Updated: 05/12/2013

Film, Radio and TV - 28 B





Television Programming - I I

Off-Network Programming

>>Local stations not affiliated with a network are left to their own devices to compete for ratings.

Although it's hard to compete against first-run network programming, local stations often capture at least three percent of the available audience (a critical figure when it comes to getting national advertising) if they run syndicated shows -- shows that ran on the networks and are subsequently sold in package deals to local stations.

Even though these programs have already aired, people may not have seen them, or, if they have, they may want to see them again. Shows like Law & Order, CSI, and Friends have done very well in syndication.


Late-Night/Early Morning Demographics

>>Generally speaking, people who have to get up early to be at work and possibly have to get their kids off to school do not watch much late-night television. The people who do tend to watch them have jobs where they telecommute (work at home via computer), set their own hours, or can get to work at 9 a.m. or later.  

People in farm belt areas will typically be tuning in at 5 a.m. for grain, weather, and market reports. At these times, local stations are apt to run commercials geared to agricultural interests.


Buying Ads According to

Numbers, Not Programs

>>Advertisers typically do not buy advertising time in programs based on their personal likes and dislikes about a show. Often, they won't even know in what shows their commercials will appear. They base their decisions on audience numbers and demographics. They want to know how many of the "right kind of people" (age, sex, socioeconomic status, urban-rural, etc.) will be watching their commercials.

Thursday nights tend to be very popular with network advertisers simply because there are more viewers. Saturday nights have the least number of network viewers. At the same time Saturday nights have the highest number of video rentals and viewers for pay-cable services.

The number of viewers also changes, depending on the season. Many people have vacations and outside activities during the summer months and they tend to stay home when the kinds are in school. However, during most TV seasons viewing tends to peak at 9 p.m. on every week night except Saturday, when it peaks at 10 p.m. (These are prime-time hours.) Apparently many viewers spend most of Saturday evenings doing other things, such as going out to eat.

The Relative Popularity of

Programming Themes

>>The graph below shows how a sample of about 500 people responded to questions on what they like to view in sitcoms and dramatic shows.

>>Interestingly, gun violence, a major element in dramatic productions, ends up being in last place. This raises questions about a possible difference between what people say they like (people are not supposed to like violence) and what they actually view. There is evidence to support the contention that in interviews and questionnaires people tend to "fudge" toward socially acceptable answers.


Religious Broadcasting

>>After suffering some setbacks as a result of scandals among popular TV evangelists, the area of religious broadcasting has made a rebound and is again growing rapidly. — This link has additional information on religious broadcasting.

Good Show; Bad Time Slot

>>Even good shows can fail if they fall victim to unfortunate scheduling. We've already covered some scheduling strategies, but let's add one more.

If your show is scheduled against a popular and well-established show on another network, your ratings will probably be poor. If your show is not moved (and assuming it doesn't rather quickly generate some significant ratings), it will probably be canceled. Good show; bad time slot.


>>TV shows tend to be canceled quickly if they don't immediately garner impressive ratings. Based on a very short broadcast exposure, network programmers can misjudge the potential popularity of a show.

The short, puzzling history of Firefly is worth recalling.

FireflyFirefly was introduced with much fanfare on FOX.  But then it was aired at unexpected times and in an unexpected chronological order. (The two-hour introductory show was aired as the last show.) 

This meant people who were attracted to the show had a hard time finding it in the schedule and understanding the story development.

Firefly was canceled after only eleven of the fourteen produced episodes were aired.

The cast and crew all wanted to stay with the series and there seems to be no question about the quality of the acting. There were no contract or money disputes, and most of the cast soon ended up in hit series on other networks.

The creative genius behind Firefly, Josh Weadon, went on to produce more than one hit show on other networks, not to mention the 2012 record-setting box office success, The Avengers, which he wrote and directed.

After FOX canceled Firefly, DVD sales of the complete series reportedly jumped to the number one spot on Amazon.com, selling almost 500,000 copies. Some who bought the set said, that the best episodes hadn't been aired. The abbreviated series developed a huge cult following with numerous U.S. and Canadian conventions.

Firefly sparked a full length theatrical film, Serenity. (A feature film has never followed a canceled TV series before.) To date, ten books have been written on Firefly, with the 11th in the works.

And finally, Firefly was reportedly voted as the best science fiction series of all time.

So we are left with an obvious question: with all the money spent on the series and the superior talent involved, why didn't the network give the series a chance?

Some of the most successful TV series in history took a while to find their audiences -- and their best time slots.  The networks believed in them and they stuck by them.

One of the most popular (and money-making) shows on CBS has been 60 Minutes.  It took quite a while for that program to catch on with audiences.

Elements of Program Success

>>Although there is no "sure- fire" list of success factors for TV shows  -- otherwise there wouldn't be such a large percentage of shows that fail each season -- we can list some factors that have been associated with success.

1. Role and actor "chemistry"  In order to create lively and dramatic interplay, your key actors must be distinctively different; i.e., they must have sufficient contrast in looks, personality, and actions.

At the same time their personalities must "mesh" or include interpersonal "chemistry." Often, that interaction is a major focus of the drama. At the same time they must have believable roles, and believable dialogue especially tailored to their character (as opposed to having dialogue that any other character could say).

An aspect of chemistry is likeability. Although it's almost mandatory to have "bad guys and gals" in order to have conflict (to be discussed below), there should be at least one character that the audience can relate to, maybe even admire -- even if that character does regularly demonstrate human failings.

In recent years lead characters have also had major personal flaws, but at the same time overriding admirable characteristics. The popular FOX show, House, and the BBC detective show, Cracker, are examples.

There should be enough character development in the production that the audience has an opportunity to care about key characters and what happens to them. Successful shows have characters that audiences get to know and care about.

>>Some script strategists euphemistically classify characters according to "good-good," good-bad," "bad-good," and "bad-bad."

  • good-goods Characters are good all the time - not too realistic in real life, plus being very predicable in plots.

  • good-bads These are good people with human failings, providing interesting internal conflicts and story uncertainties. 

  • bad-goods are bad most of the time, but have elements of good, which can also create internal conflicts and story surprises.

  • bad-bads are very predicable and probably best reserved for fairy tails that have wicked witches and totally evil entities.

These same strategists say that characters should stick to their defined nature -- be consistent. Audiences get comfortable with the nature of characters and to suddenly change them is not only disturbing, but probably unrealistic. (Audiences are even know to complain when a character changes his or her hair style.)

We like to see gradual (and believable) change in characters. They should learn by their mistakes. Sometimes this change is considered bad, or negative -- typically with negative consequences. But, at least things don't remain static and the story doesn't move in totally predictable directions.

2. Fresh, engaging story ideas and production techniques  You know how quickly you tend to change the channel when you can easily guess the progress of a drama, including how it's going to come out.

Although there may not be any totally new story concepts -- how many times have you seen boy-meets-girl; boy-loses-girl; boy-gets girl-back-again"? -- there can be new twists, new personalities, new subplots, new production techniques, and new ways of telling stories.

This includes important "ahead of the curve" elements, as discussed in some detail in Module 7.

3. Energy, pace, tension, and excitement. If you look at films and TV programs done a few decades ago you will probably be struck by the fact that they are less sophisticated in structure and production techniques than today's shows. They also tend to move more slowly.

If you ask a friend about a movie and she says, "It moved kinda slow," that will probably be a film you will avoid seeing. Slow is boring.

In this MTV-era we have gotten used to stories -- generally multiple stories or subplots within a single drama -- that move rapidly.

>>The pace of a show is largely psychological. Although time is generally compressed in dramatic stories, sometimes a simple event will be stretched out far beyond its normal (clock) time to add drama, tension, and excitement. (Ever see the 90-second timer on a bomb take 10 minutes of story time?)

Although story pace and editing are important, a large part of the tension and excitement of a production is provided by (good) acting. The best actors can make every scene so involving that you will not want to turn away.

4. Conflict. Although we've already wandered a bit into this area, an engaging production must have obstacles to overcome. They can be internal struggles, a clash of personalities or ideas, or overt physical battles.

The writer must build into the script certain "collisions" between characters, ideologies, or goals. Seeing how the characters deal with these is the essence of good drama. Successful comedy is also based on the collision of ideas, goals, attitudes, and misunderstandings.

Engaging news stories and documentaries should highlight the differences between opposing views. Therefore we must effectively present different sides of issues. One-sided presentations not only tend to be boring, they are professionally unethical.

>>If you think about it, all great drama centers on conflict and misunderstanding. In the case of comedy we are often entertained by misunderstandings and the struggle to set things right. In the case of drama and documentaries we should be emotionally pulled into the struggle.

5. Durability. Ongoing series must be able to sustain viewer interest across multiple episodes.

For one thing, this means that the story concept must present a variety of ongoing options. Detectives, doctors, lawyers, and police can confront a variety of cases in a variety of locations, whereas a story centered entirely in a home will have limited story options.

>>Most series have a variety of key characters -- typically six to ten -- each of which may have friends and acquaintances that can introduce story elements.

In order not to run out of story ideas some series have been forced to completely shift story locations and introduce new characters. "Uprooting" things in this way can be risky. It often comes down to the lesser of the two evils: upsetting audiences that have become comfortable with the characters and their locations, or running out of good story ideas.

Durability also relates to whether you get tired of characters and their roles (and limited story ideas), or whether the characters are engaging and likable enough to keep you coming back week after week.

>>Eventually, all series run their course. Some hang on until they are canceled by low ratings; others know when their popularity (or their story ideas) have peaked, and bow out while they are still held in high esteem.

The latter will positively affect both acting careers and the syndication of the series. A series that has durability should do well in syndication. (Don't we all have friends who never seem to get tired of seeing reruns of their favorite shows?) The fact that some series don't make a profit until they are syndicated makes this aspect of durability particularly important.

>>In the next module we'll look at cable and satellite TV services.


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