suckers for the kids no longer cut it).
Sarah: Wow. That sounds amazing (naturally). But it sounds expensive (even for Sherman Oaks)
That’s the REALLY AMAZING part, Sarah. It’s remarkably (would you believe amazingly?) affordable and there’s even a free consultation.
Jessica: Free consultation? I totally need to check this out.

VO talent: To take advantage of this amazing offer please contact us at our website....or visit our FB page.

Janet Ybarra said...

Ted Turner doesn't own TNT or TBS and hasn't in decades. So he has nothing to do with what you are talking about.

You really should drop the gratuitious political swipes. No one is interested...

Johnny Walker said...

I believe the last time you brought this up that someone said The Cosby Show did this back in the 80s to fit more story in. Fascinating if true.

Ralph C. said...

For the good of TV viewers they should’ve ran “2 Broke Girls” at Ludicrous Speed.

Lou H. said...

Given the ads on most of these stations that show old sitcoms - personal-injury lawyers, funeral insurance, and diabetes medicines - I suspect the demographic is people who can't afford the boxed sets or can't work a DVD player. I watch them for things I can't buy - To Tell The Truth and other really old game shows complete with Anacin, Geritol, and Lucky Strike testimonials. If they speed them up, it doesn't matter as much.

Mike Doran said...

History Lesson (as brief as I can make it):

When Ted Turner was making his bones in satellite broadcasting, he was generally understood to be a "typical" Georgia conservative Republican.

Just before he started CNN, Turner was making noises about buying CBS, which was reeling a bit by Bill Paley's decision to try and retire.

When Turner made this play, a movement arose within the FarRight to support a Turner takeover - to make Ted "Dan Rather's boss", as Senator Jesse Helms so subtly put it.

This in its turn led Paley (a Rockefeller Republican) to decide to stick around while looking for a compatible money friend (ultimately this turned out to be Larry Tisch, which is another story), and Ted Turner had to settle for starting CNN.

About a year after the CNN launch, Turner gave a press bash wherein he said that running a news operation had (quote approximate) "… turned me into a kind of liberal - and it's a lot of fun!" (This predated his involvement with Jane Fonda, by the way.)

I can't recall Ted Turner taking any kind of political stand one way or the other, at any time in his public life; these days, he seems to be spending his retirement concentrating on his various philanthropies.

Make of all that whatever you will …

MikeN said...

Kaleberg: "Otto likes Milhouse!"

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Doran: You’re a little backwards on the Ted Turned story. He started CNN in 1980, and the talks about buying CBS by Turner and Helms didn’t come around until about 1985. I think the political label comes from Ted being a semi-environmentalist and an outspoken supporter of the United Nations, which these days I guess makes one a “liberal.”

I prefer speeding up shows a little to cutting out content entirely, which is what they did before technology allowed the current practice. Ironically, the old Television Code ad limits helped lead to the practice. The NAB used to allow fewer ads in prime time than they did the rest of the day. (I think it was 11.5 minutes per hour instead of 16.) So when prime time show reruns were sold in syndication for air in daytime or late night, syndicators would immediately cut them down. On some 60s sitcoms this was fairly easy since the last act was often an integrated ad for the main sponsor that was going to be dropped anyway. But as that practice ended, finding a couple of minutes in every show to cut became a very inexact science.

Nick Archer said...

Speeding up the video kills the comic timing of every show. Pauses that were perfect and funny are now run over and forgotten. The first time I played a Dick Van Dyke Show DVD it was like going back in time, the whole show was more relaxed, the timing was back, and a quarter of the scenes weren't cut out.

Coram_Loci said...

Where to the draw the line?
Some networks speed up the show.
Some remove racy dialogue.
Some add a distracting banner.
Some add or misplace commercial breaks.
Each of these affects the artistic integrity of the work.

Just this weekend the movie Misery aired. I noted the movie runtime of 107 minutes. The allotted network time was 150 minutes.

While I don't like the practice I realize that some people may be indifferent to it. The people in the market for Tide, Colgate, or Mr. Clean may actually be receptive to it.

Either way, rather than pretending I know better than the network honchos, the advertisers, or my fellow viewers, and rather than invite a government bureaucrat to offer his opinion, I'll take the simple solution: change the channel.

(Gee, I hope James Caan's character managed to get out okay.)

John Nixon said...

The speeding up of songs 'infected' FM stations too beginning in the late 70s/early 80s. I remember hearing Suite Judy Blue Eyes sped up. The guitar intro, in particular, sounded like a technical difficulty.

And lately I've been noticing a new technique for dropping more commercials in on television, especially during football games. In between commercial breaks the program picture suddenly zooms out and to the left side of the screen while a 2nd picture of equal size appears over on the right side with a commercial playing on it. When the commercial...or commercials...end, the program picture zooms back to full size to once again fill the entire screen.

Daniel said...

Point 1: The supporting article in Slate is over three years old. Can we agree that the guy over there blaming Donald Trump looks like an idiot?

Point 2: Even earlier than that, there was a controversy over a network (I remember it being CBS, but I could be wrong) speeding up the broadcast of *live sporting events* to cram in more commercials. That is, borrowing time from play for commercials, then gently "fast-forwarding" the ACTUAL GAME PLAY to catch up with "live". (I wish I could find those articles NOW.) Today, this is considered a feature, not a bug. How times change.

Actual comment: This is why we almost never watch broadcast TV anymore. Which I guess is your actual point, Ken. :)

Stephen Green said...

This reminds me of a pizza parlor we used to go to in San Jose where the songs on the juke box were sped up - not so much that the sound was distorted, but enough that you sensed that something was amiss and felt anxious. I presume they did it so they could squeeze a couple more plays into a day, but it contributed to us going elsewhete where we'd feel more comfortable.

Phil said...

Here in the UK, for decades all material originated on film was aired faster than it should be. The reason is that film is shot at 24 frames per second, but British TV is based on 25 frames per second.

Technically, the easiest way to show 24 fps on a 25fps system is to speed everything up!

So I grew up hearing STAR TREK, COLUMBO, MASH and KOJAK played fast. In the late 80s, American production companies started distributing their product on videotape rather than film, and that was the first time we experienced American TV at the correct speed. The speed difference is a mere 4%, but it's enough to make Captains Kirk and Pierce sound a little bit chipmunky.