Time to Say Get Lost to TV Schedule Makers?

By Jason Menard

Remember when there was actually a TV season? The new trend towards flexible scheduling and multi-week delays television fans throughout the nation ready to tell certain producers to get lost. Unfortunately, since we’re not willing to vote with our clicker in all cases, chances are we’ll continue to stew in our own juices.

I’m not better. There are very few shows I consider “must-see,” but I must confess that I’m addicted to Lost. My wife and I watch it religiously, I talk about it with other co-workers similarly afflicted – heck, I even have a friend who has published a book on the subject whose blog I frequent!

But because of my passion for Lost, I’m now counting down the weeks until the show goes on an extended hiatus – to the effect of being off early November and not returning until February! And there’s nothing I’m willing to do about it.

You see, too many shows are willing to play fast and loose with the affections of their viewership. They’ll try to sell the programming break as a benefit for the show’s viewers – enabling them to watch extended stretches of the show free from re-run interruptions.

Forgive me if I’m remembering the halcyon days of my youth in a better light, but I seem to remember that we once had a TV season. There was an extended period of time from October to April where weekly shows regularly played new episodes. Oh sure, there were the odd repeats – and, of course, the Christmas break that allowed claymation versions of your favourite holiday classics to be played for the umpteenth time – but for the most part you could be fairly comfortable knowing that when you sat down to watch your favourite show, it would be a new episode.

Now, it’s hit or miss. In fact, things got so bad last year that someone had the bright idea to build a Web site, http://www.islostarepeat.com, which only displayed one of two words: yes or no. Three weeks new, two weeks repeat, one week on, three weeks off… fans of many shows dealt with the same issues.

New shows, like Prison Break last season, saw the momentum built by strong starts get derailed by an extended hiatus. And then TV execs wonder why shows have trouble penetrating the market.

Very few shows qualify as appointment television for people. They’ll have their favourites, and they’ll enjoy watching others. But, for the most part, people can live with or without TV. And when they grow accustomed to living without your show, it’s very difficult to bring them back.

The odd thing is that, in the case of Lost, they’ve proven themselves to be quite adept at creating new and exciting ways to keep people involved – even during the off-season. The summer’s on-line Lost Experience, while meeting mixed reviews from its participants, enabled zealot-like fans to continue to immerse themselves in their passion, even without new shows. Yet, despite this savvy marketing ploy, they’ve managed to neglect the will of its audience through the implementation of a three-month hiatus.

The last thing anyone working in entertainment wants to do is tick off its target audience. But how are people supposed to feel? In a multi-channel universe where compelling competition is only a click away, one must do everything in one’s power to retain those viewers.

Sure, there are those like me who will return to view Lost in three months – in fact, we’ll probably be eagerly anticipating its return, as I did for the aforementioned Prison Break last season. But if other shows tried this? No problem, I can find something else to do. We’ve become mercenary TV viewers, ready to switch affiliations at the drop of a hat. For that reason, progress may require learning from the past.

Going back to the set TV season may not be a bad idea. That way, serial dramas can have the opportunity to tell their story, people can become involved in the shows, and brand loyalty can be fostered. Increasingly, networks and cable outlets alike have shown a willingness to use cheaper-to-produce reality shows in the summer months, where viewership trends lower.

I love to get Lost – but if the producers continue to play these scheduling games it won’t be long until I’m ready to say, “get lost.” And chances are I’m not alone.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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