By: Tiffany Vogt
This Fall brought an interesting phenomena to television: For the first time summer shows were returning in November and December, after only a short 2-3 month hiatus. Just when viewers were adjusting to summer shows returning in January and February, the television networks had the bright idea of mixing it up and bringing back their biggest summer shows to compete during November sweeps and during the December dead-zone.
It used to be that television was divided into the standard television season running mid-September through late May, with a winter break in December and January. Yet with the need to push for year-round programming, networks began dabbling with a third season, launching summers shows in June and July to run for 8-12 weeks.
For the most part, summer shows were a huge success. Viewers loved having new programs to watch with little or no competition vying for their attention; and networks got to test the waters of whether or not it was financially viable to launch a third season.
Thus, television became a three-season event, Fall, Spring and Summer — with Winter still a hodge-podge of either specials, repeats or the slow return of the regular season shows. Then in the past few years, networks decided to use the lull time of Winter to debut new shows or re-launch established series. Dubbed “Mid-Season,” it was made a television event. Viewers began to look forward to January and February for the return of major series such as LOST, 24, or AMERICAN IDOL; and last winter the new series CAPRICA and HUMAN TARGET were both launched mid-season.
But the biggest proponent of Winter Season programming has been USA Network, which first began with split seasons of its biggest television series, MONK. As early as 2004, MONK was broken into two half-seasons with the first half in the Summer and the remainder in the Winter. Then in 2007, it did the same with its second biggest original series PSYCH, and then in 2009, it brought back BURN NOTICE in a similar split season fashion. Based on this successful formula, it then did the same with its new series WHITE COLLAR in January 2010. The latest series to join the split-season format is ROYAL PAINS, which returns January 20, 2011.
Another network venturing into Summer/Winter programming, Syfy split seasons with its flagship series STARGATE SG-1 as early as 1998. Then in the past year, it continued with that format by splitting the seasons of both CAPRICA and STARGATE: UNIVERSE.
Yet, for all the success for some series with split and off-season programming, this year has shown a dramatic change. Viewers are less tolerant and seem more than a little confused by it.
When both PSYCH and BURN NOTICE returned from their Fall hiatus earlier this month, viewers did not return as expected. Off by 2 to 1 million viewers each, it would seem that (1) viewers simply did not know these shows had returned to conclude their current seasons, or (2) were already overloaded with other television shows and unable to find a way to work these shows into their TV viewing schedule.
Similarly, STARGATE: UNIVERSE and CAPRICA returned in October and also felt the impact of viewer disinterest or schedule overload. Either way, viewership had declined dramatically.
So it begs the question: do viewers want their summer shows in winter? Do shows that appeal one time of year, run the risk of being rejected if they return another time of year?
Do shows such as BURN NOTICE, PYSCH, and ROYAL PAINS suffer because viewers think of them as “blue sky” series? Meaning shows that offer us the escape into the fun in the sun and where life has a perpetual blue sky. The entire visual background of these shows are sold to us on the premise that life is always sunny. They offer characters who dress in summer attire, who live near the beach and are frequently outdoors enjoying life in the sun. Thus, it feels a bit out of place to have these types of shows on during Fall or even the Winter season.
In addition, it feels like shows that viewers devoted their time to were trying to encroach or push themselves on viewers who had committed to other television shows during the Fall/Spring seasons. What if football were to begin games in March, instead of August? Would football fans be elated or frustrated because it encroached on basketball season? Television has always been seasonal and by tinkering with programming schedules, networks do not realize that they are antagonizing the very viewers that were loyal and appreciative and gave their shows an audience.
Fans aware of the scheduling shifts are generally supportive, but quick to point fingers at networks for the lack of promotion when they move or re-launch shows at different times or during seasons that seem out of place. However, even with an overdose of publicity advising viewers that shows like PSYCH and BURN NOTICE were returning in early November — viewers still did not tune in. This then leads us to speculate that it was viewer-fatigue or viewer-frustration that kept them from watching.
Perhaps networks have gone too far. Are television viewers ready and willing to adapt to having their shows plopped onto the television schedule at any old time? I propose that they are not. Even DVR’s are not smart enough to know when TV shows return, and with TV Guide Magazine becoming obsolete and out of date, viewers are unable to keep track of when the shows they want to watch are on.
Figuring out when TV show are on has become a labyrinthine-like puzzle. For sophisticated viewers, we track shows through a multitude of sources via online sites, Twitter and a combination of print media. We set up tracking grids to keep track of the shows we want to watch and how to make sure each is either recorded or watched live — or has to be bought online or by DVD because there were simply too many competing shows on at the same time.
So the unreasonable assumption by television programmers that we want our summer shows sprinkled throughout the remainder of the year (whether that be November through December, or January through April), it is just pushing our tolerance levels to the extreme. Too much change and transition makes it hard to keep track of the shows we do love and want to watch; and by sliding them around and springing them up at the least expected times of the year is not making it easy to be a fan.
Networks need to establish fixed schedules and stick with it. No more meddling with our TV shows and treating them like chess pieces. Television viewers do not want to watch TV like they are playing a board game — and summer shows, need to be summer shows and not pretend that they are winter shows. It is confusing, disorientating and discouraging. It is no wonder that DVR’s are being used to simply watch shows a day or two later, but sometimes weeks later. Viewers want what they want, when they want it. Bring a show back at the wrong time of year, and it may suffer for it. “Blue sky” shows belong during the summer — not smack dab in the middle of winter when no one expects them. Winter is a time for dreaming of sugar plums and ski boots, not bikinis and mojitos on the beach.
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).