I hate to break it to you, but it’s over. That slow-burning love affair you had with your favorite TV shows -- the one that used to always start in September, last until May and give your life meaning and purpose for all those months in between -- it is no more.
And I’m not just talking to “30 Rock” fans here. (Although they might be feeling the pain of loss most acutely right now.)
No, several popular shows -- "Fringe," "Private Practice," "Parenthood" -- have aired season or series finales already this year, and it’s barely February. Left with empty DVRs and extra time on their hands, viewers may be wondering what exactly happened to their traditional TV season of years past. Why do shows seem to have shorter runs now? And, perhaps more importantly, what are you supposed to watch when their seasons come to an end?
To answer the first question, the evolution from one long broadcast television season to several shorter ones has come along gradually over the past few years. According to Entertainment Weekly senior writer James Hibberd, it’s the result of a combination of several major factors, including changing technologies.
“DVRs and OnDemand came along, and made it so that people could catch up on shows whenever they wanted to,” Hibberd explained. “And so the value of repeating a show went down. So [networks] weren’t able to get as much of an audience for repeats as they used to.”
Competition between cable and broadcast television networks has been another big influence on the change. Historically, cable networks offered original programming during the times of year when broadcast networks were airing repeats.
“Broadcast networks have had to address that and recognize that only some shows repeat well now, and that we’ve got to offer an original slate of programming in a clear, coherent brand message which is expressed through our schedule in some ways 52 weeks a year,” said Dan Harrison, executive vice president of scheduling for Fox.
Of course, this just led to cable networks debuting new shows at different times of year, too -- including fall -- which complicates things further.
“The idea of launching dozens of new shows all the same week of September is getting increasingly unattractive, because it’s turning into such a demolition derby with all the shows on cable and on broadcast, too,” Hibberd said. “There are only so many marketing dollars to go around, and there’s only so many shows people can pay attention to at once. So that’s another reason they’re starting to spread out a little more.”
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This all sounds pretty stressful for the networks, but for viewers, the news appears to be all good: fewer repeats, fewer breaks in the middle of TV seasons and more options all year round. In other words, if you play your cards right, you may never have to read a book again.
“It’s great for people who love TV,” Hibberd said. “Because you’re constantly getting all these different choices all the time and networks are constantly struggling to figure out ways to make you more happy.”
Really, the only problem for viewers nowadays is keeping track of all these new offerings and their various launch dates. Technically, Hibberd says, the broadcast season is still from September to May, but in practice, there’s really more like three distinct seasons: fall, a “midseason” starting in January and summer -- and the lines between those are starting to blur as well.
For some ideas on what to watch if your fall shows have ended, check out just a few of this year’s standout midseason premieres in the slideshow above.