Sum­mer re­runs dis­ap­pear in chang­ing TV land­scape

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Rich Heldenfels

THE 2013-14 tele­vi­sion sea­son is over, with CBS win­ning in view­ers and NBC tak­ing the crown in the ad­ver­tiser-loved age group of 18 to 49 years old. But for view­ers, and even more for the net­works, the TV sea­son never re­ally ends. Not any­more. The of­fi­cial end­ing was just a hic­cup be­fore new shows start. The TV sea­son is an an­cient con­struct based on the idea that view­ers do most of their watch­ing from the fall to the spring. A stan­dard TV sea­son ran 39 weeks, and shows made enough episodes for each week, then de­voted the sum­mer to re­runs. But as the cost of mak­ing a TV show grew, stu­dios and net­works steadily re­duced the num­ber of episodes they made each sea­son. A tra­di­tional broad­cast-net­work show can now have roughly 22 to 24 episodes over a full sea­son, al­though that num­ber varies con­sid­er­ably. Mean­while, the idea of sum­mer re­runs has steadily faded over the last 30 years, ever since ca­ble net­works re­al­ized that sum­mer was a good time to put on their orig­i­nal shows. The broad­cast­ers saw their au­di­ences go to ca­ble and, in many cases, never come back. At first, the broad­cast­ers’ re­sponse was to put on in­ex­pen­sive re­al­ity shows — both Amer­i­can Idol and Sur­vivor be­gan as sum­mer se­ries, in 2002 and 2000 re­spec­tively — to keep their in­vest­ment low. While re­al­ity shows still have a sum­mer home — wit­ness Amer­ica’s Got Talent (re­turn­ing Tues­day), So You Think You Can Dance (Wed­nes­day) and Big Brother (June 25) — net­works dis­cov­ered that many view­ers pre­ferred scripted fare, and not just shows that were cheaply cast and made. So now net­works put new shows on dur­ing the sum­mer, and some­times find hits that way. The Cana­dian-made po­lice drama Rookie Blue be­gins its fifth sea­son on ABC on June 19, and CBS’s sum­mer 2013 hit Un­der the Dome will be­gin its sec­ond sea­son on June 30. Os­car win­ner Halle Berry will be a sum­mer star for CBS when her new se­ries Ex­tant pre­mières on July 9. Be­yond the sum­mer sit­u­a­tion, re­runs are in bad favour gen­er­ally, since ca­ble will coun­ter­pro­gram even dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son — and the avail­abil­ity of pre­vi­ously aired shows on-de­mand and on­line make them less at­trac­tive over-the-air fare. So we see short-run se­ries put on when shows take a break dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­sons. Only those fill-in shows of­ten don’t work — and then TV writ­ers get letters won­der­ing why The As­sets or Killer Women van­ished. (An­swer: Not enough view­ers.) Ca­ble, for that mat­ter, is not a fan of re­peats of its orig­i­nal se­ries (while re­play­ing broad­cast shows con­stantly); such shows as Ma­jor Crimes (re­turn­ing June 9) or Long­mire (June 2) come and go as new episodes are avail­able, while Mad Men is us­ing a split-sea­son ap­proach, end­ing the first half of its fi­nal sea­son on Sun­day be­fore re­turn­ing with the sec­ond half in 2015. At the same time, in broad­cast, even ex­pected suc­cesses are not al­ways de­signed to run a full sea­son, pre­fer­ring shorter runs for nar­ra­tive rea­sons or to at­tract big stars who would not com­mit to a 22-episode year. (See Berry, above.) This, too, can have mixed re­sults. Fox was very suc­cess­ful with Sleepy Hol­low, its 13-episode first sea­son al­low­ing for tight plot­ting and plenty of thrills with­out much filler. (Its re­ported ex­pan­sion to 18 episodes may there­fore work against it dra­mat­i­cally.) Hostages and In­tel­li­gence, two CBS se­ries with ab­bre­vi­ated runs, did not fare well and won’t be back — al­though that may also be a sign of au­di­ence re­sis­tance to se­ri­al­ized thrillers, since NBC’s Cri­sis and Be­lieve were also can­celled, and Fox’s 24: Live An­other Day has un­der­whelmed. More re­cently, the com­pet­i­tive land­scape has be­come larger with on­line ser­vices like Net­flix putting on orig­i­nal shows. Binge view­ing, some­thing people used to do by load­ing up episodes on their DVRs or wait­ing for ca­ble marathons, is now some­thing to be ex­pected when Net­flix puts an en­tire sea­son of Or­ange Is the New Black on­line at once (as it will do with the sec­ond sea­son on June 6). It ba­si­cally urges fans to for­get ev­ery­thing else for a weekend of episode-watch­ing, while also al­low­ing people to spread out their view­ing — at the ex­pense of the ca­ble and broad­cast fare be­ing ig­nored in favour of Or­ange. Com­pe­ti­tion keeps the TV sched­ule in flux, on broad­cast cer­tainly but also on ca­ble. A&E dropped Those Who Kill af­ter two episodes and rat­ings de­clines; it resur­faced later on Life­time. View­ers search con­stantly for their favourite shows, or won­der if and when they will re­turn. In­deed, it can be months be­fore they re­al­ize that a show is gone for good. So we are left scour­ing net­work web­sites for re­turn dates, or flip­ping through the TV chan­nels in the hope that some­thing else good can be found.

NET­FLIX

Tay­lor Schilling (right) in a scene from Or­ange is the New Black. Net­flix, one of the new kids on the TV block, will put the en­tire sec­ond sea­son of the hit show on­line on June 6.

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