With Premiere Week Upon Us, We Want To Ask Why

Sep 19, 2011

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 Charlies 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 due 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 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. 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.

Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at Variety.

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