When the time factor goes bad on television

Published 8:50 am Friday, August 1, 2008

Not long ago I was surfing through the cable television channels when I happened to see Santa Claus and several overly-dressed children on the screen. Right at this time the digital thermometer in my kitchen was showing a temperature of 77.6 degrees above zero. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts and the only thing between me and the great outdoors was a screen door intended to keep flies out of the house.

Yet, this telecast in early July suggested I and the other viewers should be wearing something a lot warmer. Also, the regular door should be tightly closed to conserve heat.

Maybe some executive with that particular channel decided to use this particular older film or program to fill out an hour or two on their schedule. Then again, maybe this genius thought he could cool off the viewers with scenes of jolly old St. Nick, happy children, Christmas season sights, holiday cheer galore and super snowy vistas.

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To be even more specific, I can easily cite a cable channel and a series of telecasts that are now really out of season. This program series is based on ice-road truck drivers up in northern Canada and is now being featured on the History Channel.

These programs about the men who drive their semis towing heavy trailers loaded with equipment and supplies on the temporary highways laid out over the frozen lakes and rivers of Canada’s Northwest Territories would be much more meaningful if they were telecast in the winter months.

I have a hunch the folks who line up those programs for reruns aren’t paying any attention to the simple concept of coordinating the episodes with the calendar. One program I glanced at for a few moments while writing this column was based on a family reunion at Thanksgiving time.

Another aspect of this time factor with television is based on the use of the word “live.” There are certainly specific occasions when the use of this word makes sense. However, using the word for repeated telecasts of the same event or press conference is absolutely wrong.

I can recall seeing older telecasts of “Saturday Night Live” being shown on the Comedy Central on other days and nights of the week and certainly weren’t live at all.

I once suggested that the word “Live” be used in the upper left corner of the screen to indicate that this specific telecast was indeed the very first showing. After that all the other repeat telecasts should be labeled as “Rerun.”

There’s certainly a challenge for some telecasts to cope with the time factor. For example, a plot based on being lost in the wilderness can be enhanced with cute scenes of animals and birds cavorting around in what’s really a way to fill in a few minutes of time. Then there’s the gimmick of going back in time to provide background details for a character or incident in the program’s plot. I could cite more examples of these time killers for television, but for now let’s move on to another part of the topic worth mentioning.

The cable news channels use what I like to call “perp walks” and ”scene loops” as ways to use up time. By the way, perp is a short version of the word perpetrator.

Those particular channels have a strong tendency to show the person who is the focus of the news report as many times as possible. Let’s say the channel has only one quick view of the alleged male or female perp going into or out of a courthouse. That’s enough of a scene to show two or three more times during a telecast. This same technique is also use repeatedly for any short scenes featuring those publicity-seeking politicians and media stars to highlight their various shenanigans.

I could continue on and on with this topic, but I’m out of time, or more realistic, space.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.