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Your Brain on Ads – Writer’s Poke #306

What has happened to the average thirty minute sit-com? I don’t mean quality. I think the quality of the best sit-coms on TV today is every bit as good, if not better, than any series from the past. What I’m referring to is the run-time allotted for the actual show.

I did a little investigative work just to affirm my theory, and here’s what I discovered. Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963) had an average run-time of 25 minutes (run-times include opening and closing credits; M*A*S*H (1972-1983), 24-25 minutes;  Cheers (1982-1993), 24 minutes; Frasier (1993-2004), 24 minutes; Scrubs (2001-2010), 21-25 minutes;  Big Bang Theory (2007-current), 21 minutes.

Granted, this is a rather informal survey, but my thesis is: sit-coms are getting shorter, and this is a rather recent development. The standard sit-com length appears to have remained between 24-25 minutes for 40 years. Only in the past decade has the content time dropped, but the loss of an extra minute (or five) is quite noticeable.

Recently, I was watching Season 3 of Big Bang Theory, and I was shocked when episodes started ending around the 19 minute mark. Even including ending credits, some episodes were under 19:30 total run time.

Can a sit-com story be fully developed and delivered in less than 20 minutes? Of course, but for people that actually watch TV with the commercials, that’s a lot more commercials per episode. And by the way, who still watches TV with commercials anymore? Most people I know stream or DVR the shows they like, and so the whole purpose of adding more commercials to each episode seems rather pointless.

If the trend is that more and more people are skipping the commercials (DVR, DVD, streaming, etc.), then why are networks adding commercials and reducing program content? And by the way, if all ads disappeared, would that then eliminate the problem of TV being owned and controlled by corporate "sponsors"?

“The threat to free television. The reason television is free is because it is a life support system for commercials. That fundamental aspect is about to change.” – Dick Wolf


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