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TV Programming

Television Lecture #6

Drew Hamilton

on 12 April 2011

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Transcript of TV Programming

Television Programming
TV Programming: A High Stakes Game
According to how well the players do in this game, hundreds of millions of dollars are won and lost each year.
The players are primarily the New York network executives who decide what programs should and should not be on U.S. networks, on what day they should be scheduled, and in what time slots.
The programs that come before and after each show must be carefully weighed, as well as what the other networks are offering in each of these same time slots.
Other Programming Factors
Target audience demographics (Age, race, sex, economic level)
Promotion Opportunities
Advertiser appeal
Each of these factors is crucial for having a successful show and a successful season.
What to Put On TV
We'll discuss some scheduling and success factors for prime-time dramatic shows and sitcoms.
But, even before we get to that, you'll want to consider your own perspective on "good" and "bad" shows.
First, you have to accept the fact that you are probably "abnormal” when it comes to liking or disliking shows
By this I mean that your taste in television programs probably doesn't coincide with that of normal (average) U.S. viewers.
Most Common Type of Audience
Networks tend to target an LCD audience, or Lowest Common Denominator
You are all high school age, that makes you "non-normal" in itself. Most TV viewers do not have a college education, and they are older than you are. That means that they will probably like and dislike different things in life -- including TV programs.
Target Audiences
Sometimes you’ll wonder, “Why is that show still on the air? It’s terrible.” or “Why did it get cancelled, that show was so good.”
Network execs often don’t like a show they put on the air
They DO like when a lot of people watch the shows
In almost any game aiming at the wrong target can mean you lose the game. The same goes for television programming.
For example, Mondays at 7pm, WWE Monday Night Raw and Monday Night Football air, so, if you’re programming for another network….who should be your target audience?
They’re busy watching the football and wrestling
You would probably have better luck gathering a large audience if you programmed a show targeting women.
Guess what ABC airs Monday's at 7pm?
The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars...shows for women
Scheduling the Bachelor opposite football is an example of counterprogramming
Counterprogramming is the practice of scheduling a program opposite another program, esp. a popular one, that appeals to a different kind of audience
Counterprogramming can also involve other demographic characteristics.
For a program that appeals to an older audience you might want to counterprogram with something that appeals to a younger audience.
For a program that appeals to a sophisticated audience, think about a program that appeals to a not-so-sophisticated audience.
Targeting with Advertising
Deciding on a target audience also involves your advertisers.A show that has commercials for expensive cars, designer clothes, exotic vacation spots, and upscale restaurants will have to appeal to an audience that can afford these things.
If you are trying to sell Sandals tropical beach resorts, you don't want to buy commercial time during Spongebob Squarepants
Although advertisers are interested in the number of viewers that watch a show, they are even more interested in the show's demographics.
Demographics are the TYPE of people watching a show. Demographics are broken into 4 main parts:
Monday Night Football’s main demographic is middle class, middle aged men…so, advertisers wouldn’t want to put ads for Kotex tampons on during the game
Scheduling Strategies
The next section of this lecture will
focus on different strategies used to determine
what will air where and when on television
Audience Flow
Audience flow is the amount of people who were watching one show that keep watching the next show
Viewers of network television tend to stick with the channel they are viewing unless they have a good reason to change. Therefore the audience that leads into your show is important.
This is especially true for viewers who get TV free off of the air, rather than from cable or the Internet, where their many more options. If your show comes after one that has high ratings, your show will benefit through audience flow.
When a station or network schedules a number of programs consecutively that have a similar demographic appeal
Stacking: When a station or network schedules a number of programs consecutively that have a similar demographic appeal
Often, networks will stack a series of sitcoms together, assuming that audience flow will hold viewers for several hours.
Example: NBC's Comedy Night Done Right -6 comedy shows from 7-10pm
Hammock Effect
Hammock effect: putting a weak or lesser show between 2 popular ones
The purpose of the hammock effect is use audience flow to increase the ratings for the lesser show
Rather than switch channels between two strong shows (and maybe join a program in progress on another network, or be forced to tune away from it before it ends) audiences tend to stay with the network, even if they try to do something else during the interval, like going to the kitchen and fixing themselves a ham sandwich.
This, of course, helps the new or weaker show -- and may result in it "catching on" and becoming popular in its own right.
Example: FOX airing "The Cleveland Show" in between "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy"
Tentpoling: Using a huge, established show to boost the ratings of other (usually new) shows
"American Idol" is a great example of this. It can make a new show a hit with its huge audience. I.e. "House"
Biggest example of a tentpole program?
The Super Bowl
The show that follows the Super Bowl ALWAYS has its highest ratings ever.
Hotswitching: where programmers eliminate any pause between the end of one program and the start of the next one
This is generally done at the top of the hour
The idea is to immediately get viewers involved in the next program before they are tempted to switch channels.
Cross-Programming: involves the interconnection of two different shows.
The story line of one program continues into a different program, generally with a mixture of the key people appearing in each.
Ex. The characters from "CSI" meet the characters from "CSI Miami"
Happens VERY rarely
Bridging: when one TV program intentionally extends beyond the normal end point of programs on the other channels
So, while almost all shows end at 8pm, a network using bridging would end its program at 8:05pm
If the audience watched the show that was extended, they'd be 5 minutes behind on any shows on other networks
This discourages the viewer from switching the channel
Theming: when a block of shows -- maybe even a whole week of shows during a certain time period -- all center around the same theme
Example: Green Week on NBC...all NBC shows feature some sort of enviornmental elements
Holiday themes are most common type
Stripping: airing episodes of a show not every week, but M-F at the same time each day
Almost always with syndicated shows
Examples: Wheel of Fortune, Oprah, reruns of sitcoms
Marathons: airing several episodes of a series back-to-back-to-back for hours on end
Will sometimes be an entire season of a show, or every single episode of a show, in order
Can be used to please loyal fans or give potential viewers a chance to catch up and become loyal fans
Almost always take place on weekends or holidays, when people have more time to commit to several episodes
Ex. "Band of Brothers" miniseries; Season 5 of "Deadliest Catch" airing the weekend before Season 6 debuts
Stunting: Using special programs or plot gimmicks to gain the largest audiences
Crazy twists/lots of action. Some examples of stunting...
Weddings. A big wedding on a show almost always means a bump in the ratings
Cameos. A cameo is when a famous star makes an appearance on a show….i.e. Brad Pitt on the Thanksgiving episode of "Friends"
Reunions. When the cast of an old show reunited either in a special show or in another show. i.e. The cast of Seinfeld reuniting on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Cliffhangers. Designed to hold viewers from the end of one season to the next. Often when a character’s future is in doubt (shot, fired, etc) Lost ALWAYS ends each season with a cliffhanger
Stunting to the Extreme
The biggest TV cliffhanger of all time was “Who Shot JR?” on the TV show Dallas. The top rated show on TV when it started in 1978
Its 1980 season ending episode ended with the show’s villain JR Ewing being shot and rushed to the hospital
The search for who shot JR lasted through the next season, building their audience even further. The 1981 season premiere more people were watching in the United States than voted in the 1980 presidential election.
Stunting is almost always used a certain times of the year...periods known as Sweeps.
Sweeps is the time of the year that is most important for TV shows
4 months out of the year, Nielsen mails out weekly diaries to families to rate the shows they are watching
February, May, July and November are TYPICALLY the 4 sweeps periods of the year. May and November are most important
Because it is getting ratings from both people meters and diaries, sweeps gets the most accurate sampling of viewers
Because these periods are so crucial, networks always put on special programming during sweeps
American Idol was programmed so that it starts in January, gets a boost in February sweeps and ends during May sweeps
Local Sweeps
It’s not just the networks that go through sweeps.
Local stations ALSO go through the sweeps periods, in particular focusing on their news shows
During local sweeps, you’ll see newscasts with fewer commercial breaks, special investigative pieces and giveaways
The way you see both local and network shows pumping up for sweeps is through promos.
Promos are basically commercials for TV shows instead of products
Network and local promos will air CONSTANTLY during sweeps, in almost every single commercial break. They let you know when the special show is coming on and gives you a reason to watch
Off-Network Programming
Local stations don’t just rely on networks for their programming
Network affiliates are required to air their networks programming, but the networks DON’T provide affiliates with 24 hours of programming
Because of that, local affiliates need to find shows to fill that time
There are 4 types of Off-Network Programming....

Local programming
Shows produced by or for that specific station…these are mostly local news shows or talk shows

Paid programming
Infomericals or 30 minute commercials for one product, where the product’s owners buy the time from the station.
Most often on overnight or during the day on weekends

Syndicated Programming
programming produced by another network or production studio that can be bid on by the stations in one particular market
; there are 2 types of syndicated shows:

Second Run Syndication: these are shows that have appeared on a network and have usually reached 100 episodes
; the older episodes of the show are sold to stations or networks for air; reruns; "Everybody Loves Raymond" "Scrubs" old episodes of "The Office"
First Run Syndication: shows that are designed to be sold to different stations. New episodes are produced to run for the first time
ie…"Dr. Phil", "Jerry Springer", or "Judge Judy"
Syndicated Shows & Stations
The key thing to remember with syndication is that they are up for bidding for any station in any market; syndicated shows are NOT bound to any network
For instance, Dr Phil airs in the Memphis market on WATN, the ABC affiliate here
In Washington DC, Dr. Phil airs on WUSA, the CBS affiliate there
No station will ever have the same syndicated shows in a market as others. Once WATN has Dr. Phil, no other stations in the Memphis market are allowed to air Dr. Phil

To give you an idea on how local programming works, I will show you WMC’s Monday through Friday schedule from the beginning of the day(5am) till the end of the day(5am the next day)
WMC Schedule
5-5:30am Action News 5 AM (local programming – news)
5:30-6am Action News 5 AM (local programming – news)
6-7am Action News 5 at 6 AM (local programming – news)
7-10am The Today Show (network programming – NBC)
10-11am The Today Show (network programming – NBC)
11am-12pm LIVE with Kelly (1st run syndication – WABC, NY)
12-1pm Action News 5 at Noon (local programming – news)
1-2pm Days of Our Lives (network programming – NBC)
2-3pm Ellen DeGeneres (1st run syndication – Telepictures)
3-4pm Crime Watch Daily (1st run syndication – Telepictures)
4-5pm Action News 5 at 4 (local programming– news)
5-5:30pm Action News 5 at 5 (local programming– news)
5:30-6pm NBC Nightly News (network programming– NBC)
6-6:30pm Action News 5 at 6 (local programming – news)
6:30-7pm Wheel of Fortune (1st run syndication – Sony Pictures)

WMC Schedule
7-10pm NBC Primetime programming (network programming – NBC)
10-10:34pm Action News 5 at 10 (local programming – news)
10:34-11:37pm The Tonight Show (network programming – NBC)
11:37-12:38am Late Night with Seth Meyers (network programming – NBC)
12:38-1:07am Last Call with Carson Daly (network programming – NBC)
1:07-1:37am Action News 5 at 10 REPEAT (local programming – news)
1:37-2:07am Free Money (paid programming)
2:07-2:37am Party Food Ideas (paid programming)
2:37-3:37am Keras Car Central (paid programming)
3:37-4am The Verdict with Judge Hatchett (1st run syndication – Sony Pic)
4-4:30am Early Today (network programming– NBC)
4:30-5am Action News 5 at 4:30AM (local programming- news)

When People Watch
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, such as HBO
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. That’s why during the summer you see a lot of repeats of network shows and special reality shows that only air during the summer (Big Brother and America’s Got Talent)
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.
What People Watch
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 (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.
Good Show/Bad Slot
Even good shows can fail if they fall victim to unfortunate scheduling.
If your show is scheduled against a popular/well established show on another network…your ratings probably are going to suffer
If your show is not moved (and assuming it doesn't rather quickly generate some significant ratings), it will probably be canceled.
Sometimes though, a show goes up against such an established show, that expectations are lowered and success is looked at by more than just ratings
Example. The Office and Parks and Recreation aired on NBC every Thursday at 8 and 8:30 against 2 big rated, well established shows…CSI on CBS and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC
NBC didn’t expect ANY show to take the ratings that timeslot, so the standards are lowered for The Office and Parks and Rec…and the network LOVED that The Office, Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock’s demographics were the richest and best educated audience in primetime television.
So, while The Office and 30 Rock never finished higher than 3rd in their timeslot, NBC can still look at both shows as successful
What Makes a Show Successful
There is no sure fire way to know if a show will be successful or not, but there are some basic factors that have been attributed with success in TV.
Success Factor 1: Characters 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.
There should be at least one character (several would be better) on every show that audiences can relate to or root for…even if that character does regularly demonstrate human failings.
A good example of a character that has MAJOR flaws but maintains his likeability is Dr. House from House or Dexter from Dexter
Character Types
Almost all characters on TV fit into one of 4 different categories:
Good-goods - characters are good all the time
- not too realistic in real life, plus being very predicable in plots. Example: Superman
Good-bads - These are good people with human failings, providing interesting internal conflicts and story uncertainties
. The most common heroes in TV shows. Example: Dr. House or Dexter
Bad-goods - bad most of the time, but have elements of good, which can also create internal conflicts and story surprises.
The most common villains in TV shows. Example: Benjamin Linus from Lost and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons
Bad-bads - very predicable and probably best reserved for fairy tails that have wicked witches and totally evil entities.
Example: Gargamel from The Smurfs
Character Development
Some TV writers 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.
A great example of change hurting a show is the TV show Felicity starring Keri Russell. The first season of Felicity…Keri Russell looked like this:
Season 2, she looked like THIS:
Audiences HATED
her hair!
So much so, Felicity's
ratings dropped 50%
More on Character Development
While drastic changes to characters in TV shows are usually a bad idea, that doesn’t mean NO CHANGE EVER is the best thing either; characters get boring
TV writers notice if their characters are liked or not and change them or don’t change them depending on how audiences will positively react
For the most part, 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.
Success Factor 2: Fresh, Engaging Story Ideas and Production Techniques
Often viewers 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.
24 is a great example of this. Its format of each season consisting of one 24 hour day with each episode shot in real time was totally new and fresh and obviously it became a huge success
Another great example is The Office and the comedies shot on NBC. Sitcoms for decades were shot in a TV studio with a live audience. NBC’s are shot on location or on a studio lot with no audience. It gives a freshness and better sense of reality to it. The Office feels even more real because it is show in a documentary style.
In general, it’s always good for a show to be ahead of the curve when it comes to production techniques
Success Factor 3: Energy, Pace, Tension and Excitement
When you watch TV shows or movies from several decades ago, one thing you tend to notice…they 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
Lost was probably one of the best shows when it comes to managing these elements. The tension and excitement of the show builds as audiences ask “What the heck was that?”
However, just as soon as some questions are answered…BOOM!! More questions! This pace was exciting to some fans, but others got annoyed at it and stopped watching the show
Success Factor 4: Conflict
A successful show has characters that 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.
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.
Success Factor 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.
The End
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?)
2nd run syndication is the main goal for EVERY TV show for one main reason:
Shows’ producers and stars make FAR more money in syndication than on network TV.
People who work on a TV show get paid by the episode (for the most part) and while the salaries can be big per episode, you only shoot about 20 a year. People get paid for a syndicated show every time it airs…on every TV station…in every market in the country
The fact that some series don't make a profit until they are syndicated makes this aspect of durability particularly important.
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