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August 31, 2015

When did TV get so long?

by Jason Hughes, posted Mar 5th 2009 3:05PM
Brothers & Sisters
It's either a response to the economy (you know we writers and "reporters" are contractually obligated to mention it at least twice in every 15 minutes of 200 words) or is it us? Laziness on the part of network executives (the nerve you say!) or laziness on us? Or maybe we can blame the Writers Guild of America strike from last year. Or maybe it would be easier to just blame the Bush Administration; another mandate. Or maybe we just miss our made-for-television movies. Whatever the reason, there are more and more longer and longer programs on television.

Just this season, The Biggest Loser and The Bachelor expanded their regular broadcasts to two-hour blocks. We've already been dealing with multiple hours a week of American Idol and Dancing With the Stars for years now. Just this past week, both Brothers & Sisters and 24 offered up back-to-back installments, the former even billing it a two-hour movie event. Now 24 has been known to launch seasons in this way, so it's not such a big deal. But since when did a culture of short attention span Twittering, Facebooking Internet junkies suddenly get the patience for two-hour-long episodes of television shows?

In a way, you could see it as a cycle. In the bygone days of television, two-hour-long (or longer) television shows were the standard. Most of these were live variety shows, but even some dramas ran this length regularly. As time passed, however, we settled into the standard of hour-long dramas and half-hour comedies. For much of the eighties and early nineties, comedies ruled the airwaves, meaning more separate programs on television and less time needed to commit to each one.

But then, suddenly, we all but abandoned the comedy format and the hour-long shows became our standard. Ally McBeal was an early precursor of a bridge between the two, being billed as a comedy despite its hour-long format. It also helped lead to the single camera comedies of today. And while comedies are creeping back onto the airwaves, it seems much easier to just extend the air time of a proven ratings hit to fill in any weak spots on the schedule.

So is this going to be a trend? So far it seems to only work for special events on scripted shows and reality shows. The Biggest Loser manages to fill its two hours well, but not without a great deal of padding. There's built-in and incredibly blatant product endorsements within the show and that horrid reality repeat after we return from commercial breaks (The Colgate Biggest Loser). Let's just reloop the last minute or so of what aired right before the break. That'll fill some time.

Still, it does seem to be in complete odds with what we're told about Americans. Are we more patient than the media tells us, or are these shows catering to an older demographic than the iYouth? Maybe the "demo" isn't as important as it used to be. What do you think of this development? Does it mean anything, or is it just networks filling time because they don't have anything. Do you like these longer episodes, or does it turn you off? Would you watch your favorite scripted shows in two-hour blocks every week?

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One hour is not enough for me. I download shows and see as many episodes as I want, and it's usually more than one. I've come to make 4 episodes of Lost in a row 2 seasons back. I like to see a whole season and then start another show. So on TV I could resist 2 hour shows, it's just about liking the show or not.

March 06 2009 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I live in Italy so for me a hour long TV show is very short and a half hour one is practically "already finished before it even started". Here we have 3 to 4 hours long primetime live shows like "Big Brother", "Celebrity Survivor", "X-Factor" and other variety, reality or talent shows. So if you think that a special two hour drama or reality istallment is too long, you don't know what you're talking about... eheh.
Anyway this is why I like american TV shows: because they last the right amount of time. A 43 minutes drama is perfect. A 50/55 minutes premium cable drama is ok. If they were longer, they wouldn't have the same appeal. But this doesn't mean that a special two hours night isn't ok too. As long as it doesn't become a regular thing.


March 06 2009 at 6:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's not laziness, it's financial cowardice. Why invest in new, expensive cop-shows when you can just extend your already highly-watched, but cheap to produce reality show by an extra hour. Simple economies of scale. The marginal cost of extended a one hour reality show to two hours is far less than the cost of producing a whole new TV show. In fact, all it takes to extend a 1 hour block of a "Cooking with the Singing Stars" show to a 2 hour block is less editing. Ever notice how all reality shows have a disclaimer that goes something like "parts of this show not important to the conclusion have been omitted"? Well, they just do less editing and include more of those trivial, non-essential but taped moments. Insofar as there's less editing, it might even cost LESS to have a 2 hour block than a 1 hour block of a given reality show - less work for the editors, and the cost of an addition hour of videotape is trivial.

What boggles my mind is that people not only watch these reality shows, but they watch them two hours at a time? How could anyone sit through two minutes, let alone two HOURS, of "Celebrity Nose Picking"? Everyone who watches these shows so as to make them profitable should be ASHAMED of themselves, and should be dragged out into the street by their genitals and shot in the face. People get the quality of TV that they deserve.

At the same time, to learn that it costs about a million dollars to tape 22-minutes of Sarah Silverman talking about poop for each episode of The Sarah Silverman Program, I'm surprised there are any scripted shows left on TV at all. Less and less scripted shows, less and less new shows, and extended and repeated blocks of the same reality shows (there will be 3 hour long episodes of Idol and Dancing with the Stars by the end of the year) is a perfectly rational, albeit sad and unfortunate, decision for the networks to make.

Of course, if the only new scripted shows they're going to ever introduce are copshows, there's really no point.

March 06 2009 at 2:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If the shows are short, people complain. If the shows are long, people complain.

What happened to this site?

March 05 2009 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr. Bungle

I agree, there is no reason these can't be shortened. This is why I have to DVR American Idol AND The Biggest Loser. There is no way I'm sitting though all of that. I fast forward a LOT.

March 05 2009 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the answer is easy. The average american has such a short attention span that he won't be able to remember what happened in episode one of a double episode so they HAVE to show them together and will still lose people during the show who turn it off or switch the channel because they already can't remember what happened an hour before.

The Reality TV shows show so many repeats of what happened 5 seconds ago to fill airtime that it doesn't matter WHEN you tune in, you'll get a recap in three minutes anyway.

So no this is not counterevidence. It's proof of an ADD Nation on its way to Idiocracy.

March 05 2009 at 6:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the long episodes, because I have a TiVo I can watch them whenever I want.

March 05 2009 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff N.

It's because of Lack of new ideas. The Networks just can't come up with enough new programming. They cancel shows quickly and don't really have new programming to replace it. So the cure according to Networks, expand the shows they have.

March 05 2009 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't dislike longer show formats, unless they are one hour and one minute long--you know, so "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC Thursday 8:00 PM CST) can ruin my DVR scheduling and prevent me from recording "ER." (NBC Thursday 9:00 PM CST)

March 05 2009 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to am_hollitz's comment
Chris McCoy

I totally agree with you, am hollitz. The couple minutes over the hour is annoying. It seems like every network has jumped on the bandwagon with this. Sometimes, I have found that the minute extra is just the previews for the next week's show (as in the case of CSI) so after finding this out, I just set it to 10 pm so I don't miss the beginning of the next show. I wish the all the networks would just stop this nonsense.

March 08 2009 at 1:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andrew Troth

Actually, Biggest Loser has been doing 2-hour episodes standard for a year and a half now. And 24 had mid-season double-ups in seasons 5 and 6 as well as this one.

I wouldn't call it laziness, but it is pretty easy to conclude that the padding of reality shows to 2 hours, or their expansion into multiple one-hour blocks per week, is a way for networks to inexpensively hang onto the ratings they're already getting. I doubt we'll really see a trend of scripted dramas doing the same thing, though, since they're considerably more expensive and time-consuming to produce. 24 can do it because they spend months producing shows and building up a backlog, and other shows might be able to plan it in once or twice a season. But a show producing 44 hours of scripted tv per season instead of 22? Not going to happen.

March 05 2009 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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