When American Idol 7 ended its run in late May, the moment the entire season built up to came at exactly 10:00:00 p.m. That’s when Ryan Seacrest said the winner’s first name, David, and when many DVRs stopped recording.
While that would have been enough information during any of the previous six finales, this year, the two finalists shared the same first name. Thus, viewers who watched recordings of the finale missed the announcement of the winner, and had no idea that David Cook beat David Archuleta, or at least until they found out from the relentless media coverage.
That overrun might be forgivable if the same thing hadn’t happened last year, when the Idol winner was announced five minutes late. At that time, Fox issued an apology for its overrun, saying that ‘as with any live sports, variety, awards or entertainment event, there is no way to absolutely guarantee that the show will end exactly on the hour.’ This season, Fox said something similar in a statement released to The Orlando Sentinel.
That’s nice, but completely disingenuous. Idol‘s results shows are notable for their time-wasting filler, and the finale is the ultimate example, with its parade of product placement and random musical performances. It’s impossibly easy to have the episode conclude on time just by eliminating some filler.
Running past the hour is nothing new, but most networks announce their shows will conclude at random times (say, 10:02 p.m.), so DVRs don’t miss a beat.
Really, isn’t this just a childish way to keep viewers tuned into a network? For those people who record shows and watch them later (a small but growing number), what time shows start and stop is irrelevant – unless, of course, they miss key parts of their shows.
Fox’s response is an unrepentant, petulant attitude that might not be the best approach to take considering the program’s sliding ratings, nor is it a nice way to treat viewers who’ve dedicated 18 weeks and well over 40 hours to a single program.
The tragic part is that such an attitude is fast becoming the rule. In their desperate attempt to retain viewers, networks and producers are showing increasing amounts of disrespect toward the very people they need to have tuning in. That includes respecting how people watch a show – and the era in which every viewer watches a show as it airs live is over. For unscripted shows, that means it’s time to start putting episodes and clips of every reality show online, where new viewers can discover them, regular viewers can re-watch them, and obsessive fans can share and embed clips on their own sites.
This spring, CBS augmented its streaming of Survivor by offering a fascinating Web-only series called Ponderosa that showed behind-the-scenes footage of what happens when cast members get voted off. But the network still doesn’t offer episodes of The Amazing Race online, even though that reality show has rarely aired on time in recent years, thanks to Sunday afternoon football games that run over.
Recently, The CW decided to stop streaming Gossip Girl online, attempting to force those Web watchers to tune into the broadcast, but the ratings didn’t really change, and if anything, the show lost viewers. Brilliant. Perhaps most interestingly, in both overall viewers and among people aged 18 to 34, Gossip Girl was trounced by The Hills, MTV’s quasi-unscripted series that airs on the same night but also streams online.
Viewers tire of scripted series that don’t respect them, such as when serialized dramas fail to develop the plotlines and characters they establish (hello, Lost), when they lose track of what made them popular in the first place (like The OC), or when they don’t offer more than one way to consume them (like Gossip Girl).
In their search for something new and different, viewers have turned to reality-based programming. Yet unscripted shows are now following scripted shows down a similar path, whether they’re inundating viewers with egregious product placements, wasting time during results shows, using manipulative editing or voice-overs in a misguided attempt to increase drama, or just failing to tell viewers who won a competition during the actual episode.
It should be no surprise, then, when viewers start to abandon those shows, and – finding nothing else on TV – just tune out.