Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reruns: The ultimate test of a sitcom

Every season, networks trot out a whole new lineup of fall television shows in a desperate bid for viewer attention and, by extension, advertising dollars. Television is a massive money making business and syndication may just be the biggest part of that capitalistic pie. Syndication makes or breaks many television shows. It may even give them new life. Initial airings may decide the baseline popularity of a show, but it's reruns that make a show an institution.

Exhibit A: Seinfeld reruns being on eight different channels.

For the most part, syndication is both genius and lazy. Not only does it make people millions of dollars, but it also makes the program scheduler's job a little easier. Ask people my age what time they watch television and I guarantee that the answer is not 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. For people I know, the answer is normally 4 p.m. when they are suppose to be doing homework or 2 a.m. when they should be going to sleep. The prime time lineup, the cornerstone of programing, is lost on 18-22 year olds. We have been raised to turn to television in times of desperation and boredom, but it's not at the same time as everyone else. Even before digital cable and online streaming, reruns were one of the first steps in making television convenient.

Waiting for my laundry has more influence on when I watch television than anything else.

There is nothing to watch at two in the morning. Adult Swim's lineup is a godsend but at that time of night, even AS doesn't help anything. Around this time I like to check out the random channels and watch the Miracle Blade commercials, but there are only so many gem stones you can see on the Home Shopping Network before you go insane (sidebar: there is a channel devoted to traffic cameras. It's highly enthralling). But sometimes you get lucky, and a rerun of That '70s Show is on at an ungodly hour. There is probably no show that my generation identifies with more than That '70s Show. Think of it as our version of Happy Days (another show for adolescents about their parent's adolescence). Watching '70s Show has become a ritual but never when it was on FOX.

The immortal male question: Donna or Jackie?

Obviously '70s Show was popular enough to last eight seasons but it didn't truly become an institution until it started airing on cable. Whether FX knew it or not, they scheduled episodes around most the time my friends and I got out of class. So, resting our laurels, we would instinctively turn on the television and with nothing to watch we turned to what appealed to us: '70s Show. Or Scrubs. Or Law & Order SVU.

It all depends on the mood and how far the remote is.

Another program is on the rise in syndication. The show has finally given men a reason to watch Lifetime Channel (after they cancelled Supermarket Sweep, which I still mourn). In 2005 How I Met Your Mother premiered on CBS. While not an outright success like Two and a Half Men or Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother built a devoted but semi-modest fanbase. I only knew a handful of people from my high school that actually watched it. This is all pre-syndication. Now, the majority of my friends have been obsessing over the show (mostly because of Neil Patrick Harris' Barney, who is an awesome character). A year ago my sister couldn't force my brother to watch the show. After recently watching it in reruns, he has since rapidly inhaled the six past seasons.

I'm a Ted surrounded by would-be Barneys.

Every season, networks trot out a whole new lineup of fall television shows in a desperate bid for viewer attention and yet most of these shows fail. Few shows become popular enough for syndication (or they just get picked up for syndication because nobody hates it, a la King of Queens). But syndication can also breath new life into a show. Freaks and Geeks only lasted a season but now its few episodes live on immortally on cable. My personal favorite show, Arrested Development, can now be discovered by anyone that missed the genius the first time. And in the greatest success story in all of television, Family Guy was even saved from cancellation by reruns on Adult Swim. Whether you love the show or hate it (or let South Park tell you to hate it), it's undeniable how miraculous Family Guy's saving was.

It may be derivative but I enjoy the show.

Because of reruns, Family Guy went from Fox's sacrificial lamb (Fox bumped it around the schedule in its early history against Who Wants To Be A Millionaire during the game show's heyday). As a more personal success story, consider this. My one friend never watched a single episode of Friends until our sophomore year of college. After watching a rerun, we devoted spring semester to watching all 10 seasons of the show. That's 236 episodes of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross mainlined into our collective brains. And this was all because one of our friends caught a repeat.Link

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