I’d love to hear an explanation as to why, sometime in the past 5 years, tv stations have dropped multiple part series for sweeps months.
I remember growing up watching Birmingham television, every station in the market would have multi-part “series” pieces during May, November, and February. Kind of like “Roots” or “Rich Man/Poor Man”, these news departments put together interesting, sometimes provocative 3 or 5 part series that would air during the newscasts. The stories would either air during the 6 or 10 o’clock news, and if it aired Monday at 10, the following pieces would run at 10 the rest of the week.
Some of these series were investigative. Some…were just darn interesting. I remember one in particular from WVTM-13, the NBC affiliate. I was in high school when a reporter put together a series on fast food. They wanted to see which fast food places were truly the fastest. Using cameras put in vans, they sent in a reporter or intern to place an order. At precisely the same time, they had another reporter or intern place an identical order in the drive-thru. They then put a clock on the orders and showed it on screen.
One night they chose several McDonalds, then they’d tease “tomorrow, we’ll try Burger King” and then Wednesday it was “Wendys” and then “Krystals” and “Captain D’s”. Then at the end of the week, they gave us the entire report card.
Now I remember everybody talking about this series. Especially us high school kids. And you know what, if someone missed a night, or didn’t know it was on, everybody told them how they just had to watch it the next night. By the middle of the week, even the newspapers had picked up on the story. News? Nope. But it was interesting, and since everybody…I mean everybody eats at fast food restaurants when they’re in a hurry, it was universal.
Fast forward to 2006. TV station newsrooms are busy researching and/or shooting so-called “series pieces” for May. But they’re not series at all. One story. One newscast. Special reports, maybe 2-3 minutes in length. They’ve moved away from true “series” and produce only these reports.
I’ve had news directors try to explain why nobody does “series” anymore. “Consultants” they claim “say people don’t tune in from one night to the next for series pieces. And if we do try multiple reports, we have to air them the same night in several different newscasts”.
That just doesn’t add up to me. I’m working now on a special report for next month which may be the biggest undertaking of a series that I’ve ever done. It could be the most interesting series I’ve ever worked on. Shoot, it could be a great documentary that I don’t believe anyone has done before. If it’s done right, I’m certain viewers would talk about it at work, tell others about it, and tune in night after night. Trouble is, I’m afraid it might not get that chance. I’m afraid intstead of really looking at the subject matter and talking with everyone who has different opinions and ideas, we’ll wind up putting it together in one 3 minute piece. Miss it…and it’s over.
I’m lobbying for a return to the old days of multiple-night series pieces. And I’m lobbying hard.
So somebody tell me…why doesn’t multiple-series ideas work? Or why do consultants say they don’t work? If it’s interesting enough, do you think people will talk about it and tune in night after night. Couldn’t it lead people to make an appointment to watch? Or have our attention spans shrunk to the point we can’t look past 3 minutes?