Checking out a television problem time myth

Published 8:57 am Friday, September 10, 2010

Ed Shannon, Between the Corn Rows

Not long ago I heard the host of a radio program brag that he was going to be part of several half-hour television productions. The he laughed and declared in reality those television programs would actually be only 22 minutes long each.

This comment sounded a little odd and might be based on a myth. As the owner of a new stopwatch and always in search of column topics, I decided to take the time to check out this 22 minutes comment.

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Instead of timing commercials, the decision was made to see just how long several television programs actually lasted. For this timely project the commercial breaks would be passed over by stopping the stopwatch and restarting it for the actual program content.

The first program selected for timing was a half-hour early evening newscast on one of the major networks. There were three breaks for commercials. The actual news part of the program lasted 20 minutes and 50 seconds.

For the second program timing project, I selected a half-hour newscast on one of the four regional television channels. This program was divided into news, sports, weather and human interest feature segments, plus all too many commercial messages. For this particular newscast there were also three commercial breaks. This time I counted those commercials and the total was 19. Most were local or regional, a few could be classed as national, and two or three were for firms and/or products that aren’t a part of life in this area at all. There were also two sets of repeated commercials during this half hour. Evidently those sponsors wanted to make sure the viewers got their vital messages. By the way, the actual time for this newscast was 20 minutes and 26 seconds.

The third television program I timed was a half-hour episode of “The Nanny” on the TV Land cable channel. This particular program was timed at the end of August. It must have been a rerun because the theme was based on Valentine’s Day.

Just to add to this rerun foolishness, another program I glanced at on the History Channel during the next half hour was based on ice road truckers up in Alaska. Somehow this didn’t help me to cool down on a hot evening.

The introduction to ”The Nanny” lasted two minutes and 18 seconds. Then came a commercial break that had 14 separate components. This alone could cause some viewers to use the remote to find something more interesting to watch. The actual program finally came on the screen. There was another commercial break with 11 segments from the sponsors. Despite those 25 commercials, this episode of “The Nanny” lasted for a total of 21 minutes and 40 seconds.

I have no idea as to how long the original telecast of this program lasted several decades ago. There’s a feeling that the reruns have been trimmed down to allow even more time for commercial messages. Some folks could call this editing for content. Anyway, the only proof for this I can offer is based on several reruns of “Home Improvement” featured on the TV Land channel a few months ago. At the end of the original telecasts of this series there would be a minute or so of humorous bloopers. In the reruns this added feature could easily be cut out. After all, a minute of extra television time can be used for four 15-second commercials.

There are some television programs that don’t need timing. One type is the commercial-free program shown on the PBS channels. Another comes on Sundays with the televised religious services. Still another is based on a speech by someone important like the president. Then there are those full half-hour programs where the hosts or hostesses are selling something. The range of these of these items go from food preparation products to advice on how to make huge riches by buying and selling real estate after purchasing a book.

My reaction to the last sentence can be summed up with two comments. First, those programs are a waste of time. And, second, I hope those promoters are actually paying for all that commercial time on the television channels.

By the way, the 22-minute time for television programing seems to be confirmed.

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