Monday, April 17, 2006

The Future of TV: No More Repeats

ABC has ordered a TON of fall pilots, many more than their competitors. The nominal reason? They have to find three hours to replace "Monday Night Football." But if they're smart, ABC will bow to the inevitable and launch a TV season of no repeats. Obviously shows like "24" benefit greatly from being aired all in a row, without any reruns. "Lost," in comparison, is stretching out its 22 episodes over 9 months, with so many reruns that I sometimes forget what happened last. The result? "Lost" is down 30% this season. (A creative collapse didn't help either.) Fox has already shifted to a semi-permanent state of no repeats. And everyone else needs to jump on board quick. Yes, networks usually lose money when they air an original episode of a show (typically, they cost more than the ads bring in), but the networks make it up when they air reruns. But reruns -- especially for dramas -- are collapsing in the ratings. With Tivos and Video-on-demand and iTunes and DVDs and a million other ways to capture a show, people are much less likely to miss a new episode of their favorite series. And that means they're much less likely to watch a rerun. Even sitcoms like "My Name Is Earl" grow tiresome after you spot a month of reruns looming up. The British have been doing this for years -- a show airs all its new episodes in a row and then disappears until they're ready again. This is a radical revamping and means a major influx of new programming. But so what? The networks used to dump reruns in the summer as well; now it's one of their best breeding grounds for new hits. In short, ABC would air Desperate Housewives from mid September through February sweeps. Lost would air from January through May sweeps. Ditto for most other dramas and sitcoms. Reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race already do this -- with two batches of episodes each year. They'll need to spend a lot more money on programming, but that's a lot cheaper than driving away viewers with endless repeats.

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