Monday, May 09, 2005

Does it matter what time slot shows are made for?

Before coming to the office this morning I spent the better part of an hour watching ''The New Asylums,'' a ''Frontline'' report airing Tuesday night. I had gotten the tape of the show on Friday but did not watch it over the weekend, when it was too nice to sit in the house -- and by the time each evening came, I was too tired to concentrate on a documentary about the way prisons deal with inmates who are mentally ill. What little TV I watched consisted of ''Meet the Fockers'' and some sitcoms.
So there I sat, on a Monday morning, watching a very powerful program that was designed for showing in prime time, when people are at the end of their days, not the beginnings. But this was not as disorienting as it might sound.
For one thing, many of us have for years bent TV's schedule to our own. VCRs long ago made it possible to record a show when it aired and watch it on our own time; DVRs have made that even easier. It's not uncommon for me to be talking to co-workers about something that aired on TV only to be warned, ''Don't tell me what happened! I recorded it but haven't watched yet!''
Over time, I have tried to be conscious of previewing shows in a different manner than you get to see them, by watching copies that don't have the commercials built in. But commercial-skip devices have made that possible at home, too, and I'm seeing signs in productions that they are aware of the need to create a more seamless transition in scenes before and after an ad; Sunday's telecast of ''The Simpsons'' continued a scene after a commercial as if there had not been any break at all.
That said, my job still involves watching shows in one way that you don't. I get a fair number of rough cuts, versions of shows that may not have the final music, where special effects have not yet been added (or are visible only in a crude form), where even the picture still needs some tweaking. It can make reviewing a challenge (especially when something is being touted for its effects, but they aren't all there yet) but it also makes me focus more on the writing and the acting.

3 Comments:

Blogger Beirne said...

On the topic of time slots, what happened to the family hour? Lost, one of my two favorite shows (the other is 24), is on at 8pm Wednesdays. Now, as you can tell from my favorites, I'm not that big on family shows myself, but it seems strange that a gory show like Lost is on at 8. I don't think most parents want their kids seeing someone get sucked into an airplane engine or a main character getting tortured. I have friends at work who either don't watch it because of their kids or have to work around them to watch the show. I have a Tivo and no kids, so this isn't a problem for me, but it seems like a strange time slot for ABC to have picked.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Rich Heldenfels said...

Thanks for commenting. The ''family hour'' has long been a TV myth. The one attempt to formally declare a family hour in the 8-to-9 p.m. Eastern time slot was ruled illegal almost 30 years ago. (One good source about that struggle is Geoffrey Cowan's 1978 book ''See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence in Television.'' Although networks to varying degrees tried to keep their milder programs in that hour, you could find encroachments quickly enough. NBC put a Richard Pryor variety show in the 8 p.m. hour in 1977; yes, he fought with censors, but just the idea of putting Pryor in that hour says that the network was looking for something other than family viewing. More recently, you can look at something like ''Friends'' as an early-evening occupant that had content many adults would not want to explain to their children. So viewers have to be very diligent in choosing their programs. And as careful as we have to be here, let's not forget our counterparts in the Central time zone; when network executives would refer to a show as airing at, say, 8 o'clock, a colleague of mine from Texas would remind them it was on at 7 in her town. Which also meant that 9 p.m. shows for us -- supposedly outside the family hour -- were smack in the middle of hers.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Beirne said...

30 years ago? Darn, I'm showing my age :-)

8:01 PM  

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