Have you watched anything on TV Land lately? If you were originally drawn to TV Land in the first decade of its existence, probably not. TV Land started out as with a mandate to deliver on the promise a future of 500 channels on cable TV that mostly appealed to a narrow and specific demographic. TV Land was originally designed to fill that need on the schedule of cable networks for reruns of old TV shows. Mostly those from the early days of black & white TV programming.
TV Land was launched in 1996 which, not coincidentally, happened to be about five years or so after the revolution in syndication. It was around the middle of the 1980s that a change took place on local TV stations across America. The bulk of late afternoon, early evening and late night programs aired by local stations up to that point had consisted of reruns of old TV shows. Sometime during the 1980s, a shift occurred which saw the time slots formerly occupied by such foundations of syndicated reruns as “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch” and “MASH” replaced by People’s Court and its clones, the Oprah Winfrey Show and its clones, the rise of trash talk shows hosted by Jerry Springer, Morton Downey, Jr. and Geraldo Rivera and all its many, many clones. Gone were family-friendly reruns of sitcoms like “I Dream of Jeannie” and westerns like “The Big Valley” and cop shows like “Adam-12.”
Which is why TV Land could fill a need that had seemed to never need filling. After all, the very organizational hierarchy of programming on local stations was dependent upon selling reruns of old network shows. But things change and TV Land became an absolute necessity if you wanted to catch reruns of old shows that just simply were not going to find their way into the crowded world of strippers, skinheads and plastic surgery that dominated shows hosted by the likes of Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones. If you wanted to see something like “Dobie Gillis” or “McHale’s Navy” or “Have Gun, Will Travel” and your local cable provider did not have TV Land on its lineup of channels, then you were most likely flat out of luck.
Things to started to change at TV Land around 2007 when classic TV shows from the 1950s to 1970s became fewer and fewer and shows from the 1980s and after started showing up more and more. Suddenly, you were turning on TV Land and finding “Veronica’s Closet” instead of “Bewitched.” Or “The Practice” instead of “Marcus Welby , MD.” Such baffling additions to the lineup of TV Land acted as warning signs of the disaster looming on the horizon.
A disaster that arrived in the form of reality shows about Farrah Fawcett and repulsive people attending their high school reunion and equally repugnant people turning 40 years old. Which led to the repugnant “original” programming like “Hot in Cleveland” and “Kirstie” that has doubtlessly left many of those who tuned into TV Land in the mid-1990s scratching their heads and wondering if it could possibly be the same place on their cable lineup where they used to tune in to watch cleverly written sitcoms about people who didn’t make you want to stick spikes into their eyes and ears.
As unpleasant an experience as it may be to watch the relentlessly unfunny shenanigans of characters on TV Land “originals” like “Soul Man” and “The Exes” there is an even more unpleasant experience awaiting those remaining loyal TV Land fans who tune in to the occasional airing of older TV shows that earned the network its reputation.
I began noticing this trend on TV Land while watching “The Andy Griffith Show” one day. Just to make sure it wasn’t limited to that particular show at that particular time of day, I experiment with other shows aired throughout the day. And what I discovered about the way that TV Land treats those shows that were its original bread and butter and brought in the revenue that has earned it enough money to waste on the salaries of everyone ever employed by any of its original programming is actually rather shocking.
Those of us who have grown up on television have long noticed that there seem to be more commercials during a half hour of networking programming that there used to be. The actual running time for the first time-time airing of an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in the 1960s was typically a little over 25 minutes. The running time for a first-run episode of “Cheers” in the early 1990s was around 24 minutes. A first-run episode of “Modern Family” in 2014 only took up about 21 minutes of its half-hour time slot. A first-run episode of a dramatic program airing during the 1960s might be in excess of 50 minutes while a first-run episode of a dramatic TV show in 2014 typically is around 44 minutes. Clearly, there has been a sustained trend of fitting more commercials into a 30 or 60 minute block of programming.
But TV Land has taken that overall trend to brand new lows. When the episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” titled “Three’s a Crowd” first aired on April 9, 1962 it had a running time of about 25 and a half minutes including opening and closing credits. When the same episode aired in syndication on TV Land in June 2014 it was in a significantly different form.
For one thing, the official time slot for the episode to air was 45 minutes. A half-hour sitcom with an original running time of about 25:30 is used to fill up a 45 minute block of programming on TV Land in the mid-morning on a weekday. That right there should be a sign of something sinister. I set up the DVR to record that episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” so I could be as accurate as possible. And here is how the show broke down.
00:00 to 00:44 commercials.
00:45 to 7:20: Credits and opening segment of “The Andy Griffith Show .”
7:21 to 14.36: commercials , mostly consisting of promos for “Hot in Cleveland” and the newest addition to the lineup of “original programming” on TV Land, “Jennifer Falls.”
14:37 to 21:42: the second segment of “The Andy Griffith Show “
21.43 to 28:59: commercials
29:00 to 34.51: third segment of “The Andy Griffith Show”
34:52 to 42:25: commercials
42.26: to 43:19 Final segment of “The Andy Griffith Show.
So, right off the bat, the 45 minute time slot is a bit misleading. The full running time of the slot was closer to 43 minutes. But that’s neither here nor there. The real issue here is how much of that 43 minute time slot was taken up by the episode “Three’s a Crowd” which, remember, has a DVD running time in excess of 25 minutes. Give or take a few seconds here and there, the total running of “The Andy Griffith Show” adds up to around 22 minutes. Which means that even though the time slot in which this episode was run was 13 minutes longer than the original time slot in which it aired, close to four minutes of the show was cut from broadcast.
That would be bad enough by itself, but it gets worse. If the actual running time of “The Andy Griffith Show” episode titled “Three’s a Crowd” took up about 22 minutes of the 43 minute slot in which it ran (and more likely it was a little less than 22 minutes) then that can only mean that at least an equal amount of the time slot was filled up by commercials.
Think about that. Anyone sitting down to watch that episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” as it aired live on TV Land that morning would have to spend as much time watching commercials as they spent watching the show they were so eager to enjoy. It almost makes those 8 minutes of commercials airing during first-run sitcoms and 15 minutes of commercials airing during first-run dramas on the networks these days look like a bargain.
Which may well be the point.