What Has Happened to Television?

I did something today that I rarely ever do these days. Today, I actually sat in front of the television and wondered if there was anything on. Now, don’t get me wrong, I watch television – just not much of it. In fact, despite having a DVR, I only watch a small handful of shows with any regularity. Though the number fluctuates from time-to-time as shows come and go, I generally have anywhere from 2-6 shows I watch, depending on what part of the broadcast season it is. With one of my shows ending this season, that number will likely be going down as I haven’t seen anything likely to replace it.

 So there I was, parked in front of my television when I realized that, despite not having watched much of anything at all since Thanksgiving, there was nothing in my DVR to watch. Nor was there really anything on live at the time that seemed interesting that I didn’t already own – and could therefore watch commercial free if I wanted.  Now, I realize that it is the holiday season. But I certainly can’t remember the last time that there was such a dearth of new episodic programming for such an extended period. I mean, come on now, growing up there were always Halloween, Thanksgiving, and sometimes even Christmas episodes of the shows I watched. They were sort of an annual event. They were episodes that had their own unique flavor, and didn’t pay any heed to the normal conventions of the show. So, now curious, I began looking up when shows would be returning to television and found that almost across the board it was now a normal occurrence for shows to take 6-9 weeks off for holiday hiatus. Sure, over the years shows have taken time off around the holidays. But two whole months? Really? That’s just plain nuts. No wonder viewership for shows is down. No wonder why we have all turned to watching things on the DVR, even if only offset by a few hours. With such long breaks between new episodes, it’s incredibly difficult to remain vested in stories and character development.

 The problem is that shows have gone to 22 episode seasons. It used to be that shows would run 26-30 episodes per season. One could watch a full slate of new episodes, then watch the season repeat once before I wrapped up the off season with the cliffhanger just in time for the new season to start again. There were fall sweeps and there were May sweeps. But shows could find their way into both periods without taking significant time off. Now, in order to bolster ratings numbers shows are placing large gaps in their programming so that 22 episodes can still take 30 weeks. This is just silly. And actually, as a casual viewer, I find it downright annoying. If shows want to continue being only 22 episodes per season, that’s fine. Pick a season, fall or May and run through it – with minimum interruption. Or here’s a novel idea; return to the days of running longer seasons. I’d be willing to bet that a well-written show with fewer interruptions and no longer than 2 weeks worth of hiatus would probably rate better than some of the shows do now that take so much time off that viewers simply forget to care.

 That got me to thinking about the serial story I am embarking on. Write one part per week without interruptions (hopefully). Is it really so hard for writers to write longer seasons now? I have to imagine that the extra cast and crew cost of additional episodes would be offset by the additional advertising that could be sold to plug into the new episodes. And a show running 4-8 episodes longer would have periods of low competition to really reap the benefit of a lack of competition for advertising dollars.

 I guess I must just be getting old. Whether it is the perceived declining quality of writing in movies and television, the declining comparable value of cinema to other forms of entertainment, or the big push to tout the greatness of some mediocre modern literature, I find that more and more these days I find it far easier to find shortcomings than I do to find things to praise. That just seems awfully negative. Maybe I should try doing something about that.

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