With Premiere Week Upon Us, We Want To Ask Why

Originally published on September 19, 2011 5:37 pm

Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at Variety.

This is a big, big week for broadcast TV — 44 returning series are having their season premieres, and 14 new shows will launch in the span of seven days.

But does running premiere week that way still make sense for the TV business? Or does it just create a traffic jam on your television?

Of the week's new shows, the biggest — or at least the most hyped — is Simon Cowell's new vehicle, The X Factor. But if you're going to watch that, then you gotta make sure to record another buzzworthy new entry, ABC's Charlie's Angels. And don't forget that one hour later, X Factor goes head to head with the new CBS drama Person of Interest.

And you'll need a DVR that can record three shows simultaneously if you also want to watch NBC's new comedy Whitney.

Feeling overwhelmed yet?

Well, so are the networks. Is it any wonder that, of the dozens of shows introduced last TV season, only 23 percent survived to see a second year? The reason so many TV shows fail in the fall is that they cancel each other out. One human cannot watch more than a fraction of 58 premieres over seven days.

And yet the industry has clung to the same front-loaded fall schedule since the 1950s. It began that way largely because September was the time of year that auto advertisers — TV's biggest spenders — traditionally launched their latest cars. TV just followed suit.

The schedule has stayed the same ever since, largely owing to inertia. First there's the industry's own production cycle. Altering it would be like changing tires on a moving vehicle. Then there's Madison Avenue, which is loath to leave a business model that allows it to spend billions of dollars in one gulp. It would make sense to scatter the shows over 12 months, but then advertisers would have to do the unthinkable: work harder year-round. Sorry for the inconvenience, folks.

No wonder many of the most anticipated shows this year have actually been reserved for the midseason, where there's less competition. The Fox drama Alcatraz, from JJ Abrams, won't be seen til January.

The broadcasters must experiment more with launching shows later in the year. Until then, they're just putting the "fall" in "falter." If only they'd learn to pace themselves.



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MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. This is a big, big week for broadcast television. Forty-four returning series are having their season premiere, and 14 new shows will launch in a span of seven days. Commentator Andrew Wallenstein says that running premiere week this way doesn't make a lot of sense for the TV business. It just makes for a traffic jam on your television.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Of all the new shows coming out this week, the hype doesn't come any bigger than for Simon Cowell's new vehicle, "The X Factor."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE X FACTOR")

SIMON COWELL: "The X Factor" is a singing competition with a twist. It's very difficult describing how different it's going to be until you see it.

WALLENSTEIN: If you're going to watch that, then you got to make sure to record another buzz-worthy new entry, ABC's "Charlie's Angels."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHARLIE'S ANGELS")

RAMON RODRIGUEZ: (as Bosley) You know why Charlie calls them angels, because they show up when you need them the most.

WALLENSTEIN: And don't forget that one hour later, "X Factor" goes head-to-head with the new CBS drama "Person of Interest."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, PERSON OF INTEREST")

MICHAEL EMERSON, ACTOR: (as Finch) I want you to figure out what's going to happen, and stop it from happening.

WALLENSTEIN: And you'll need a DVR that can record three shows simultaneously if you also want to watch NBC's new comedy "Whitney."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHITNEY")

WHITNEY CUMMINGS: (as Whitney) Does the bride think the groom is going to get confused and marry me by accident?

WALLENSTEIN: Feeling overwhelmed yet?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHITNEY")

CUMMINGS: Yeah.

WALLENSTEIN: Well, so are the networks. Is it any wonder, of the dozens of shows introduced last TV season, only 23 percent survive to a second year? The reason so many TV shows fail in the fall is they cancel each other out. One human cannot watch more than a fraction of 58 premieres over seven days. And yet the industry has clung to the same front-loaded fall schedule since the 1950s. It began that way largely because September was the time of year that auto advertisers, TV's biggest spenders, traditionally launched their latest cars. TV just followed suit, and the schedule has stayed the same ever since, largely due to inertia.

First is the industry's own production cycle. Altering it would be like changing tires on a moving vehicle. Then there's Madison Avenue, which is loath to leave a business model that allows them to spend billions of dollars in one gulp. It would make sense to scatter the shows over 12 months, but then advertisers would have to do the unthinkable: work harder year-round. Yeah. Sorry for the inconvenience, folks. No wonder many of the most anticipated shows this year have actually been reserved for the midseason, when there's less competition. The Fox drama "Alcatraz," from J.J. Abrams, won't be seen 'til January.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALCATRAZ")

SAM NEILL: (as Emerson Hauser) The worst criminals this country has ever known are coming back, and no one's going to be able to find them because they don't exist.

WALLENSTEIN: The broadcasters must experiment more with launching shows later in the year. Until then, they're just putting the fall in falter. If only they'd learn to pace themselves.

NORRIS: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at Variety. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.