FAST- TRACKING is such an abused term in TV programming these days that you could be forgiven for paying no attention any more when the big networks use it.
But the people in charge of scheduling our favourite shows seem to be gradually getting the idea that viewers refuse to wait months at a time to see something that has already premiered overseas.
ABC led the way this year with its bold experiment of showing the new season of cult sci- fi series Doctor Who on its online iView service the instant the final credits rolled for each episode in the UK.
The gamble paid off, with phenomenal online ratings for Doctor Who on iView as fans showed their support for a plan that meant they didn’t have to spend a week or more in fear of reading or hearing a spoiler somewhere.
The other free- to- air networks are a little more sluggish in following suit but they seem to be warming to the idea.
The commercial networks’ idea of fast- tracking has traditionally meant something along the lines of ‘‘ you only need to wait one month instead of six months after its US premiere date!’’, but as people increasingly turn to illegal downloading to avoid the long wait, the fast- tracking needs to get faster if the networks want to retain viewers.
Nine is taking some tentative baby steps in the right direction with its new Tuesday night comedy line- up.
Each new episode of season six of The Big Bang Theory hits Australian screens three days after its US premiere, new episodes of 2 Broke Girls one week after their US premiere and Two and a Half Men three days after its US premiere. Not so bad!
Ten is also showing signs of improvement with the hit series New Girl screening five days after each episode’s US premiere, and the latest season of NCIS six days after its US premiere. New episodes of Emmy- magnet Modern Family are lagging behind, screening about 10 days after their US premiere.
But while the commercial networks have all made fairly entry- level efforts at fast- tracking, the gold star has to go to the pay- TV networks, which are showing how it should be done.
On Showcase we have Sons of Anarchy season five screening a mere two hours after each episode’s US premiere, Boardwalk Empire season three screening 5 ½ hours after US release, and the seventh season of Dexter screening a slightly less impressive three days after its US premiere.
Series three of The Walking Dead screens on the FX channel 33 hours after its US premiere and each new episode will also be available to download on iTunes the following day.
On Fox8, new episodes of Grimm will screen within 36 hours of the US, Gossip Girl within 12 hours, The Vampire Diaries within seven days.
With today’s speed of global communications and data- transfer, there is no reason for having to wait longer than a couple of days for any new program from the US or UK to reach Australian screens. Australian TV networks seem to be finally figuring this out, and hopefully they can commit fully to real fast- tracking before all their viewers abandon them.