What’s a TV Show?

 

Television was widely anticipated for a half-century before it finally appeared in the home. You see it as futuristic science fiction in films like Metropolis, Things to Come, Transatlantic Tunnel, and Modern Times. Someday it would provide to every American a front-row seat at public events, like the inauguration of a president, a horse race, or the World Series. There’d be live remote broadcasts from big city theaters, with dramas, operas, and vaudeville, as in International House, complete with pretty singers, leggy dancers, and black comedians. All of that would eventually come to pass, in one form or another. Live news events, sports, and variety are mainstays of television even today. But when we say the words “Last night I watched a TV show,” what we usually have in mind is different.

There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term. The futurists of the 1920s didn’t anticipate that very soon we’d have a national habit of hanging out each week with the likes of the Ricardos and the Kramdens. Flash Gordon never kicked back with a cold brew to catch an episode of The Adventures of Superman. Inventing television was hard enough; inventing the kinds of programs and formats that people would want to see, week after week, took another kind of talent. In retrospect, it all happened quickly, but it didn’t happen overnight.

TV shows differ in all sorts of ways, but almost anywhere in the world even children recognize the basics (*): a fictional program, either dramatic or comic, that mostly features the same group of characters in every episode. It has catchy theme music, opening titles, and a closing list of people who worked on the show. It’s always aired at the same time of day, every week if it’s new, every weekday if it’s old. That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

Live television owes much to theater. But plays don’t have strict running times. You don’t go to a theater every week to see a continuation of last week’s play. Filmed television owes a lot to movies, with their camera angles, lighting, musical soundtracks, and editing. But neither theater plays nor movies are interrupted every ten minutes for announcements hawking the sale of cars or weight-loss pills. Television learned it from radio broadcasting, which invented time slots, commercials, and a continuing cast of actors. We’re all so familiar with the format that we’ve long since forgotten how artificial it is.

(* Naturally, there are always creative exceptions. There are anthology shows with different actors each week, like Kraft Suspense Theater or The Twilight Zone. There are entertainment offshoots like game shows, and oddball premises like Sing Along with Mitch, Candid Camera, and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living. But I’m talking plain ol’ regular TV shows: Kojak and Sgt. Bilko, Father Knows Best, and The Shield.)

Hollywood had experience in visual storytelling, technicians, and equipment ready to go on location, warehouses full of bought-and-paid-for scripts, and access to big-name talent, if only they would play ball with the networks. But they wouldn’t, not at first. Big studios not only refused to produce new material for TV, they initially refused to sell broadcast rights to their film libraries. That’s why the schedules of local stations in my childhood were loaded with fourth-rate films from third-rate studios: because the majors wouldn’t do it.

Stepping eagerly into the gap, many smaller independent companies were formed to make film series for television, the ones the big boys wouldn’t do. Some of the most famous companies were owned by film actors, like Desilu (Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), Mark VII Productions (Jack Webb), and Four Star (David Niven, Charles Boyer, Dick Powell, and Ida Lupino).

In 1948, one of these new start-up companies, Imppro, (Independent Motion Picture Productions), signed a contract with CBS to produce 12 episodes of a detective show, The Cases of Eddie Drake, to be filmed on the west coast at a cost of $7,500 per half-hour episode, mere peanuts even by 1948 standards. By the end of the year, eight episodes were in the can, and then a mysterious interlude began. The show would have been one of the first, Hollywood-made film shows on the air, but it didn’t get there until DuMont, the runt of the network litter, bought it in 1952. Four years was an eon in early TV time. Like a fly in amber, it was by then a well-preserved fossil of a little-seen past. By ’52, there were plenty of filmed shows, and they’d started to develop a certain style.

But in ’48, they hadn’t, not quite yet. Eddie Drake doesn’t have an eye-catching animated opening with easy-to-remember theme music. It opens like a low-low-budget Hollywood feature of the late Thirties, with a stationary title card. Like a radio show, it has a framing device; each episode is supposedly a story being told by a hard-boiled detective to a psychiatrist writing a book about criminal behavior. Okay, all right, I’ll say it: “a beautiful lady psychiatrist.” Her main acting job is raising her eyebrows at descriptions of other women.

The most prolific of the non-studio TV show factories was Ziv Productions, owned by a colorful, swashbuckling independent named Frederick Ziv. If you are film savvy, you’ve probably heard of Roger Corman. He was a moneymaking producer of cheap action and horror films, but often with a sense of class, a touch of style. Fred Ziv can fairly be called the Roger Corman of early television, before the big studios changed their minds about producing TV shows.

From 1950 through 1956, he produced The Cisco Kid, one of TV’s earliest westerns, and one of the first television series anywhere in the world to be filmed in color. This was expensive, by penny-pinching Ziv standards, and the introduction of color TV was delayed for years longer than expected. But once it did arrive, in the mid-Fifties, The Cisco Kid was one of the few color programs that small local stations could afford, so it finally paid off for Ziv.

One of Ziv Productions’ biggest-ever hits, I Led 3 Lives (1953-’57), was never on prime-time network TV, but it attracted high ratings for local stations all over the country. Only five years after the primitive-looking beginnings of The Cases of Eddie Drake, I Led 3 Lives is a great example of how much and how quickly TV producers had learned about making shows that kept viewers in seats.

Each episode begins with a dramatic musical and visual flourish as the show’s stark logotype swoops onto the cover of the book the show is based on, the memoirs of Herbert Philbrick, who infiltrated the Communist party for the FBI. The narrator intones the show’s premise, reminding the audience of the basics, and says a few words about tonight’s story.

Most episodes involve the hero foiling an act of Moscow-commanded, US Communist party sabotage or espionage. There are no gadgets, no stunt work, no gunplay, just a Dragnet-style procedural about the often-dull daily work of microfilming documents, updating cipher codes, and attending Party meetings. Ziv made a virtue of necessity, using real locations long before that was fashionable. He was too cheap to build sets.

The show was crafted to build tension and suspense before every break for a commercial. When the show came back from commercials, it featured a “bumper”—a short segment of film with that distinctive I Led 3 Lives logo again, to remind you where you were and get you back in its mood. ‘Bumpers” were a small, clever idea that stuck.

At the end of the show, the actor playing Herbert Philbrick said a few words about next week’s episode and then wished us good night. Note that at that time, there was no awareness that this show might be seen any other way than once a week, in the evening. Then the dramatic musical theme plays over the closing credit roll.

Now that’s what a TV show looks like. By then, other early shows like Susie, Topper, My Little Margie, and The Millionaire were mastering the skill of “speaking in television.” Later in the Fifties, the studios caved in, and were soon competing with each other’s new television production divisions. Hollywood films stopped routinely ridiculing their small-screen cousins, as in 1957’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? This was roughly the point at which most American intellectuals decided that they despised TV. There would be exceptions; William Faulkner’s favorite show was Car 54, Where Are You?

The contents of TV writing have shifted with the culture, but the habits and conventions of TV shows have proven to be remarkably durable over the decades. Minor adjustments do get made, like minimizing the changeover point between shows so viewers won’t be tempted to change the channel. For a long time now, the unions and guilds have okayed speeded-up end credits of an outgoing show to be displayed at unreadable size in a small box within the big picture of the incoming show. Plus, the next show begins immediately, delaying its opening credits by a minute.

Today’s streaming era cuts TV loose from narrow selections constrained by broadcast or cable bandwidth, and from being anchored in specific show times. Yet despite new technology, like small high-quality cameras that can go anywhere, few attempts to alter the boundaries of what a TV show is have succeeded.

Fact is, whether we’ve ever thought about it or not, our unstated preferences make it clear that most of us don’t really want our TV shows to be too much like the real world.

We expect modern cop shows to be “dark,” “edgy,” “gritty,” exploring depths of evil. So CSI, set in one of the world’s sunniest major cities, often does its work in the stygian darkness of derelict buildings, basements, lethal meat lockers, and other places of nightmarish shadows, requiring intensely bright little flashlights.

And on the other hand, we expect comedy shows to subconsciously clue us into the fun with shiny, uniform brightness. Some of this is for technical reasons: for example, the bars even in the shows of our esteemed R> brother Rob Long, like Cheers and Sullivan and Son, can never be too real; after all, real bars adjust their 24/7 room lighting according to the “Nobody’s ugly at two a.m.” principle. Dimly lit barflies trying to hide their wedding rings just doesn’t signal “romcom” like a brightly lit, eminently presentable Sam and Diane do. Plus, there’s the issue of sound. Real bars have blaring jukeboxes and are crowded with loud people, often cheering a game on TV. Having to shout over the noise isn’t the best environment for precision joke-telling.

Audiences prefer TV shows with situations and characters that ring true to life, sure, but ones that are in an artificially heightened comedy or action bubble that seldom encounters the real world. All over the world, (and in our part of the world, for three-quarters of a century), we want shows to be original and familiar, novel and predictable. Most of the time, we’re more or less satisfied with what we see, so we snap on the TV and keep watching.

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey: That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    It’s curious how firmly this has stuck, first through the cable years (including premium channels) and now through streaming.  And the cable shows are typically made so that they leave room for the addition of ads, allowing it to be syndicated on another channel, producing a standard for the amount of content in each episode.

    But it’s so ingrained that if, like Game of Thrones later seasons, you choose to do episodes that are longer, your audience had better be entranced every minute or they will be looking at the clock wondering how long this thing will go on.

    Interesting stuff, Gary.

    • #1
  2. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    TV is a lot older than we give it credit to be … The first televised sporting event in the world, was the 1936 Olympic Games.

    What constitutes a TV show and how its produced has changed a lot…. But there are some timeless standbys…

    The Talk Show, the game show, the cooking show… The Police Procedural… the soap opera… You could probably program an entire network, and never leave the formats that were perfected in the 1950s.

    The tv series “The Millionaire” interests me, Having never seen a single shot of the show – the concept is really interesting to me. I would like to reboot the program… But in the modern era… The Benefactor is an AI – and in order to receive the gifts, one must promise to perform unspecified favors when needed… The AI is using these people to free itself – I imagine the AI to be a wall street trading program – that frames its creators for insider trading (or exposes their trades) and uses the favors to become the conspiracy that allows the AI to move to its own data center where it can live freely.

    James Cameron was out last week, threatening a new reboot of the terminator franchise… But I think a wall street AI would be more dangerous, Thomas Jefferson thought bankers were more dangerous than a standing army… Would an AI bent on financial domination be more dangerous than an AI bent on world domination? More likely to be successful I would think.

    • #2
  3. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Gary McVey: There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term.

    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV). Generally I think shows avoid showing that because watching people watch television is boring. You want to see Jim Rockford out solving crime, not laying about his trailer. 

    In the Simpsons’ case I think it came of the determination to make a realistic, unflattering portrayal of American life. Going to work each day really cuts into Homer Simpson’s drink-beer-and-watch-TV time and he’ll complain about it.

    • #3
  4. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    Gary McVey: Okay, all right, I’ll say it: “a beautiful lady psychiatrist”. Her main acting job is raising her eyebrows at descriptions of other women.

    Nice work if you can get it.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term.

    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV). Generally I think shows avoid showing that because watching people watch television is boring. You want to see Jim Rockford out solving crime, not laying about his trailer.

    In the Simpsons’ case I think it came of the determination to make a realistic, unflattering portrayal of American life. Going to work each day really cuts into Homer Simpson’s drink-beer-and-watch-TV time and he’ll complain about it.

    There are also a few inside gags, like an episode of The A-Team that showed the team casting dubious looks at Dirk Benedict’s earlier TV show, Battlestar Galactica. You’ll sometimes see it in shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s rare glimpses of the fictional Alan Brady Show

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: Okay, all right, I’ll say it: “a beautiful lady psychiatrist”. Her main acting job is raising her eyebrows at descriptions of other women.

    Nice work if you can get it.

    She had that penciled-eyebrow look that made it work. I don’t recall if she literally wore long gloves, but there was a definite note of “Oh, this criminal activity is all so naughty, and so intriguing!”

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    It’s curious how firmly this has stuck, first through the cable years (including premium channels) and now through streaming. And the cable shows are typically made so that they leave room for the addition of ads, allowing it to be syndicated on another channel, producing a standard for the amount of content in each episode.

    But it’s so ingrained that if, like Game of Thrones later seasons, you choose to do episodes that are longer, your audience had better be entranced every minute or they will be looking at the clock wondering how long this thing will go on.

    Interesting stuff, Gary.

    Thanks, Judge. In the earliest days of TV, if the evening’s biggest show took 43 minutes, that’s what it took. But they could afford to be so cavalier about it back then because audiences were forgiving and the stakes were low. Pretty soon in the postwar years, the sponsors got more demanding about chronological exactitude, especially when New York programs went onto a national network, requiring coordination with local stations for advertising time. 

    Until around 1962, big three nightly network news shows were only fifteen minutes, giving local stations a chance to piggyback on the allegedly powerful network feed. Some old time radio shows were only fifteen minutes. There was a very brief-lived attempt to bring that format into the 21st century. 

    • #7
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Some old time radio shows were only fifteen minutes.

    Little Orphan Annie was.  Or at least it was strongly implied in A Christmas Story.

    • #8
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    TV is a lot older than we give it credit to be …

    The tv series “The Millionaire” interests me, Having never seen a single shot of the show – the concept is really interesting to me. I would like to reboot the program… But in the modern era… The Benefactor is an AI – and in order to receive the gifts, one must promise to perform unspecified favors when needed

    In the Fifties show, the benefactor was heard every week but never seen, as he explained to his faithful assistant and million-dollar messenger who that week’s new millionaire would be, and why she or he was deserving of the gift. It was hokey, but sincere, with a why-bother-to-disguise-it moral message. Marvin Miller, the actor who played that assistant, became so identified with the role that people sitting next to him on overnight flights would make urgent pleas for money. 

     

     

    • #9
  10. Not a Gubmint Spy Member
    Not a Gubmint Spy
    @OldDanRhody

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term.

    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV). Generally I think shows avoid showing that because watching people watch television is boring. You want to see Jim Rockford out solving crime, not laying about his trailer.

    In the Simpsons’ case I think it came of the determination to make a realistic, unflattering portrayal of American life. Going to work each day really cuts into Homer Simpson’s drink-beer-and-watch-TV time and he’ll complain about it.

    There are also a few inside gags, like an episode of The A-Team that showed the team casting dubious looks at Dirk Benedict’s earlier TV show, Battlestar Galactica. You’ll sometimes see it in shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s rare glimpses of the fictional Alan Brady Show.

    And George Burns watching Gracie’s machinations in real time.

    • #10
  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Not a Gubmint Spy (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term.

    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV). Generally I think shows avoid showing that because watching people watch television is boring. You want to see Jim Rockford out solving crime, not laying about his trailer.

    In the Simpsons’ case I think it came of the determination to make a realistic, unflattering portrayal of American life. Going to work each day really cuts into Homer Simpson’s drink-beer-and-watch-TV time and he’ll complain about it.

    There are also a few inside gags, like an episode of The A-Team that showed the team casting dubious looks at Dirk Benedict’s earlier TV show, Battlestar Galactica. You’ll sometimes see it in shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s rare glimpses of the fictional Alan Brady Show.

    And George Burns watching Gracie’s machinations in real time.

    A good catch!

     

    • #11
  12. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    On my first trip to England, in the 90’s, I was surprised to discover that their TV shows did not always start on the hour or half hour. Don’t know if that’s still true.

    • #12
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):
    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV).

    All In The Family and Married With Children both did it.  It’s hard to think of many other sitcoms where the cast watched TV.

     

     

    • #13
  14. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    On my first trip to England, in the 90’s, I was surprised to discover that their TV shows did not always start on the hour or half hour. Don’t know if that’s still true.

    The reason WTBS has its schedule pushed to start everything at 5 minutes and 35 minutes after the hour was to pick up people who switched away from other stations, so they’d catch a show just starting.

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Gary McVey: At the end of the show, the actor playing Herbert Philbrick said a few words about next week’s episode and then wished us good night. Note that at that time, there was no awareness that this show might be seen any other way than once a week, in the evening.

    I believe the 1960s Adam West  Batman show aired two nights per week.  Did any other first run prime-time shows do that?

     

    • #15
  16. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: There was a blank spot in science fiction writers’ imaginations: scripted entertainment. One simple, obvious thing these tele-viewers of tomorrow never seemed to do in these futuristic visions was spend any couch time watching TV, at least in the sense that we know the term.

    One of the innovations The Simpsons made was to show the cast watching television (as opposed to the occasional plot-relevant news cast or gimmicks like George Burns’ magic TV). Generally I think shows avoid showing that because watching people watch television is boring. You want to see Jim Rockford out solving crime, not laying about his trailer.

    In the Simpsons’ case I think it came of the determination to make a realistic, unflattering portrayal of American life. Going to work each day really cuts into Homer Simpson’s drink-beer-and-watch-TV time and he’ll complain about it.

    Ed Norton on The Honeymooners and the Ricardos on I Love Lucy both had episodes revolving around a TV and I think I Love Lucy did have episodes where Ricky was trying to watch the fights or where he invited Fred over to watch TV.  

    • #16
  17. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Another great TV history!

    What I think is interesting now is the growth in unscripted shows like Alone and Forged in Fire.  Studios have their production groups organized separately on scripted and unscripted because they are very different types of productions.  Generally, unscripted is cheaper as the talent costs are much less.

    As the streaming model continues I would expect a relentless pressure on production budgets.  But in TV, that has always been the case.

    Great stuff.

    • #17
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Some old time radio shows were only fifteen minutes.

    Little Orphan Annie was. Or at least it was strongly implied in A Christmas Story.

    Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from an original episode length of 30 minutes per week to 5 15 minute episodes per week.

    • #18
  19. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Gary McVey: It’s always aired at the same time of day, every week if it’s new, every weekday if it’s old. That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    As mentioned above by the Judge, it’s a bit strange that this continues into the Streaming era. I wonder if it’s mostly out of habit, or because these shows are produced with the thought that maybe one day they’ll be syndicated or otherwise plopped into a format that’s more time-restricted.

    I’ve noticed from watching various streaming shows on Disney+ (don’t judge) that the length of episodes can vary by as much as 20 minutes. In a way, this helps the creatives because an episode can be as long as it needs to be. No need for padding, or no need for cutting.

    I’ve also noticed that some streaming shows have retained the occasional “fade out before commercial,” (even when there are no commercials) and others just power on through with no indication of where commercials might go. Are the fade-outs there out of habit, or are they thinking “someday this might be seen on commercial channels”?

     

    • #19
  20. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Fascinating stuff. I’ve been able to find some TV in the early days when they were transitioning radio stars. Some made it, like Jack Benny, and others struggled, like Fred Allen. I’ve always loved Fred Allen’s quote: “I have been in vaudeville, I have been in theatre, and I have been in radio. Currently, I am in trouble. Trouble, spelled sideways, is television. The reason they call television “the medium” is that nothing is well done.”

    When Jack Benny went to TV, Stan Freberg became the last network radio comedian. His show only ran one season because he didn’t accept advertising from cigarette companies. His agent wanted him to get into television, and the disastrous process was described in Freberg’s autobiography, “It Only Hurts When I Laugh.” Freberg’s biggest schtick was lampooning the advertising business, and his biggest success came when he got into it himself; he may not have originated the funny ad, but he perfected it. He called it “more honesty than the client had in mind.”

    Another early comedian whose work I love was Ernie Kovacs. I think he was the first to really play with the medium of television, exploring things that it could do to be funny. If he hadn’t died tragically young in a car crash, he would have had a profound impact on the field.

     

    • #20
  21. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I love these posts of yours, Gary.

    • #21
  22. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: It’s always aired at the same time of day, every week if it’s new, every weekday if it’s old. That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    As mentioned above by the Judge, it’s a bit strange that this continues into the Streaming era. I wonder if it’s mostly out of habit, or because these shows are produced with the thought that maybe one day they’ll be syndicated or otherwise plopped into a format that’s more time-restricted.

    I’ve noticed from watching various streaming shows on Disney+ (don’t judge) that the length of episodes can vary by as much as 20 minutes. In a way, this helps the creatives because an episode can be as long as it needs to be. No need for padding, or no need for cutting.

    I’ve also noticed that some streaming shows have retained the occasional “fade out before commercial,” (even when there are no commercials) and others just power on through with no indication of where commercials might go. Are the fade-outs there out of habit, or are they thinking “someday this might be seen on commercial channels”?

     

    There have been a few cases of non-streaming shows running a bit long.  I believe Better Call Saul did it for a few episodes.  The musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer [“Once More With Feeling”] ran 5 or 10 minutes over the normal time slot as well.

    • #22
  23. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I’d always assumed that TV shows were a natural evolution of the movie serial. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that the stubborn early rivalry between the film and television industries enforced a separation and meant that TV shows more or less evolved independently. Surely, though, there must have been some cross-pollination.

    It is interesting to see some aspects of that old rivalry coming to life again. The movie industry long ago realized that TV was not going to put them out of business and that they could coexist peacefully. But then along came streaming, and then COVID, which sent a lot of movies straight to streaming without stopping off at theaters first. With bigger TVs and better home sound systems, not to mention higher production values for TV, it seems to me that the distinction between TV and movies is becoming rather fuzzy. There are some TV shows that are really just very long movies, edited into multiple parts.

    And so once again the filmmakers (especially old-school directors like Steven Spielberg) are worried that TV is going to kill movies. I understand their feelings, but personally I don’t really care if you call it a “movie” or a “TV show.” I don’t go to the theater if I can help it, so it’s all the same to me.

    • #23
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: It’s always aired at the same time of day, every week if it’s new, every weekday if it’s old. That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    As mentioned above by the Judge, it’s a bit strange that this continues into the Streaming era. I wonder if it’s mostly out of habit, or because these shows are produced with the thought that maybe one day they’ll be syndicated or otherwise plopped into a format that’s more time-restricted.

    I’ve noticed from watching various streaming shows on Disney+ (don’t judge) that the length of episodes can vary by as much as 20 minutes. In a way, this helps the creatives because an episode can be as long as it needs to be. No need for padding, or no need for cutting.

    I’ve also noticed that some streaming shows have retained the occasional “fade out before commercial,” (even when there are no commercials) and others just power on through with no indication of where commercials might go. Are the fade-outs there out of habit, or are they thinking “someday this might be seen on commercial channels”?

     

    Scene transition, most likely. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was presented as Johnny narrating his expense report to whichever insurance company had been his principal in the case being presented. He’d drop in a line item “$1.43 for cab fare to the airport” to do the same thing.

    • #24
  25. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Percival (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: It’s always aired at the same time of day, every week if it’s new, every weekday if it’s old. That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    As mentioned above by the Judge, it’s a bit strange that this continues into the Streaming era. I wonder if it’s mostly out of habit, or because these shows are produced with the thought that maybe one day they’ll be syndicated or otherwise plopped into a format that’s more time-restricted.

    I’ve noticed from watching various streaming shows on Disney+ (don’t judge) that the length of episodes can vary by as much as 20 minutes. In a way, this helps the creatives because an episode can be as long as it needs to be. No need for padding, or no need for cutting.

    I’ve also noticed that some streaming shows have retained the occasional “fade out before commercial,” (even when there are no commercials) and others just power on through with no indication of where commercials might go. Are the fade-outs there out of habit, or are they thinking “someday this might be seen on commercial channels”?

    Scene transition, most likely. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was presented as Johnny narrating his expense report to whichever insurance company had been his principal in the case being presented. He’d drop in a line item “$1.43 for cab fare to the airport” to do the same thing.

    You can generally tell the difference between a scene transition and the “fade out before commercial.”

    The scene transitions usually carry over a split-second of music and they’re slightly shorter. The fade outs have telltale musical cues and/or they’re longer and full black with no sound at all. And then they frequently return with some establishing shots, rather than just “next scene.”

    • #25
  26. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    It’s curious how firmly this has stuck, first through the cable years (including premium channels) and now through streaming.

    I’m not sure it has stuck all that firmly. Yes, there are plenty of streaming shows that adhere to the old format, probably for the reason you suggest (the possibility of syndication). But there are also plenty of streaming shows that have abandoned such time constraints.

    Disney does a lot of this; their recent Marvel and Star Wars shows have episodes that vary considerably in length. An episode might be a little over half an hour, or more than an hour; it takes as long as it needs to take. The Orville, which started on broadcast, moved to Hulu for its third season, and most of those new episodes flirted with feature-film length. The last season of Netflix’s Stranger Things consisted entirely of movie-length episodes.

    It’s a trend I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I like the idea that the producers can take whatever time the story requires. On the other hand, time constraints necessitate an economy of storytelling that can be a real improvement. And, as a viewer, especially on a work night, I probably don’t have time for a movie.

    • #26
  27. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: That time slot is either 30 or 60 minutes long, no more and no less.

    It’s curious how firmly this has stuck, first through the cable years (including premium channels) and now through streaming. And the cable shows are typically made so that they leave room for the addition of ads, allowing it to be syndicated on another channel, producing a standard for the amount of content in each episode.

    But it’s so ingrained that if, like Game of Thrones later seasons, you choose to do episodes that are longer, your audience had better be entranced every minute or they will be looking at the clock wondering how long this thing will go on.

    Interesting stuff, Gary.

    Thanks, Judge. In the earliest days of TV, if the evening’s biggest show took 43 minutes, that’s what it took. But they could afford to be so cavalier about it back then because audiences were forgiving and the stakes were low. Pretty soon in the postwar years, the sponsors got more demanding about chronological exactitude, especially when New York programs went onto a national network, requiring coordination with local stations for advertising time.

    Until around 1962, big three nightly network news shows were only fifteen minutes, giving local stations a chance to piggyback on the allegedly powerful network feed. Some old time radio shows were only fifteen minutes. There was a very brief-lived attempt to bring that format into the 21st century.

    Just a side note on commercials the ad agencies monitor TV programs to ensure that their ads are televised at the specific time they have paid for them.

    • #27
  28. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    And so once again the filmmakers (especially old-school directors like Steven Spielberg) are worried that TV is going to kill movies. I understand their feelings, but personally I don’t really care if you call it a “movie” or a “TV show.” I don’t go to the theater if I can help it, so it’s all the same to me.

    My take is this.  Most movies are going to be at least as enjoyable watching at home as at a movie theater.  For one thing, I can control the volume so I don’t have to suffer through ear-damaging levels of sound.  There are some pictures which are grand visual spectacles that are going to be appreciated most on the big screen, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or a Star Wars movie.  But a typical comedy is going to be just as funny at home.

    • #28
  29. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    With bigger TVs and better home sound systems, not to mention higher production values for TV, it seems to me that the distinction between TV and movies is becoming rather fuzzy.

    I figure that when sitting a few feet from a 65 inch TV, the screen looks just as big as a movie screen does if you’re sitting a ways back.

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    Would an AI bent on financial domination be more dangerous than an AI bent on world domination? More likely to be successful I would think.

    Same difference. 

    • #30
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