TV schedule shell games make it hard to follow shows

by | Aug 18, 2011

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch

As a TV viewer, there are few things which irritate me more than the games played with the TV schedule these days. Despite the ridiculous amount of money we pay to a cable company every month — and despite our willingness to follow and even promote the few shows we do watch regularly — it’s as if the typical TV programmer is deliberately trying to evade us.

The FX show Louie is a perfect example.

Last season, new episodes of Louie aired on Tuesday nights. This season, it’s Thursday nights. We have adapted.

Instead of following the convenient rhythms of the clock that everyone in the world has agreed on, FX instead has been airing Louie from, say 9:31 to 10:01. Or sometimes from 9:32 to 10:02. A 9:31 start time conflicts with Project Runway, which this season airs on Thursday nights from 8 to 9:32. This is the sort of thing that happens when several programmers are playing games at once.

We have adapted.

Last week, though, there was apparently a second new episode of Louie which aired following the first. Not knowing this, we missed it. Our comprehensive viewership of Louie is now spoiled. Despite going out of our way to watch this show week in and week out, the streak is broken. (Temporarily, anyway. The “Eddie” episode will be rerun overnight tonight from 12:31 to 1:02 a.m.)

Good thing I double-checked the TV schedule this week, because tonight Louie airs from 10:01 to 10:32, following double episodes of Wilfred, which we do not like.

Sure, we could probably have watched the missed episode on the FX website — or better yet bought it on iTunes for $2.99 — but that would be wrong, and it would only encourage bad behavior.

We are already doing our part as a television viewers. We pay hard-earned dollars to watch cable TV. Each week, we turn to the proper channel and take our places on the couch. This should be regarded as dream behavior by TV producers and networks.

When this bargain is broken, it makes us begin to question the whole commitment. Maybe we could find something else to do on Thursday nights that’s less aggravating. Maybe the money we’re spending on cable is foolish considering the few hours we actually watch it and the frequent frustrations like this.

If you think we’re kidding, ask Top Chef, which lost us after occasionally running episodes that were an hour and fifteen minutes long. Well, that and a guest appearance by Paula Deen.

Ask Anthony Bourdain, whose No Reservations and the rest of the Travel Channel have recently been moved to a digital-only slot by Time Warner. Are we going to spend extra money for fees and digital boxes each month just to watch him be drunk and obnoxious while eating street tacos at 2 in the morning? Sorry, Tony, but you’re dead to us now. You too, adorable Samantha Brown.

With the economy the way it is and record numbers of Americans quitting pay TV, you would think that programmers would want to make it as easy as possible for viewers to consume their product. I have known a few broadcasting executives, though, and some of them are so preoccupied with their own data-driven sleight-of-hand that they never even notice the audience leaving.

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