Saturday, April 09, 2005

Long season, short runs

"Grey's Anatomy" is enough of a hit that ABC is going to keep it at Sundays and put "Boston Legal" on the bench, although "Boston Legal" will be back in the fall.
But that's not what interested me in a story about the change on the entertainment Web site www.zap2it.com. I was amused by a comment from ABC entertainment boss Stephen McPherson.
Explaining the change in plans, he said: "Ultimately we decided that, without having adequate lead time or marketing dollars to devote to moving either show so late in the season, we'd continue to let 'Grey's' build on its tremendous momentum through May. We're extremely excited that this will give us the amazing luxury of bringing 'Boston Legal' back next season with an unheard-of 27 original episodes."
McPherson got to 27 by adding five episodes made for this season to the 22 to be made next year. But that's an unheard-of number only if you forget TV history.
Many classic TV shows used to do seasons that ran more than 27 episodes. A check of DVD boxes of single seasons of "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Love Lucy" and "Have Gun, Will Travel" will find more than 30 episodes of each -- 39 in the case of "Have Gun."
But the cost of making TV shows went up. Networks wanted to keep their costs under control. And networks paid studios a fee that didn't cover the cost of making a show, so the studio had to run a show at a deficit until it could make more money selling the reruns in syndication. But even a hit show is no longer guaranteed a strong syndication sale. And, in all that, we're talking about a hit; a flop is simply an expensive loss.
So now a broadcast TV series makes about 22 episodes for a full season (and cable shows tend to have even fewer). New shows can get episode orders in the single digits, since no one wants to be stuck with more if a series flops.
That's too bad for consumers, since those 22 episodes have to be spread across a season that lasts a lot longer. The result: More reruns and pre-emptions.

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