Laments of a LIVE TV Holdout

Peak TV isn’t a problem. It can’t be. The very implication of having “too many” TV shows, ranging from good to great, available for your viewing pleasure as a dilemma is pure silliness.

There is a problem cropping up in TV lately, though, and that problem is scheduling overload. While we have seven days in a week, networks tend to target the same days and timeslots to air their best content. For example, Wednesday nights this spring have become a lightning rod for quality drama, with WGN America’s Underground, ABC’s Nashville, SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard, FX’s The Americans, and (until recently) TV Land’s Younger all airing at the same 10 PM EST.

This creates the true challenge for TV watchers of having to choose between their favorite programs for viewing dibs. It’s a treacherous slope, with consequences going beyond personal preference of which episode left on the better cliffhanger or plugged more crossover hype.

Niche programming may be on the rise, new channels and streaming content appearing every day, measurement systems for judging success expanding to take into account changing viewer habits, but LIVE numbers still matter in the decision-making process for a show’s continuation. With the end of the “can’t miss TV,” era, when everyone committed to gathering around their screens at scheduled times, the realistic expectations for how high these numbers should run have changed, but the basic tenant stands. No show is immune to the stress of renewal limbo. Every year networks decide which of their prime-time line-up are staying—picked up for another season—and which are getting cancelled. Being able to say your show has such and such number of people consistently tuning in each week means something. With over-scheduling, however, it’s not a matter of not being home so you miss the broadcast. You are home. You just can’t watch five different shows at once.

Now, is this really a problem or purely a coincidence? I’ll be the first to admit I watch a wide range of shows, from a number of different genres. That some overlap in scheduling should occur is expected. However, when you have some nights, like Monday, where you’re juggling seven different hour-length shows, and other nights like Tuesday and Thursday, that are much more manageable (to no shows at all on Fridays and Saturdays) there’s a pattern afoot.

On Monday nights, for instance, the weekend is over. Work is starting up again. You’re not going out—you’re too exhausted. You know what does sound good, though? Flopping on the coach and watching some shows. Good thing, too, because they’re going to be on in force: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bates Motel, etc. If this is the golden age of Peak TV, then Mondays and Sundays are Peak Nights.

The opposite goes for Fridays. Assuming nobody’s going to be home, this is the night networks send the shows they feel are on their last legs to pitter out. And fantasy shows. Fantasy lovers don’t go outside. Spread the rubbish.

It doesn’t end there, either. Similarly, it’s not a coincidence that CBS’ Supergirl and FOX’s Gotham both share the small screen on Mondays at 8, any more than CBS’ ratings juggernaut The Big Bang Theory running against ABC’s Shonda Rhimes TGIT block. Networks are businesses and as businesses they are always competing with each other for viewer eyeballs. They want to reach the same audiences so, network A has a profitable superhero show? Well, now so does network B. May the better fandom win.

Trouble is, while it’s not an exact statistic, if you like Gotham, there’s a good chance you might like Supergirl, too. I know I do and that’s exactly what the networks have in mind. The difference is they want you to ultimately choose—give up the mad catch-up cycle and pick one show over the other. They may be heroes for bringing us these treasured programs in the first place but villains in the way they parcel them out to promote a combative decision.

This isn’t going to change. Network competition won’t disappear and if anything the increasing number of stations getting in on the producing your own original content racket will make scheduling overload worse. And while I may begrudge having to pick between shows like Jane the Virgin and Recovery Road each week the fact remains that I will keep doing that too, with daily revised checklists of episodes missed to prove it. Both of us are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

But the problem remains: how does one decide what to watch? Sometimes it’s a special episode or casting. Sometimes it’s which ignites spoilers (not that you can spoil the ending of the OJ Simpson case, unfortunately, but American Crime Story always garners a lot of immediate discussion). And sometimes it comes down to which is the easiest show to find online or on OnDemand.

The truth is television is changing. No longer catering specially to LIVE viewings, recordings, binge-watching and hatred for commercials have made the method no longer necessary or preferred. Nonetheless, as one of the practice’s remaining advocates, it’s nice to have the option. Maintaining a more spread out schedule of LIVE shows may not be any more realistic to keep up with but it’s technically possible, and sometimes after a long day that possibility of relaxing for an extended period of time makes all the difference.

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