December 31, 2009 Leave a comment
I’ve certainly enjoyed watching many a favorite show in syndicated re-runs through the years. I seem to recall good ‘ol WDCA 20 in Washington, DC, running the Star Trek episodes in order when I was a kid (I would know, I do own the Star Trek Compendium), but generally speaking, you might see a 2nd season Seinfeld one night followed by a 5th season episode the next. Slate’s explainer explains why. Not surprisingly, it pretty much comes down to the economics:
But why do stations program shows out of sequence?
It's more economical. Certain episodes are more popular than others, so it's in a station's best interest to play them more often. These episodes can command higher ad rates and can serve as attractive lead-ins to other network shows. During the holidays, it's more important to air thematically appropriate episodes than adhere to strict series chronology. And certain guest stars, in the limelight for one reason or another, can make episodes newly relevant. Furthermore, stations don't always purchase an entire series. Rather than license the entire 11-year, 251-episode run of M*A*S*H, for example, a station may cherry-pick a few seasons (the early, McLean Stevenson years, perhaps) and create a subcycle out of the larger whole.
It's only in recent years that viewers expect to see nonserialized shows presented chronologically. Those who watch TV shows on DVD or Hulu can track a series by season and episode number, but such habits run counter to the original conception of these shows as stand-alone entertainments—precisely what makes them ideal syndication commodities. For syndicators and advertisers, there's a direct correlation between programming flexibility and market value.
There you have it—just get used to watching them out of order. I do feel better knowing why.