As someone who regularly writes about television, I always look forward to this time of year to catch up on life. There are no new episodes airing of the shows I cover until mid-January, and there usually haven’t been any since mid-December, either. While I enjoy the extra family time, I can’t help but wonder, Why is there almost nothing new to see on TV other than New Year’s Rockin’ Eve for, like, three weeks?
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There’s the time-honored reason, of course. That reason is that the broadcast networks prefer to air new episodes of their hit shows when advertisers are paying a lot more attention to the number of viewers, i.e., the “sweeps” periods of November, February and May. No network wants to waste a new episode — which, make no mistake, is very expensive to produce — during a week when people are more likely to be catching up with family and doing deferred housekeeping chores than sitting in front of the tube.
But time-honored reasons don’t always hold up as well as they once did. Think about the days when the big three networks had seasons that began in the fall and ended in spring and that was pretty much it (again, mainly due to sweeps). Then upstart network Fox premiered a season of Beverly Hills 90210 in summer of 1991. This head start, while most other shows were still in summer reruns, certainly contributed to the show’s considerable success. Some networks learned the lesson and some, namely the main ones, didn’t. Although the broadcast networks largely cling stubbornly to the old-timey September-May calendar, there are dozens of cable networks premiering new shows and seasons outside of that timeframe and seeing them become hits — except, oddly enough, right now.
Sure, a lot of the potential viewing audience during the holidays is busy with aforementioned family and home obligations. But there are probably also a lot of people who, thanks to cold weather and short days, would be more than willing to veg out in front of the tube and give a new show a try — if only there were some to check out.
Yes, it’s a short window of opportunity, but it’s a wide one. And all a new, late-premiering show would need to do is get an audience hooked enough to stick around once programming returns to its usual routine. A series that does that next holiday season could be the show people are catching up on the year after. Or, better yet, it could be the one nobody wants to wait to watch at all.