Should Network Programming Revamp Their Schedules?

Maybe it’s just me, but this year the reruns just seem to be out of control. Criminal Minds seems to be the worst. They air maybe one or two new shows and its back to Rerun City. What? Did CBS order less shows this season? Maybe this season isn’t any different from the rest, but having the season long felon, The Replicator, all this disjointed airing of episodes makes the story hard to follow. It’s made me think that it’s really time for the networks to think about revamping their programming schedule.

As things stand, the maximum number of episodes a network show seems to have per season is 22. That roughly comes out to five months worth of shows. However, since the TV season goes from September to May, that’s not enough shows to cover that span of time. The network is three months short of new shows, so they mix reruns with new shows. Even if they have shows go on hiatus for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday, it still comes out two months short of shows.

Some networks have started employing a super long hiatus as an answer to the lack of episodes to cover the TV season. Instead of having a show return in January after the holiday break, the show doesn’t return until March. This seems to happen to a lot of new shows, and it can prove detrimental. Getting ratings enough to be renewed your first season is the hardest thing a new show has to achieve. With these super long hiatuses sometimes the initial audience a new show has doesn’t come back which leads to cancellation for the new show. So the super long hiatus might work better for an established show with an established fan base.

While ABC Family is hardly what you’d call the ideal network, it has developed a schedule where it doesn’t show any reruns. They split their shows up into two seasons. When one show is finished showing their half-season worth of shows, another show airs in that time slot doing the same thing. That way two shows share the same timeslot and when one is on hiatus the other one is airing new episodes. The only drawback is sometimes the mid-season finale cliff hangers can leave a lot to be desired.

I wouldn’t mind if the shows would just air the whole season straight through without trying to stretch it out until May. Of course, that might not be possible. I’ve noticed with shows like The Vampire Diaries that they run out of the episodes they’ve done and need the hiatuses to make new episodes to catch up. So playing the whole season straight through wouldn’t work for them, or maybe any other show. Most shows all shut down production at the same time of year and start back at the same time. To play a season of shows all the way through without breaks and reruns would require either starting the season in January or having certain shows change their production schedules.

The problems lay in the networks sweep months where they can set advertising rates depending on how good a show’s ratings are for that time period. The three big ones are in November, February and May. That’s why the networks try to stretch shows out to May to take advantage of the last big sweeps month of the TV season, even though it doesn’t have enough episodes to cover the entire season.

The simplest solution would be if the networks increased their episode order from 22 maximum to 32 or 34, which would give the network enough episodes to cover the entire TV season without resorting to massive reruns or long breaks. However, it’s something the networks aren’t likely to do. They save money by ordering less shows. Some actors have contracts that give them so much money per episode. More episodes would mean more money they’d have to pay out to the actors. And that doesn’t count the cost it takes to make each episode in production costs.

That’s why cutting up the show’s into two seasons and having the season run year-long opposed to just 8 months a year, might be the easiest solution. Have two shows covering the same time slot all year round. Even with two shows covering the same time slot at 22 episodes per show, the network would be shy of 8 weeks of programming to cover the whole year. However, with the present programming schedule it only has enough episodes to cover five months, which makes it shy of 35 episodes to cover a whole year. Only being shy of 8 episodes would be a vast improvement over the current TV schedule.

A few years back ABC tried to start providing original programming for the summer. Unfortunately, a lot of the programming wasn’t that great. That was a start to revamping the schedule. It just needs to be expanded on. Networks really need to look at ABC Family’s innovative schedule and try adopting something similar for their networks. It might even improve their ratings.

I think a lot of viewers get frustrated with the constant breaks and incessant reruns of the shows they watch. They might appreciate being able to watch the shows in two installments if it meant they didn’t have to put up with reruns.

Of course, will the networks do anything or will they just keep the status quo. A lot of them have proven time and again they’re not the brightest bulbs in the package. From giving Jay Leno the 10 pm timeslot for his primetime disaster to putting new shows in death time slots and acting shocked when they have ratings troubles, it doesn’t give you much confidence in the intelligence running these networks. So the networks may continue chugging along with this outmoded schedule that worked when TV shows made more episodes per season than they do now, while more and more viewers get more and more frustrated and turn to the cable network shows that air their seasons with no breaks or reruns.

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