When did TV get so long?
by Jason Hughes, posted Mar 5th 2009 3:05PM
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?