Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Realizations: I Don’t Understand TV Anymore! (Long Semi-Rant!)

I just don’t understand how TV works anymore!

I’m not unhappy over this, just confused!

I watch only four contemporary series (…actually up two from last year – and all are named in the body of this piece) and, the more I watch, the more confused I become at the vagaries of scheduling.

The television I was raised on had all new and renewed series beginning in September, and running through March, April, or sometimes even May. There were mid-season replacement series and there were summer-replacement series – but, most often, a show ran its course for an entire season… using all of its new episodes in sequence, and then repeating until the following fall.

Somewhere along the line, when I wasn’t paying attention, came a concept called “Sweeps”. These, as best I can figure, are “Key Ratings Periods” that somehow count for more than “any old time”.

Sweeps occur in November, February, and May – and entire television schedules are altered to accommodate them. Thus, you will get new episodes of a series at the traditional start of the season in September… but NOW, repeats will be slipped in somewhere between September and November – between November and February (…mostly around the Holiday season), and between February and May!

The way old shows are now consistently slipped in among the new almost equates the television watching experience with washing one’s hair… Lather, Rinse, REPEATS… Lather, Rinse, REPEATS… An episode of something like FAMILY GUY will air in September – and be repeated before November! Get the picture? …Even if you’ve “seen the picture just a few weeks before”!

…Yet, as of this writing, the second Sunday of February 2009 has passed and there have been no new episodes of THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY. Okay, I can see the folly of running new episodes on the evening of Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 01), but why were the February 08 airings of these shows repeats as well? Has the “Sweeps Model” been changed again, without my notice? Or, are they just using it as an excuse to make fewer shows each season? We may never know…

No sooner do I become adjusted to this situation, than I find the viewing landscape his changed again! Recently, I’ve become a fan of two contemporary fantasy-oriented series… LOST and (of late) HEROES! You can read the story of how I got into LOST via DVD collections HERE. A similar situation, involving a large DVD sale at Best Buy, exists for HEROES.

This season, I finally made the decision to watch new episodes of both LOST and HEROES on network broadcasts. And, I’m more confused than ever. Not about the shows, but the scheduling.

LOST’s 5th season did not begin traditionally in September 2008, but on January 21, 2009. Yes, ABC did a good job of promoting this, so that even I would notice, but it still seems odd to me for a monster hit like LOST to be held back from a September start. Though it has been given the opportunity to build up to the (presumed) February Sweeps.

LOST does another unusual thing – and a seemingly important thing given its continued and continuity-heavy nature. Each Wednesday (up to this point, at least), the PREVIOUS WEEK’S EPISODE is repeated at 8 PM, before the new show at 9! Further, the repeat is laced with “pop-up text captions” that explain the background and any previously-seen key points of what you are watching!

Imagine that! A show that gets you up to speed… before you watch it! What a wonderful concept! Strange and unusual… but wonderful! …And consider that ABC feels that an additional repeat of LOST will probably outperform whatever else they might have scheduled for that hour. I’m certain they don’t do that just to keep us up to date with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke… and everyone’s “favorite other” Ben!

This season, HEROES did something that is, to my mind, even more unconventional… thought this seems to be more of a standard practice for some series (…for instance, LOST did something similar in its third season of 2006-2007).

When I looked for HEROES on NBC’s broadcast schedule during December and January, it was nowhere to be found. As far as I know, this is a popular show and would not have been canceled.

What they did was have a sort of “mini-season” in September, pause for a while, and resume with a new and separate “mini-season” starting February 02, 2009 – beginning a completely new and different storyline than was before. The closest thing I can equate that to would be two separate and distinct comic-book limited series!

Clearly, I enjoy my four contemporary series – THE SIMPSONS, FAMILY GUY, LOST, and HEROES – but it’s become a comedy or adventure in itself to discern when they are on and when the shows are new.

Anyone else feel the same way?

Gotta go watch the “Pop-Up Captioned Repeat” of LOST and tonight’s new episode! ...What’ll that Ben be up to next?

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