Monday, April 16, 2012

How Does TV Work?

I don't mean the technology. I could care less about that. The mystery to me is the business of what shows get on air and stay on the air and which ones don't.

In the old days, it was simple. It was ratings and sponsors and sponsors and ratings. Companies would advertise their Corn Flakes or Tide soap on TV and if 'Gunsmoke' had twice as many viewers as 'Star Trek', CBS could charge the advertisers more money then NBC could charge them for 'Star Trek.

Like I said, simple.

And I do think the Nielsen ratings were accurate. I spent (or misspent) most of the 1960's and all of the 1970's watching a lot of TV. And I don't ever recall thinking, "Gee, I wonder why they cancelled 'Alias Smith and Jones'!? Everyone I know is watching it religiously!"

On the contrary. I knew certain shows I loved were flops just from the buzz generated by talking to my friends and listening to the adults in my life, and by reading magazines. And it was easy to gauge the popularity of shows because there were only three channels.

Yes, there were exceptions. Some shows had 'decent' ratings, but because of high production costs, they got the ax. 'Batman' is one that comes to mind. But shows in the Top 10 didn't get cancelled because they 'cost too much'.

During my peak years as a Boomer TV watcher, the networks had a formula. New shows and new episodes of old shows premiered right after Labor Day. They had a guaranteed run of at least 13 episodes, and if they had lousy ratings, they were gone by mid-January and 'mid-season replacements' appeared in their time slot. These shows also had a run of about a dozen episodes. YES, there were exceptions. But that's another blog.

Then came cable. And 'Premium' channels. And Netflix. And Hulu and streaming and OnDemand and watching TV on your phone. Shows on TV just appear willy-nilly. They change time slots, and the reruns, which we used to call 'summer repeats', start popping up after five or six new episodes. How does a show build an audience?

And the very people advertisers want to attract, people between the ages of 18 and 40, are the very same people who don't watch shows when they are actually on TV. Which makes the ratings and advertisements meaningless.

My only conclusion is that it goes back to my earlier mention about shows that 'cost too much'. But now it's flipped upside down. It's all about shows that 'don't cost anything'. Which would explain why things like 'Pawn Stars' and 'Invention' keep on truckin'. After all, how many people actually watch 'Intervention'? Not a lot. And apparently none of the addicts they get to appear on it have ever seen it either. Otherwise, they wouldn't keep being blindsided at the end of each episode and sent off the rehab.

Newsflash. If you're an alky or a druggie and some 'filmmakers' approaches you about being in a 'documentary about addiction', they are definitely from that 'Intervention' show.


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