schedule – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report From London: Documentary Sun, 29 May 2011 15:15:52 +0000 Bridging from last week’s theme, another scheduling issue that fascinates me about Britain’s primetime weeknight television is the range of genres offered. Whereas American TV nights bring a predictable mix of reality TV, sitcoms, and drama series, you can find all that and more on the main British channels, including soaps, short-run and one-off dramas, sketch comedy, chat shows and panel discussions, cultural features, movies, and every stripe of documentary. As Cathy Johnson, author of a must-read forthcoming book on US and UK channel branding, discussed in a visit to my British TV class last week, the “mixed program schedule” helps to fulfill a public service ideal of reaching different audiences with different needs, and it encourages all viewers to experience types of programming they might not have purposely sat down for.

I’d particularly like to focus on the prominence of documentary programs in primetime for the rest of this post, because I’m quite taken by just how many you can see in one week on the five terrestrial channels (broadcast networks, in American terms). For all intents and purposes, documentaries do not exist on US network television, with the only programming coming remotely close being news magazine shows (which primarily focus on doctors who murder their secret second wives). By contrast, on Monday of last week here, every show in the 9pm slot – the most important hour of primetime – fell into the so-called factual category.

The most compelling of these shows aired on BBC2, as Adam Curtis’s poetically titled All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace offered the first episode of a three-part series on the dangers of over-reliance on computers. This complex, non-linear hour (more an essay than a documentary, one viewer tweeted) interwove everything from Ayn Rand’s objectivism to Monica Lewinsky in arguing (somehow) that the West was driven to financial ruin not just by greed but also misguided trust of computers. Curtis has earned a reputation for such polemical documentary-collages, the likes of which would never pass through the revolving door of an American television channel’s corporate headquarters. Of course, this program airs on BBC2, a channel devoted to special interest fare, where its small 5.6% viewing share for the hour is acceptable, even expected.

BBC1’s 9pm offering indicated that it’s not all erudite, intellectual fare here, as Supersize Ambulance introduced us to a service that transports extremely obese people to the hospital. It wasn’t too far off from a TLC-type actuality show, but it was a more thoughtful, informative hour than one is familiar with from commercial TV. Supersize Ambulance earned a 14% share, but it was outdrawn by the 21.6% share for ITV’s Strangeways, the final episode of a three-parter investigating life in Britain’s largest high-security prison. Channel 4 got a 4.6% share with the third episode of a four-part Gordon Ramsay travel cuisine series, while The Hotel Inspector, with the sixth episode of an eight-part observational doc about renovating rundown hotels, garnered a 7.5% share for Channel 5.

Such factual entertainment remained prominent across the week, highlighted by BBC1’s Crimewatch (a sort of Britain’s Most Wanted) on Tuesday; Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A&E (an emergency room observational) on Wednesday; BBC1’s Inside the Human Body and C4’s Cutting Edge: Breaking a Female Paedophile Ring on Thursday; and BBC2’s Wind Farm Wars (a four part series; four episodes on wind farms!) and Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood (featuring the career of DW Griffith; DW Griffith!) on Friday.

While public service mandates explain much of this (for instance, ITV is required to air at least thirty-five primetime hours of current affairs programming annually), tight budgets and channel branding also play a role. Post-Big Brother, Channel 4 is known as the home for “fixed camera” observational docs, and as my go-to UK TV expert Faye Woods pointed out to me, Channel 4 has also essentially branded certain time slots, with 8pm for lifestyle or current affairs docs and 9pm for more high profile docs. I’m also intrigued by how Channel 4 treads the line between education and exploitation – and increasingly crosses it, according to its critics – with series like the very popular My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, the upcoming Bums, Boobs, and Botox (I’m so there), and the pedophile ring show (which was actually more understated about the topic than, say, Dateline NBC would ever be, offering a starkness that I found more chilling than anything Chris Hansen could ever bust in on). Referring to the tendency to include graphic images in shows like Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, a Facebook friend described Channel 4’s typical directive to me as, “Under the guise of documentary, we’re going to show naughty bits.”

Naughty bits also fall under the category of things you won’t see on American network television (a topic for a future post), but it’s the virtual absence of documentary programming, even the more pedestrian fare which outdraws the Adam Curtis sort here, that truly indicates cultural impoverishment and commercial dominance on US broadcast networks.


Report From London: Scheduling Sun, 22 May 2011 14:14:24 +0000 Though turning on my television set was the very first thing I did upon arriving at my new London flat last Monday (finding much to my delight that Diagnosis Murder was on BBC2), I haven’t watched many British shows yet. This is mainly because I’ve been too consumed with catching up on the season finales of my favorite American shows, which I’m able to do overseas thanks to the Slingbox, the second greatest invention of the past decade.* The intensive season finale period is foreign to British television, which schedules programs on a year-round basis, not along a September-to-May season trajectory. A number of discussants at In Media Res last week argued that the primacy of season finales has lessened in the US thanks to new viewing and time-shifting technologies. However, particularly as a devotee of online TV discussions and a fan of Must See TV like Parks and Recreation, I couldn’t fathom waiting until after my London trip to see these final episodes. Of course, now the US network television schedule turns to the summer black hole period, with Meh See TV reality shows and regular season cast-offs. Comparatively, British television keeps up a more standard schedule, albeit with fewer prestige shows and more escapist reality TV to accommodate summer lifestyles. Thus, with my weekly Good Wife and Community appointments having ended, I will henceforth turn my attention more fully to British TV.

Though I haven’t immersed myself in programming yet, I have been looking at scheduling, which, as indicated above, is more variable in England than in the US. This has deep historical roots, going back to the early days of BBC radio, when there was minimal regular, “fixed point” scheduling of shows, the paternalistic logic of uplift being that a listener would turn on the set at any given time and hear something she might not have purposely tuned in for otherwise but would be enriched by. Scheduling became more rigid once television and ITV’s commercial competition arrived, but inventive timetables are still evident today.

For instance, whereas the current series of Doctor Who has run in the US on BBC America every Saturday at 9pm, the five BBC1 airings in England have had four different start times (6, 6:15, 6:30, 6:45), with each announced only just over a week in advance. Doctor Who also illustrates how the BBC innovatively schedules across its multiple outlets for audience targeting. The current series premiered in April on the primary BBC channel at 6pm; a 15-minute tribute to the late Sarah Jane Adventures star Elisabeth Sladen aired following that on the children’s outlet CBBC at 6:45; and the behind-the-scenes Doctor Who: Confidential then ran at 7pm on the 16-to-34-targeted BBC3. Except for news experiments by NBC and PBS multicasting, the US networks haven’t used their affiliated stations’ digital real estate for additional channel programming (opting instead to devote the space to high-definition), nor have they tried to foster scheduling compatibility like this via their conglomerate cable siblings.

I’m also quite taken by the patchwork scheduling of England’s four flagship soap operas. Under a gentleman’s agreement to not battle directly, none of them airs a single half-hour episode simultaneously. Channel 4’s Hollyoaks is the only one that airs at the exact same time each weeknight: 6:30pm Monday through Friday. You can next tune in ITV’s rural soap Emmerdale at 7pm all week, plus an extra episode at 8pm on Thursday. Coronation Street then appears on ITV at 7:30 and 8:30 on Monday and Friday and 8:30 on Thursday. Finally, the BBC’s EastEnders jumps in between the Corries at 8pm on Monday and Friday and airs at 7:30pm on Tuesday and Thursday. You can also find repeats of each soap, including omnibus blocks on the weekend.

Other scheduling quirks here include shows starting at off-hour times, like 8:35 or 9:50, and the stripping of new dramas across the week, as with the BBC’s recent three-episode drama Exile airing on consecutive nights. And multiple channels, including Channel 4, ITV1, ITV2, E4, and Dave (yes, there’s a channel called Dave; it airs comedy programming), offer so-called plus-one (+1) digital sister channels that air the flagship schedule on a one-hour delay, thereby easing DVR recording crunches (though also, my British TV scholar friend Faye Woods pointed out to me, cheaply filling their digital allocations).

Does all this variability mean that British viewers come to rely even more heavily on DVR timeshifting and online catch-up services to manage their own schedules, representing a complete turn away from the legacies of the past, when schedulers felt they knew better than the viewer when programs should be consumed? Or does such flexibility actually accommodate allegiance to the traditional linear schedule, as a new BBC2 Review Show Special on the future British TV suggested and some recent statistics indicate? I look forward to testing my own spectatorship against these questions in the coming weeks (or at least after Glee mercifully comes to a season’s end this Tuesday).

*Twitter is the greatest invention, and you can follow me there to read more of my reactions to British TV across the week.


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My Very Own Television Network Sat, 07 Nov 2009 23:46:06 +0000 networks

As we begin our new blog, it seems an appropriate time to launch my new television station. Or, rather, my new primetime schedule. If I could have only one channel, yet had free claim on any and all current series, what would that network contain?

The exercise wasn’t simply to pick my favorite shows, but rather to try and schedule them in appropriate, thematically interesting ways. After all, if the world lost all but one television station, I think it would lose DVRs too, so we’re back to pre-DVR scheduling.

And so, without further ado (with Daily Show and Colbert on every night too, you understand):

Monday: 7 Flash Forward, 8 House, 9 Dexter

Tuesday: 7 The Simpsons, 7.30 Modern Family, 8 Glee, 9 Family Guy, 9.30 South Park

Wednesday: 7 Survivor, 8 Lost, 9 Mad Men

Thursday: 7 How I Met Your Mother, 7.30 Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, 8 Iron Chef America, 9 The Amazing Race

Friday: 7 Primeval, 8 Fringe, 9 CSI: Miami

Saturday: 7 America’s Next Top Model, 8 Next Food Network Star, 9 Vampire Diaries

Sunday: 7 The Office, 7.30 30 Rock, 8 Chuck, 9 Californication, 9.30 United States of Tara

Of course, looking at the above, it reminds me of the importance of crap on television, since we can’t watch that much television, so we positively rely upon broadcasters to give us bad shows to put between the good shows. It’s their gift to our productivity in doing anything other than watching television. So I built in some fluffy time (e.g: CSI: Miami, Vampire Diaries), but the above schedule would still probably need much worse shows to keep me happy. (So maybe the problem with The Jay Leno Show isn’t that it’s on, it’s that it should be on at random times, to enforce no watching periods, as in the BBC’s early days when gaps separated programs to make “idle” / flow-like listening an impossibility?)


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