No Reruns Mean Higher Ratings

For two years, ABC has been the kingpin for smart, intriguing television that gets America talking. However, ABC also has a tendency to kill the momentum, just as soon as it began. Popular shows such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Invasion are serial dramas, with each episode serving as a building block towards the next installment, all the while continuing to escalate the drama.

The drama is lost, of course, when the show takes a seven week break for no apparent reason, other than network executives trying to spread the new episodes as thinly as they can throughout the September-May television season. Recently, ABC aired clip shows for a few of their major programs. I’m not sure if it was to get new viewers up to speed. Rather, the intent was probably to refresh loyal viewers what happened in the eternity that passed between new episodes.

While the shows continue to come in on the top 10 Nielsen-rated charts, shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost have seen a decline in ratings for this season, compared to last year. While the reason could easily be the lackluster writing that ABC’s sophomore shows seem to suffer from, one can’t help but wonder if this schizophrenic scheduling might have something to do with the ratings decline as well.

The FOX network realized that fans grew increasingly anxious between breaks for it’s hit serial drama, 24. So the network decided that it would delay the start of the show until January, then play all 24 episodes, uninterrupted. Not surprisingly, this strategy has paid off for FOX. Not only are the fans happier, but the ratings have been steadily increasing.

ABC tried to replicate that success last year by delaying the start of ratings-troubled Alias until January, then playing non-stop episodes. It was a terrific idea for that serial drama, except for one tiny little thing: It was the year the episodes became self-contained. And it didn’t help that it was a rather boring season as well.

Since that experiment, ABC has refused to try FOX’s formula on any other of their programs, content to spread the episodes for as long a period as a time, no matter how many reruns and clip shows they have to play in the meantime. Just imagine if FOX decided to air repeats of American Idol, and clip shows, for week after week. The momentum would be broken, and millions of Americans would be devastated.

To keep the fans happy, it would be wise for ABC to either produce more new episodes, or delay the start of the new season, in order to minimize the weeks spent in rerun heaven. After all, isn’t that what summer is for?

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