March 10, 2011

A Conspiracy of Dunces, Dolts, and Dullards

Hatched by Dafydd

It all started with the programmers at TV Land, and no one had less excuse than they. For God's sake, they show nothing but reruns -- all right, a couple of original series now and then, and recently a few cheesy movies -- but near the entire product on that cable channel comprises half-hour sitcoms and hour-long TV dramas. How on Earth can they so continually run overtime? It's inexplicable and inexcusable.Dullard

But the half-hour show that is supposed to start at 8:00 pm starts at 8:13 instead, and it ends 34 minutes later. The hour-long retread, which fit fine in its alotted 60-minute time slot fifteen years ago, manages to straggle across the finish line five or six minutes later than the proverbial hour; and that's even taking into account the fact that they long since began snipping off the end credits in favor of debasing the final minute of show with a squozen picture above, and below a rolling credit stream that crawls upward faster than the speed of light.

Worse, even though they must know they're blowing over their time slots -- they cannot possibly be ignorant of time, the single most valuable asset in television production -- though they must understand that by squishing in three or four or five extra commercials they're going to run overtime, and over-overtime, and overnth-time, the sons of bachelors and female hounds often don't even bother updating the schedules they submit to cable and satellite services! So when you set your DVR or VCR to record a show, lo and behold, the recording cuts out when the schedule spuriously claims it should, while the program itself dawdles along home like a reluctant eighth-grade boy, scuffing its shoes, stopping to poke a contemplative finger in a picket-fence knothole, and loitering below the window of the high-school girl, hoping she'll forget to close the blinds before disrobing. Or so you must suppose; you'll never know whether the show continued on or not.

Then every so often, they play "catch-up": They block out an hour-long time slot but insert only a half-hour long program... which of course, even with the late start, ends eighteen or twenty minutes early. With the next show starting directly after it, at least a quarter hour before its scheduled commencement. I don't now which is more infuriating.

I got so sick of missing a program's dénouement and sometimes even the climax that I've taken to tacking on an extra five minutes at the beginning and ten at the end, in the pious hope that they won't be more egregiously off the rails than I've allowed for; mostly it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I got used to the errant ways of TVLand, thought it a rogue station, the nail that stands up. But now the same lackadaisical, devil may care attitude towards punctuality has started to spread, like mildew or dry rot, from one channel to the rest. And just today, I was shafted out of the final minutes of the excellent Helen Hayes movie What Every Woman Knows (1934), which ran on Turner Classic Movies. (I should say which overran on TCM). TCM!

Here I am, sitting forward in my seat, as the movie passes to its grand emotional resolution... and as abruptly as some joker slamming your book three pages from "The End," I'm staring at a frozen image and a menu demanding if I want to start anew from the beginning, erase, or record to videotape. I quickly flipped the guide back to that movie's listing; yes indeed, it was housed in an hour and a half time slot, from noon to 1:30 pm.

I grabbed my Maltin: What Every Woman Knows -- 1934 -- ***½ -- 92 minutes.

That's ninety... plus two. 120 seconds longer than an hour and a half. A lot can happen in 120 seconds: A woman can get pregnant in 120 seconds; a stock can rise or fall 15% in 120 seconds; a fast-attack submarine can launch a missile in 120 seconds; a man can die of cell-phone absorption in 120 seconds.

I reckon it's an alien concept to programmers that a viewer might actually want to see the entire movie, even the last 120 seconds; evidently, that's the time when decadent movie programmers customarily display their sophistication and superiority by waddling off to pop yet another bowl of popcorn and make snide, MST3K-like asides, to which their slouching cronies howl like spotted hyenas and bray like beaten donkeys.

(Me, I'm the kind of guy who sits through the entire end credits, even in a movie theater. And I don't talk even during the coming attractions, not even sotto voce. Heck, I've been known to walk halfway up the aisle and push my way across thirty assorted feet, just to grab some movie talker by his smelly, vomit-flecked shirt and tell him if he doesn't shut his yap I'll be pleased to rip his head off and shove my Jujubes down his neck. I take movies. Very. Seriously.)

If I can no longer rely even upon TCM, my Gibralter, my Rushmore, my Jerry's Deli, then the world has been turned head over teakettle.

I despise this sort of slipshoddery, this complete lack of concern for doing a job well. These shows are every one of them known quantities; they are old; they have kicked around since before I was born; they have kicked around since before my father was born, in the case of the Helen Hayes flick. They know exactly how long they run; if nothing else, haven't they a Maltin?

Knowing that key fact, they should be able to shoehorn any program of any length into a listing with a realistic and accurate time slot. How hard can it be? What could possibly go wrong?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 10, 2011, at the time of 7:57 PM


The following hissed in response by: Captain Ned

It's really quite simple. Back when those shows were originally produced the allowable minutes per hour of advertising were much less than today's 16 minutes/hour. If TV Land is to replay the show as originally conceived, it must run overtime.

The above hissed in response by: Captain Ned [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2011 7:01 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

It's not the airtime Dafydd is bitching about, it's the lying schedule. The VCR/DVR can deal with excess leader/trailer time, it's starting too late or ending too soon that's irrecoverable.

I know exactly what he's complaining about, I ran into this on Nickelodeon, with Avatar: the Last Airbender.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2011 7:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

The All:

LarryD has it right: If TVLand wants to run all "half-hour" shows at 34 minutes and "hour" shows at 1:08, that's fine with me; I'd rather see the whole show, even if it takes longer than the original slotted time.

Makes no difference to me anyway; I almost never watch a show live. I schedule to record a week in advance on all the various channels I watch, then play them off the DVR when they're ready.

But when they say they're going to end at 8:00 or 8:10, and instead they end at 8:02 or 8:12, then the DVR -- which goes by the scheduled time as uploaded by the station itself -- ceases recording with two minutes of program unseen. (Ditto for when they say a show will start at 8:00, and instead it starts at 7:58.)

As LarryD says, it's the blasted lying that sets my goat on edge.

In TCM's case, they have even less excuse: Since movies come in all sorts of running times and rarely clock in at exactly 1:30 or 2:00, they customarily schedule a larger time-slot than the length of the movie. When the feature ends, they fill in the time to the next hour, half, or quarter with interviews, coming attractions, or (my favorite!) "one-reel wonders" -- short subjects that used to air with movies back in the Garden of Eden days, but which we've been deprived of lo these many decades now.

Thus, rather than tell us (via the schedule they uploaded) that What Every Woman Knows ends promptly at 9:00, then actually ending it tardily at 9:02 -- so everyone who recorded the movie rather than watching it live missed both climax and denouement -- they could simply have scheduled it to end at 9:30, or even 9:15, as they would have had the movie ended at 9:05 or 9:07.

Then fill it with filler. Viewers like the filler, and they certainly have plenty lying around.

I suspect that some knucklewalker at Turner looked and said, "Oh, it's so close to the hour, we may as well just call it that. Why waste a whole time slot for just a couple minutes of movie? Folks watching won't even notice that it actually ended a couple minutes late! Oot greet..." (This sideline simian evidently having completely missed the video-recording revolution of the past, oh, forty years.)

And of course, the movie appears to be completely unobtainable; so I can't even rent it (or buy it!) and find out how it actually ended. It was made from a play; perhaps I'll have to find the script somewhere and read the last couple of pages.



The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2011 2:37 PM

The following hissed in response by: Captain Ned

In that case, get a TiVo. Mine always has the exact start-stop times.

The above hissed in response by: Captain Ned [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2011 4:36 PM

The following hissed in response by: mdgiles

I believe all TV programs try to - or at lest pretend to run at the exact same time. It's why, when you channel hope during commercials the commercials all seem to be on at the same time. The last thing the TV channel wants, is for you to find something more interesting then whatever you're looking at. And yes they haven't noticed the last 40 years of time shifting, so they still put everything into the same half hour time slots, as if everyone is watching live and it doesn't matter. After all, if you aren't watching live, you'll just fast forward through the commercials, so they don't want or need your viewership anyway. I've found that the high end channels, do start and end movies as you suggest, with filler rounding out the time periods. And of course they also don't worry about fitting commercials in.

The above hissed in response by: mdgiles [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 12, 2011 7:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: mdgiles

BTW, on the subject of things that make you want to nuke the cable company; why do they have commercials on subscriber TV. The viewer has already paid for the service. Is it that necessary to squeeze the last dime out? Is there anything more irritating then having an infomercial on a cable channel? I'm paying so someone else can advertise to me? I'd pay for completely commercial free programing.

The above hissed in response by: mdgiles [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 12, 2011 8:04 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Ideally, with more and more cable systems switching to fiberoptic, we should have three or four thousand available channels; and you could subscribe only to those channels you wanted -- even if that meant only three. Or for that matter, you should be able to subscribe to individual shows.

In practice, channels would be organized into a wide variety of blocks, and most folks would subscribe to a block. But in my case, I consistently watch only (let's see) nine or ten channels; why must I pay for forty or fifty? (Answer: Because three or four of the channels are on different "tiers," so I must subscribe to several different tiers -- which bring me many more channels than I'm interested in.)

I'd like to see those blocks user-defined: Channels would each carry a subscription price, and you set up your own personal channel block. Naturally, the more channels you add, the lower the per-channel price (you get a price-break for higher numbers of channels). And channels would frequently offer "try it for a week" free specials, trying to lure you into subscribing.

But the guide button would show you all the channels... even those to which you're not subscribed; and of course, if you see something interesting, you can buy a single show -- or every episode of a particular show -- for a lower price than subscribing to the entire channel.

The price could be structured such that, if you're going to watch three or more shows on a single channel, you're better off subscribing to the channel itself, rather than buying individually.

With video production becoming cheaper, many microchannels would spring up: They produce several hours of programming, and there's no need for a microchannel to be "on" all the time: You can subscribe to individual shows and watch them whenever they're ready. (Like a cable television version of podcasting.) They could sell commercial time, or just charge extra for commercial-free programming -- the consumer gets to choose.

And the most important part: We need cable competition! Right now, in most locations, cable companies have local monopolies defined by geography. For example, I have no cable alternative to Charter where I live; I could put a dish on my roof and get DirectTV, but that's the only other option.

In the interests of competition, I wouldn't mind seeing a law requiring cable companies that own a fiberoptic network to allow competitors to use it as a common carrier... for a fee to the owner, of course.

That fee would be determined by the owner with no government price controls. At first, many such companies would set the fee so ridiculously high that no competitor would pay it; but soon the finance wonks at the cable company would realize that they could actually make more money by selling that unused "broadcast" capacity to competitors at a reasonable price: They wouldn't necessarily lose much market share, and they would get that extra revenue stream. Eventually, the market would set the price, and we would have a lot of competition.

And of course, no reason you couldn't subscribe to channels from more than one cable company, since they wouldn't necessarily have identical channel lineups. In fact, some fiberoptic network owners might find it more profitable not to deal with content at all; they might subsist entirely on carrier fees, splitting content from program delivery altogether.

(This fiberoptic sharing system is similar to telephones: Lots of different phone companies, but nearly all of them run on lines actually owned by AT&T, who charges a fee. And the individual phone companies can still make a profit, since they don't have to maintain those lines.)

Oh well; dream on.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 12, 2011 12:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: Gbear

Netflix, HULU, Amazon streaming will solve your viewing problems.

The above hissed in response by: Gbear [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 13, 2011 6:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: BearofNH

I see a lot of this on my Dish DVR. I sometimes missss the last few minutes of House or NCIS, etc.

I think it's deliberate, designed to foil those who timeshift in order to skip commercials. Perhapsss Tivo still works but they'll eventually get around to "fixing" that too. It's all an incremental strategy, covering more and more stations and more and more recording technologies. It is, of course, all about the Benjamins.

The above hissed in response by: BearofNH [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 14, 2011 9:12 AM

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