Roger's Rules for TV Shows

Observations from someone who's watched more TV that he probably should have.

Rule #1: Every TV show must be an instant hit.
If a given show is not an instant hit the first time it airs, the networks are already making plans to cancel it. Unless its ratings improve by the third week, it will be gone by the sixth, if not earlier.

Rule #2: The Networks are deathly afraid of losing viewers.
To counteract this, they have removed the commercials that used to separate the end of one show from the beginning of the next show. Their theory is that if they don't give the viewer the chance to change the channel before the next show starts, they might stick around for the entire show.
   This makes it hard for someone with just one VCR to record shows on different stations while they are gone, and make sure they record the entire episode. You have to set the record time to 1 minute prior to the show starting through 1 minute after the show ends, which rules out using the "VCRplus" codes.

Rule #3: How to make a TV show a success.
The key to having a successful TV show is to leave it alone. This very simple concept seems to be beyond network executives. Leave it in the same time slot AND day that you originally put it and don't pre-empt the show. The way a non-"instant hit" TV show becomes a hit is by earning it. Unless the viewer can find the show in a reliable and consistent manner, it won't become a hit.

Rule #4: Remodeling rarely works.
One of my high school teachers once said regarding the VietNam war, "when a government has to change the reason for being in a war, you know it's losing." Likewise, if a TV show is put through major changes, it may not survive.

Shows that have survived changes: Suddenly Susan (made before it even aired), Muppets Tonight (the Disney Channel picked it up from ABC).

Rule #4a: Remodeling sometimes works.

Rule #5: Quanity, not quality.
Since TV shows get cancelled willy-nilly these days, the networks have to find a way to fill their suddenly-vacant schedules. Other than trying out new shows, they fill the gaps by showing excessive amounts of reruns of the few shows that do become a success. I'm almost expecting NBC to become the "All 3rd Rock, All the Time" network. Aparently, the network executives have never heard of aversion therapy. (Aversion therapy: train someone to hate something by continuously exposing them to it.)

Rule #6: You can't depend on a show, so why care about it?
Because of rule 1 and not following rule 3, your favorite program may be gone at any time. In the past, when TV shows had a half year or full year to run in, they would know ahead of time if they were going to be cancelled at the end of the season and they could work the storyline to wrap things up. Now, they are lucky if they even have a week's notice of their cancellation. This is usually at the point where you are starting to get interested in the series.
I've gotten to the point where I don't even watch a show until at least its second season. If it makes it to the third, I'll be able to catch the earlier episodes in re-runs.

Observation #1: Paramount ruins its own ST:Voyager episodes
From the e-mail I sent to Paramount on Sept. 6, 1997. If they ever reply, I'll include that.

Just when I thought you had things straightened out, you take another step backwards.

Earlier this year, Voyager's ratings weren't that hot. Part of the problem was the positioning of the "teaser" for the following week's episode. In place of one of the commercials prior to the final act of the episode, you had the teaser. So, while we were watching the "Janeway hovers on the brink of death" episode, before the final act was started, we already knew she wasn't going to die because she was in the next episode.

Several months ago, the teaser was switched to its traditional and proper place: at the end of the episode, before the credits. It's my opinion that that's about the time Voyager's ratings picked up a bit.

However, you've taken a step backwards. I've just finished watching the season opener for Star Trek: Voyager. Our local station (KBWU in Kennewick, WA) ran last season's cliffhanger and this season's opener back-to-back. In between the two shows was a commercial for NEXT WEEK's episode. "Who is going to leave the ship?" was the question it asked.

I found the answer by watching the opening credits for the season opener. In Kes' place, you have Seven of Nine listed as a regular cast member. When the episode started, Jennifer Lein (Kes) was listed as a guest star. Hmmm. From cast member to guest star. I'm five minutes into the story, and I already know what is going to happen in the FOLLOWING episode!

I don't think you can micro-manage exactly when all of your commercials are aired on your affiliated stations. A better option would have been to leave Kes listed as a regular cast member. It wouldn't have cost that much to make up a second opening credits sequence for the second episode that makes the change--you're using a digital editing system in post-production, so deleting "Kes" from that part of the opening sequence and insterting "Seven of Nine" and then running the sequence back out to tape would have taken all of five minutes to do.

January 29, 1998. Update to that letter:
Though I have not yet received a reply from Paramount to the above letter, I found out the answer myself. When the season 4's last episode of Babylon 5 finally aired, it listed Jason Carter (Marcus) as part of the cast, even though he wasn't any more, but did not list Claudia Christian. (Simply put, there was a contractual dispute that kept her from being a part of season 5.) A couple of people asked why Jason got credit for an episode he wasn't even in. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski responded back with the fact that Claudia is in the final episode of the series, and if she got screen credit for the last episode of season 4, that would involve an extra payment to her.

After Joe posted that, I realized why Jennifer Lein had to be listed as a guest star instead of a regular cast member: The Screen Actors Guild has rules concerning salaries. Since Jennifer was only going to be in two episodes of this season of Star Trek: Voyager, she legally can't be listed as a regular cast member without a regular cast member's salary.

The Jason Carter screen credit question and answer is one reason why I like Babylon 5. If there is something you don't understand about the show, you can ask the person directly responsible about it. That's also the reason why there will probably never be a "Nitpicker's Guide to Babylon 5"--the few glitches that get through, such as the the time the background graphics accidentally got left out, or when Zathras was found in two different places in two episodes that covered the exact same event--Joe Straczynski tells us why these things happen.

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