Monday, May 21, 2012

Simpons By The Numbers

There's been a good deal written on the web about the longevity and nearly universal consession of the creative decline of "The Simpsons." A quick search would unveil much more than I can say here, other than Thad's review of John Ortved’s The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History sums it all up in the best way I've read so far. I have nothing more to add to the discussion of the creative issues befalling "The Simpsons" other than these two points:

All major creative properties of appreciable quality suffer zeniths and nadirs in both production and pop culture status. Any fan of Batman, Sherlock Holmes, or Doctor Who already knows this.

Perhaps the rarest of all occurrences in television is the weekly comedy that actually improves with each season.  ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Red Green Show," "The Big Bang Theory")

The problem here is that we are trying to find a solution to a problem that isn't considered a problem by the network or producers. Sure, we know the show has slipped over the years, but the ratings are still good. In fact, "The Simpsons" is undeniably a cash cow: a program that is so entrenched in our pop culture that it has become a ritual for the viewers regardless of quality, therefore a source of revenue that simply works. Hey Fox, how did "Terra Nova" do last season? Nevermind. We've got "The Simpsons" to make up for it. So how does anyone provide solid evidence that something is amiss?

I would like to offer an alternative approach. We need to find a way of quantifying the problem with "The Simpsons," a more scientific approach, if you will, taken from the point of view of a master control operator at a local Fox affiliate, where it is possible to maintain full legal operational status of the station during the half-hour "The Simpson's" is scheduled and never actually see a single frame of the show. For your consideration, I submit...

Simpsons By The Numbers: the Master Control accounting of every second during an episode of the Sunday Night Cash Cow.

(The following data is based on an actual Fox timing sheet emailed to operators at affiliates. Legally, I can't reproduce the actual sheet, as this is considered confidential corporate communication, but I can paraphrase and interpret it. And anyone at home with an "atomic" clock and a pad and paper can log all this as it occurs anyway. In other words, the confidential nature of the memo is negated when the network broadcasts its contents over hundreds of TV stations nationwide.)

Our accounting begins at 7:00:00PM EDT on Sunday May 20, 2012 when Fox begins Sunday Prime Time programming and a rerun episode of "The Simpsons" episode number SI2307HL At Long Last Leave takes to the air in High Definition letterbox format. Only... it doesn't. The first item on the Fox timing sheet is:

7:00:00P - :15 - Net Bumper - Sun Night Open

The first 15 seconds of prime time is taken by a bumper promo that tells us this is Sunday Night and we're watching Fox. And now, on with the show!

Simpsons Segment 1 - 5:54 

At 7:06:09 Real Time we cut to a network commercial break. There is 1:30 of commercials followed by one full minute of network promos for "Glee" and "House" for a total pod of 2:30.

Bullshit - 2:30

Back to the show.

Simpsons Segment 2 - 4:47

At 7:13:27RT we hit another network break. After 1:15 of spots, we get a :06 bumper that leads into a local break. Now your local affiliate is running 1:30 of local commercials, many of whom have paid a premium rate to be scheduled here. After the local spots, we return to the network for something that runs :15 called "Take Me Out." Don't know what that is, but it adds another 15 seconds before we return to the show.

Network Bullshit - 1:15 + :06
Local Bullshit - 1:30
More Net Bullshit - :15
Total Bullshit - 3:06

Segment 3 of the show is a whopping 5:55. Whoa, look out! What are we, PBS?

Simpsons Segment 3 - 5:55

At 7:22:29RT a 2 minute network break, followed by a 10 second promo, followed by a 10 second local station identification insert (legal ID) followed by 20 seconds of promo for "The Choice" and a 10 second promo telling us "The Cleveland Show" is next.

Net Bullshit - 1:30
Local ID - :10 (unnecessary considering we insert a graphic ID at the top of each show.)
Additional Network Promotional Bullshit - :30
Total Bullshit -2:20

The final segment of "The Simpsons" clocks in at a running time of 4:29.

I'll do the math:

Grand total of "Simpsons" content - 21:05
Grand total of Bullshit - 8:11
Grand Total of "The Simpsons" episode program pod - 29:16

You'll notice the math doesn't come out right. First, "The Cleveland Show" was scheduled to start at 7:29:20PM EDT. That's right; "The Simpsons" was cheated 40 seconds. Most likely there was 40 seconds of this rerun left unsold, but I don't know for certain why this ran short. Second, there are moments of black between the various elements that last a fraction of a second, but over the course of an entire show add up to several seconds... in this case 4 seconds. That's within tolerance. In other words, by the time all this stuff airs in Real Time it's 7:29:20.

But here is the number you should pay attention to: Grand Total of "Simpsons" content = 21:05.
The classic duration time for a half-hour program used to be 22:30. Hmmmm.

The new "Simpsons" at 8:00:00 - actual start time 7:59:11 - episode number SI2314HL Lisa Goes Gaga clocked in with

Segment 1 - 7:39
Segment 2 - 6:52
Segment 3 - 2:46 (!)
Segment 4 - 4:36

That's a grand total of 21:53 of content. That's a bit better and nearer to the classic standard, but check out segment 3... two minutes and forty-six seconds of "Simpsons" between commercials. The spot pod just before it was 2:05 of network spots followed by a 1:50 local break, for a total commercial break duration of 3:55. That's right, segment 3 of "The Simpsons" was shorter than the commercial break preceding it. And I'm overlooking the fact that the entire episode was a product placement for a record company.

Last week, while watching - trying to watch at home, I went to the bathroom and completely missed segment 3 of that week's episode.

Wanna know what's wrong with "The Simpsons?" One word... MOO. MOOOO.