Five free pieces of advice for the Networks

by Paul William Tenny

Charlie Brown ChristmasHere's my Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday gift to the broadcast networks: five pieces of advice to improve the experience so that I, your loyal viewer, will stop skipping commercials with a DVR, so I won't watch TV shows only after they come out on DVD, and how to stop annoying me so badly that I'm tempted to stop watching television altogether.

Some of them will cost you money, but don't think of it as an expense, think of it as an investment in your future.
Turn down the volume
This problem has persisted for as long as I can remember and easily stands near the top of my list of annoyances. I was flipping between my local CW station and Fox around 11pm last night trying to watch the end of a House I'd never seen before, and the end of a good episode of Stargate SG-1 that I had already seen, but liked nonetheless. These two stations broadcast at significantly different volume levels which mean if I had the volume set just right for CW, Fox would be uncomfortably loud to the point of physical discomfort.

If I set the volume just right for Fox, I couldn't hear a damned thing when I flipped back to The CW.

It's such a simple thing really, yet so pervasive that The Scifi Channel at one time had addressed this right in the FAQ on their website for commercials whose volume was much louder than their own programming. "It's not our fault", it said, "that's how the video comes to us", as if they were technically incapable of fixing it when you know darn well that they could. Networks and cable: agree on a universal decibel level and stick to it.

Don't be like NBC
NBC may want to commit suicide by eliminating five hours of scripted programming from their weekly lineup, but it's just an illusion of courage. They aren't cutting costs, they are changing the rules of the game to hide their inability to win it. NBC chopped an hour off of scripted prime time because they are flatly incapable of producing compelling scripted programs, not just for that hour, but for almost their entire schedule. It stinks of desperation and if any of you even daydream about doing the same thing, I will personally sue you in the world court of public opinion.

We need less reality (of which talk shows are a part of) and more scripted programming, not the other way around. Ever heard of a reality show that plays well in syndication or sells like crazy on DVD? No, I didn't think so.

If you can't create good scripted programming, then fire your suits and get people in there that can.

Stop cramming Monday's
Monday is not the only night of the week during which people will watch television. Here's what I try to watch every Monday night not by choice, but because that's when everything decent is on: Four hours of Lost on Scifi (recently moved to the afternoon -- thank you for moving it, f*** you for not telling anyone you were moving it until after you moved it), Prison Break and Terminator on Fox (Terminator is getting very close to losing my attention), and Heroes on NBC. That's seven hours of programming crammed into the same four hour block, and I don't appreciate it. There's no reason you can't move some of this stuff to Wednesday and Thursday or even Saturday.

44% of American homes will have a DVR by 2014 according to forecasts. As far as I know, my DVR doesn't take the weekend off, and neither should you.

Moreover, if all of you are going to put your biggest programs on Monday night (Fox is moving House there after the Super Bowl, thanks guys..) the least you could do is rerun them during the week or on the weekend for those of us who can't record fifty shows that are all on during the same hour on the same night. Some of you are already doing this with cable (NBC-U reruns new house on USA since they actually own and produce the show, along with owning USA) which is a great idea. New Heroes rerun on G4TV the very next day but they are kind of the retarded family child that does very bad things to shows they rerun...get rid of the chat boxes guys, you look really stupid.

You may think that you're being clever and competitive with each other overloading Monday night, but all you're doing is costing potential viewers unless your show is getting like 20 million viewers.

Stretch it out.

Stop experimenting and "show" some faith
Ordering six or nine episodes of a new show is telling us, your customers, that you have zero faith in it, which in turn makes us weary of investing our time in it knowing full well that if you -- an entity which has the attention span of a five-year-old -- aren't satisfied with the ratings, that it will go away. And naturally you'll find some way to blame it on us. "Not enough people watched it?" Maybe that's because we're not stupid enough to get hooked on a show that we know will probably be moved to a different night, put on extended hiatus, and then canceled without warning.

If you want us to watch your shows, do with them what Fox did with Fringe, and show some faith by picking up the full first season and keeping that commitment no matter how much money it costs you. Believe us, most of us aren't going to waste our time on your latest science experiment after what you did to Firefly, and yes, every network has had their own Firefly at some point in the past few years.

If it comes between bending over for advertisers or making the audience happy, the latter is a wiser investment by a long shot. Even though I think Fringe generally sucks, Fox has more street cred with me than the other networks because they gave it a full season right from the start, and that's getting pretty rare these days.

Enough commercials already
The average run-time of an hour-long scripted show these days without commercials appears to be roughly 41-43 minutes depending on the show. That's nearly 32% of the time dedicated to commercials which is ridiculous. If you can't make show X without running 19 minutes of commercials, then either find a megasponsor like some shows and networks will do with a season premier (24, Heroes, etc), do a deal with another network on cable (Friday Night Lights), sell some bonds or kidneys, or just don't make the damned thing.

But stop decreasing the time the show has to tell their story.

I've heard people saying that at this point, with 19 minutes dedicated to commercials and as many as five breaks per hour, writers are having to jump through some serious structural hoops just to make their stories work as-is, and if it gets any worse, you're basically taking what made web shorts suck and what made TV great, and making TV suck with it. 41 minutes isn't enough time if you ask me and even less is going to make me stop watching TV altogether.

We don't care how good the resulting shows are, they aren't worth watching if you feel like you're watching as many commercials as you are actual programming. People don't want the TV equivalent of short stories, they want books. If I have to waste a full third of the time trying to watch a TV show, I'm going to wait until it comes out on DVD and never watch TV again. I mean that's pretty close to what I'm already doing with my DVR, and to be honest, that's the feature I love most about it.

These sad attempts to squeeze water out of a rock are getting so annoying that it's doing more harm than good. More commercials are going to drive away more people which is going to end up offsetting however much more money you greedy bastards make from the extra commercials, so quit it.

So there you have it, Merry x-mas, there's my free five pieces of advice for the hollidays.
in Feature, Television


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    Hi, Paul.

    I agree with you on the volume. What's worse, are the shows are one volume, and the commercials another. Magnavox marketed a TV that had a function to set your sound level (Smart Sound), no matter what, but it was never on a TV with a large enough screen for me. Of course, it's been a few years since I last purchased a new TV (uhm, like seven?). (Is Magnavox still in business? Oh, yeah, they are:

    And yes, the networks need faith in their shows. If they don't, why should we bother watching in the first place?

    Just to warn you in advance (this time) but LOST moves back to its regular time slot on the SciFi Channel once the holidays are over with. (Or, at least, that's the way it is scheduled right NOW.)

    Actually, they pick up a few more hours on (some) Mondays in January:

    01/05/2009 07:00 PM LOST THE BEGINNING OF THE END
    01/05/2009 08:00 PM LOST CONFIRMED DEAD
    01/05/2009 09:00 PM LOST THE ECONOMIST
    01/05/2009 10:00 PM LOST EGGTOWN

    01/12/2009 07:00 PM LOST THE CONSTANT
    01/12/2009 08:00 PM LOST THE OTHER WOMAN
    01/12/2009 09:00 PM LOST JI YEON
    01/12/2009 10:00 PM LOST MEET KEVIN JOHNSON

    01/19/2009 05:00 PM LOST THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
    01/19/2009 07:00 PM LOST CABIN FEVER

    01/26/2009 07:00 PM LOST ENTER 77
    01/26/2009 08:00 PM LOST PAR AVION
    01/26/2009 10:00 PM LOST EXPOSE

    02/02/2009 07:00 PM LOST
    02/02/2009 08:00 PM LOST
    02/02/2009 09:00 PM LOST
    02/02/2009 10:00 PM LOST

    02/09/2009 07:00 PM LOST
    02/09/2009 08:00 PM LOST
    02/09/2009 09:00 PM LOST
    02/09/2009 10:00 PM LOST

    02/16/2009 07:00 PM LOST
    02/16/2009 08:00 PM LOST
    02/16/2009 09:00 PM LOST
    02/16/2009 10:00 PM LOST

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