Five changes for a better TV experience

by Paul William Tenny

dvr-remote.jpgProbably a good half month ago the Hollywood Reporter announced that Fox was going to experiment with running fewer commercials during Fringe and Dollhouse this fall and next year, in order to "reinvigorate" television viewing.

Or something like that.

I'm a bit skeptical about Fox's motives here but in the end, I really don't care why, I'm still grateful for less spam commercials that I have no interest in seeing and that I hardly ever see anymore since I record most everything with my DVR so I can watch it later -- spam commercial free. The story says that both shows will run with about five minutes worth of commercial breaks, totaling about half of what the network would normally air. That's not even close to being true though, where all shows are up in the 16-17 minute range these days meaning we're seeing a more drastic reduction of up to 2/3rds, if true.
I like this idea, but it's only a good first step towards putting the viewers wants and needs in front of the advertisers, so here's a list of other things Fox and the other networks can and should do to make TV not just a good, but a great entertainment experience.

Fewer Commercials
Fox is trying this now with their only two new dramas of 2008, but they still aren't commercial free. I'd like to see some programs go commercial free just to see how the audience would react. I think I'd give certain shows more time to find their groove if there were fewer commercials, because those are bad enough as it is, but to have to put up with them during a show that's not doing it for you is an exercise in masochism.

Fewer Overruns
The series premier of In Plain Sight on USA ran a freakishly 76 minutes last night which caused everything after it to start 16 minutes late for the rest of the evening. This past year, some shows on CBS have run long by 2-4 minutes causing other programs to start late, and some of those ran over to. DVRs aren't always capable of adapting to these irregular schedule changes if they happen after the program guide was updated and can cause an entire show to be skipped. I like having more show to watch, but overruns have got to stop when your hampering people's ability to see the show at all.

More News
The broadcast networks get to use the airwaves for free on the condition that they serve the public interest. That means showing news and covering politics, amongst other things. ABC, CBS, and NBC all have national news programming that only runs a pathetic half hour in the evening while Fox doesn't have any at all. Fox's broadcast license should be revoked immediately until they establish a national news program as they are required to (by law?) while the other networks should increase coverage to a full hour at least. Contrary to corporate spin, one thing people do want and need more of is news -- real news, not tabloid garbage from "cable news networks."

More Crossover Programming
CBS owns Showtime, so when the writers strike went into effect, CBS decided to fill some holes in their schedule with Showtime content, specifically reruns of the first season of Dexter. Without that, I'd have never gotten to know and love that show that I now want more of. Not badly enough to pay for Showtime mind you, but enough that I'd start watching it every single week of CBS would continue airing it. Since every major network has long periods in which they aren't airing new programming, what they need to do is take shows from the cable nets they own and rerun them on the network during those dry stretches.

This would guarantee "new" programming year round without actually having to produce it all year for the network itself, and would introduce people to new shows on a regular basis without having to spend huge chunks of money or take big risks with completely new shows. Let them develop and simmer on cable, then plug holes with them during the summer.

Have Patience
I don't watch a lot of new shows since 90% of them will be canceled before reaching the end of the first season, since the networks only keep shows that are instant hits these days. If the nets would show a little more patience by allowing their new shows to find their voice -- preferably their season finale too -- then I'd be more willing to give them a shot, knowing it's not going to get yanked from the schedule after 12 episodes just because the network has the patience of a four-year-old.

What are your five things that the networks should do to create a better TV experience?
in Television


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