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2001, A Reruns Odyssey

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For Fans of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror and Mystery-Suspense

Does it seem like there are more reruns than ever? And not just in the summer, either. Just when your favorite series is going again you hit a bunch of reruns. Or just as bad, your show is pre-empted altogether to try out something else for a week or two. Well, you're not alone. Dorothy Swanson, founder of Viewers for Quality Television says viewers are increasingly vocal about having to wade through reruns during the regular season (September to May).

And networks are not helping when they ask for tv listings to not say when a program is a rerun (so far TV Guide has refused the request), noting that most of the stuff on cable consists of reruns from the networks. "That arguement is ludicrous," Swanson says. "Do the networks really want to be indistinguishable from the cable channels? I should think not. When we tune into a show expecting to see a new episode and get a repeat instead, there's a feeling that the network has tried to trick us into watching an old episode. And that kind of feeling eventually turns to anger at someone."

So why do it? Numbers. The tv season from September to May is about 35 weeks. But the networks only buy about 22 new episodes a year: a new show will probably be 13 episodes with an option on the other 9 or 10. A hit show like ER or Friends might get an order for 24, but at $6,000,000 per episode for the stars' salaries, that's the limit. Bette Midler's show isn't even on the air yet and she demanded $250,000 per episode in advance. The star of "Frasier" now gets $1,600,000 per episode. Science fiction, fantasy and horror have traditionally been the most expensive to make, so networks and syndicators tend to cancel them outright if the ratings don't stay up. Even the government-funded BBC cancelled Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 when ratings got too low.

With only 22 to 24 new episodes, it tends to work like this: new episodes premier in September (October this season due to the 2000 Olympics), then some reruns, new episodes for the ratings sweeps in November, February and May, and reruns sprinkled around the other months of the year. This can result in an episode of The X Files or Buffy The Vampire Slayer being rerun again once or twice before the season even ends! The days when I Love Lucy had 30 new episodes a year are long gone, I'm afraid. Cable channels like the Sci Fi Channel and USA Network do what they can to fill the void during rerun season, but low budgets mean dependence on computer-generated special effects (which at least are getting better), and mostly actors you've never seen before - which sometimes gives new talent a step up.

What can you do? Write the network? Boycott the sponser? The networks say there's nothing they can do, and if you boycott the sponsors of your favorite show they'll simply cancel it. So hang in there, and get some videos if you've already seen this month's episode of Enterprise before.
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This webpage built & occasionally maintained by TV Guy (Bill Laidlaw), who thinks too much about reruns.

2001 by Bill Laidlaw. Be vewy, vewy qwiet. I'm hunting wabbits.