Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Value of Repeats

Back in the old days, before cable TV got so big, networks spend half the year - literally - airing reruns of their prime time programs. You'd have 22 weeks of original programming, 22 repeats and the remaining weeks would be either special events - the Grammys, the World Series, etc. - or more reruns.

Cable TV killed all of that, because it gave viewers a lot more quality options. And that's generally been a good thing. Why watch a rerun of a show you've already seen when you can flip over to FX and watch something like "The Shield" instead?

However, the strategy by the networks does have its disadvantages as well, as one can see tonight. Take CBS, which has one of the few breakout hits this season with "Jericho." The show is part of a recent trend of television that uses season-long, multi-episode arcs, meaning that if you miss one, it's very difficult for the average viewer to catch up. "Heroes," "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and others are in the same boat.

Not only that, but when a show is a breakout hit, viewers that didn't catch it from the beginning may want to check it out and see what the fuss is about.

But CBS elected not to air reruns of "Jericho" during the show's hiatus that began at the end of November. So there's been no opportunity for new viewers to catch up with the show, and with a three-month-plus long break, even committed viewers may have trouble remembering where they left off.

So CBS is taking a page out of "Lost's" playbook and running an hour-long recap show at 8 p.m., boiling the first half of the season down to an hour of clips that will supposedly catch people up.

I'm not a "Jericho" viewer, so I can't say one way or the other if the recap show will be adequate enough to fill in the blanks, but in "Lost's" case, I don't think showing a bunch of clips in lieu of full episodes has done the series justice. A lot of the nuances of "Lost," (ABC, 10 p.m.) which is what makes it so great, are missing.

That's not to say I'm a fan of reruns. But I think NBC had the right idea with "Heroes." Knowing it had a huge hit on its hands, the network re-ran episodes on its sister network, the Sci-Fi Channel, as well as on the traditional dead air of Saturday nights. That way, fans of the show got to watch it again if they so wished, and it allowed new viewers to catch up.

"Jericho" did run a few reruns on Saturday nights, but I don't think CBS ran all of them (I could be wrong, I didn't follow it), so viewers trying to catch up probably couldn't do so.

Of course, now the networks are re-running a lot of episodes on their Web sites (ABC is probably the best when it comes to this), but for most TV viewers, there isn't that synergy yet with the Internet where the average viewer will take the time to download a missed episode.

With the networks all owning various cable properties, it should be relatively easy to air reruns on something like ABC Family or FX. Hopefully, more networks will adapt NBC's strategy of airing the reruns (while not taking up valuable prime-time space) and not go with the capsule shows.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Speaking of re-runs, ABC is rebroadcasting last week's "Lost" at 9 p.m. before showing the newest installment at 10 p.m., probably not the worst strategy when facing "American Idol" (Fox, 9 p.m.), especially with the judges making their final cuts tonight. A new episode of "Bones" precedes "AI."

If you want to count "Jericho" as new tonight, CBS has a full lineup that includes "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY."

TV's best show of the night not involving castaways on an island or prospective pop singers gives us a new episode when the black players continue their protest on "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.)

And, in what I think is the perfect fitting tribute to Valentine's Day, check out "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (History Channel, 8 p.m.), which details the worst mob assassination in U.S. history, which pretty much sums up my feelings about this particular holiday.


Kay said...

Fortunately, viewers have ample opportunity to stay current or catch up with "Jericho"-CBS has all of the episodes posted on their website. From the start of the season, each week's show has been available immediately after airing, along with previews and commentaries.

Phillip Ramati said...

True, but as I pointed out in my posting, not everyone has Web access. Some people have slower connections, some don't know how to use the Web, some simply don't like watching a rerun on their computer screeen.

CBS generally has had a decent Web site, unlike NBC, which made it nearly impossible to find episodes of "Kidnapped." I also recently missed an episode of "The Office," and couldn't find it anywhere on I could have downloaded it off iTunes, but that's a ripoff.