Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ceasefire

There’s been a lull in the hostilities between myself and Channel Nine this week. It’s true that Channel Nine probably doesn’t know they’re having a war with me and if they did know, I’m not sure they would care.

Eddie McGuire responds to the news that Channel Nine is at war with Galaxy

Anyway, over here at Chez Galaxy, the situation is tenuous at best. This week saw the final episode screen in the sixth season of The Sopranos. This brings to an end yet another season of erratic scheduling by Channel Nine of any programme that doesn’t register in the top ten of the OzTam ratings. For the first two weeks of the season, The Sopranos screened at 10.30pm Wednesdays, then without a word it wasn’t on for one week, then it was rescheduled to show at 5 minutes past midnight on Tuesday mornings—give or take 15 minutes.

The frustration of this approach to scheduling is that, as a viewer, you have a choice between staying up past midnight only to become even more tired, frustrated, and angry when The Sopranos doesn’t begin at the advertised time, or you set your P/D/V(C)R to record with a 20 minute buffer on either side. Clearly Channel Nine doesn’t believe in either the concept of a day job, efficient use of hard drive/disk/cassette capacity, or for that matter any kind of commitment to well-produced television.

Even as I write this there is a sense of bafflement that this week’s episode was even presented as a final, because as every fan of The Sopranos knows, the last season of the programme has 20 episodes instead of the usual thirteen. Quite when the Australian public will be privy to these apparently extra-seasonal episodes isn’t known by me, but perhaps if Nine’s programming executives have a nice Christmas they might deign to share them with the rest of us. (If you can’t tell, I’m really struggling to remain polite here.)

Of course, increasingly, there’s the alternative of by-passing Channel Nine altogether by downloading it, or waiting for the DVD release, as more than one of my colleagues and friends have chosen to do. I will have to do this as well, since I managed to miss at least ¼ of the episodes that were screened, which creates problems when cumulative narratives are at stake: one day Vincent was creeping back in to Jersey, then his head was being taken out of a freezer. I’m guessing something significant happened in between.

As I said, the ceasefire is tenuous, but I’ve been tempted back over the past two weeks, first by Weeds, which stars Mary-Louise Parker—who was just wonderful in Angels In America—as an over-privileged pot-dealing mom, struggling to hold onto the Range Rover after she is widowed. At this point—three or four episodes in; again, who can tell with Channel Nine, they seem to be playing double episodes and presenting them as one, except when they said they were repeating the first episode, at which point it became clear they had initially played two, because they did only repeat the first episode... Okay, I’ve lost the subject of the sentence before the break—that’ll happen in a rant—so I’ll start again: At this point, I like the way the Elizabeth Perkins character is written and performed. She is just horrible to her pre-pubescent daughter, harassing her to be thin and blaming societal norms. My goodness, she swapped her daughter’s chocolate stash for laxatives, which had a suitably disastrous outcome. The moment of her daughter’s revenge was quite brilliant.

I didn’t watch the return of Nip/Tuck last week because it’s a show I’ve only ever watched on DVD, but this week I tuned in. I’m not going to commit to it at this point. I started watching Men In Trees last night, and since I’m really expecting Channel Nine to get the scheduling wrong on that too, just because I like it*, I figure it will be easier to give up on Weeds and Men In Trees than Weeds, Men In Trees and Nip/Tuck.

Oh, Men In Trees takes me back to the pleasures of Northern Exposure. It’s an Alaska thing, a fish out of water thing, a Sex and the City Largest State in the Union thing.

What will I do about Rome though? Looking through the television schedule for this evening, I see Channel Nine has decided to give it another go, again, after unceremoniously pulling it after only two episodes had screened. Now it’s being shown as if there never was any extended break. Again, so much for cumulative narratives and complex characterisation that require your full and ongoing commitment to enjoy.

I have to believe there’s some kind of perfectly logical programme executives reasoning behind all of this inconsistency, however it’s a mindset I just can’t fathom. Surely the imperative of ratings only explains so much, especially when ratings has been about more than total numbers for a long time now. For goodness sake, I’m reading about programming strategies from the 1970s that identified the less populous ‘quality’ demographic—urban-dwelling and educated, so presumed affluent—for whom programmes were fashioned. On the one hand I’m loathe to use the logic of markets to make any argument, but if it means that programmes like The Sopranos, Deadwood and Six Feet Under get made, then I will assert the importance of considering this demographic.

At the moment, Channel Nine’s programming practices just seem arrogant and disrespectful to a sub-section of its viewers. I am tempted to say that they don’t understand the different viewing practices required by these programmes, because it seems to me that as a viewer it’s impossible to settle in to these programmes the way they are currently being pushed around, and often just plain pulled from the schedule. These programmes require more attention and have more of a memory within their narrative structure than some other kinds of programming. After a working day, it’s difficult to concentrate on The Sopranos after midnight. It would be better to watch from 10pm; that’s when the premiere screening occurs in the States. At the same time one of the expectations of television is that you view a programme on a regularly scheduled basis, and Channel Nine just never gives you the opportunity with these programmes. You miss the third episode and then the fifth due to unadvertised changes in the schedule, and then you think, ‘I’ve missed too much, the story doesn’t make sense any more, so I’ll wait for the DVD’.

I am tempted to say all that, but people tell me that programme executives have the same degrees that I do, that they consider scheduling an art and invest a great deal of time and research into that art. I can’t argue with that, which is why there must be some parallel-universe logic going on that I can’t fathom. All I know is that as a viewer Channel Nine have alienated me. I like some of the programmes they put on, but overall I don’t much like them. They’ve got a lot of work to do to regain my good will and so that is why this current truce is fragile. I’ll let you know how the negotiations go.

*I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed, rather, I’m referring to people who share my taste for this US premium cable channel drama, the kind that doesn’t rate sufficiently on network television in Australia.

4 comments:

Tim said...

I don't think the final few episodes of The Sopranos air in the States until the New Year, so Nine may not be to blame for that one. They're still to blame for everything else though.

nick cetacean said...

Careful what you say about Eddie or he may have you boned...

Weeds is very good (having seen all of series 1) but MLP is seemingly very pleased with herself...

Ariel said...

I taped the first episode of Weeds but haven't watched it yet. Sounds good - esp. for summer tv.

I'm having a similarly fraught realtionship with Channel Ten regarding their disrespectful programming of Veronica Mars. We're all good this week, though.

I don't understand it: if it's in a crap timeslot with little value to the network, but clearly has a devoted fanbase, why not leave that fanbase to it? Surely there's a niche market there for advertisers, in any case? (Maybe) those shows generally have devotees whose demographics, I'm guessing, certain advertisers would quite like. Just a (quite rambling) thought ...

Galaxy said...

Well I know what I'd like to have done to Eddie and Co ...

Ariel, I completely missed the return of Veronica Mars, so I settled down to watch what I thought was the first episode and I had no idea wtf was going on. And still I find that missing that crucial episode is a problem in terms of my comprehension and attachment to the show. That's another one for the DVD list.

Also, I think your logic works re certain advertisers wanting the demographic that watches these programmes, but then I'm not a programming executive.

Anyway, it looks like the Rome problem has been solved. The tv guide in the Review section of the Australian listed the start time for Rome as 10.50 followed by the news at 11.50. So I set the DVR accordingly. Rome began 43 minutes after 10.50, and the news was shown first. What a waste of time and effort.

Dear Channel Nine Programming Executives, Is it really so difficult to schedule programmes regularly, or, failing that, to provide accurate information so I can plan appropriately? What's the problem?