Whose Line Is It Anyway? Why do some shows return from the dead?

Aisha Tyler

Aisha Tyler (Photo credit: MandeePhoto)

Watching TV in the summer used to mean surfing channels of reruns, but lately there seems to be a slew of “new” shows that are repeating old ones. Networks and cable channels are bringing back previously popular shows such as “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, “Hawaii Five-O”, and “Dynasty”. While some people are thrilled that their favorite shows are back, a lot more of us are wondering why we need to keep rehashing the past.

The answer isn’t that the networks have suddenly become nostalgic. With increasing competition from internet videos and more cable channels, many TV networks have seen their profit from advertising drop in the past several years. More worrisome for the networks, many economists are predicting that the model of having companies pay for advertising during show breaks will become obsolete over the next decade.

These factors mean that TV stations are not very willing to take risks with new shows. A new drama or science fiction show can take millions of dollars to produce, and in some cases it will be pulled within a few episodes if it fails to catch on. When reviving an old show, a network has some guarantee that it will be popular. While not every remake catches on (Charlie’s Angels anyone?), a remake will usually attract enough interest to make the first episode a success.

The costs to produce these shows are also much lower than “new” shows. In many cases, networks already own the property rights to the show as well as contracts with many of the former actors, directors, and producers. In several cases, they also have access to props, costumes, and set pieces. Because of this, they can produce a pilot for a much lower costs than a “new” show.

Finally, advertisers like the idea of bringing back a show. While a network usually has to struggle to find sponsors for shows that don’t have a full season of Nielsen data to show, they can easily sell a show that advertisers are already familiar with. Furthermore, advertisers like that they know what to expect. Without seeing a single episode, an advertiser can accurately guess at the demographic that will be attracted to the show just by looking at the data from the original show. Because advertisers are familiar with the plot of these shows, they are also more willing to negotiate for product placement within the show itself. In some cases, advertisers have even suggested how their product could be incorporated into an episode before the first script is even finalized.

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Comcast: A National Treasure

This week, we upgraded our cable TV package.   We were on their most basic 15-channel plan, now we’re on Digital Economy, giving my wife the extra channels she’s been suffering without for the last few years.

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...

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Our Tivo died last week.  I love my Tivo, and we saw its death coming, so we ordered a replacement.  We accidentally ordered the wrong one.  We got the one that can’t take a signal straight off of the cable.  It needs a cablecard.

Crap.

We could send it back and miss out on the Tivo for another week, or we could upgrade our cable package.

Hmm….

We looked at Comcast’s site to see what was available.  Boost Plus–a internet + TV package–was available for $69.99/month for a year.   That’s $6 more than we were paying, for about 30 more channels and it came with 2 years of free HBO.  Yay!

Call Comcast.

The rep couldn’t find the offer, but there’s another one for $79.99 with no HBO, would we like that?

No, and we need to call the online offer number, since you can’t just transfer me.  WTF?

So I ordered from the website directly, because I was getting sick of people already.   I love e-commerce, just for that reason.

The last step of the process?  A 30 minute online chat with a rep to schedule a tech.   Grr.

After “Hello”, the first thing the rep said was, “Based on our conversation, the best thing to suit your needs is…”   A freaking upsell to open the conversation.   Buddy, you don’t know my needs.   You’re here to run a calendar.  I hate people.

No, I don’t want Triple Play.  Your phone service isn’t cheaper than I’m paying now.

No, I don’t want a zillion channels.   I have Netflix and a Roku.

No, I will not pay modem rental.  I bought my own for $50 instead of paying you $7/month for it.

No, I don’t want equipment protection.  The box will be on my dresser, out of reach.  If it breaks on its own, I’ll return it.

Yes, I do want the deal to last the entire year–per the ad–instead of the 6 months you’re trying to change it to.

Great!  Now my choices are a) pay $10 to have the new cable box shipped, b) pay $30 for a tech to come over and plug in 2 cables, c) drive to the cable office and pick up the box.   I’ll take the 15 minute drive and combine it with lunch with my wife, thanks.  I have to go there for the cablecard, anyway, since that’s not something you ship.

Wait a second!  Going to the store means we’re going to cancel everything we’ve just done?  And the store doesn’t have access to this deal, either?   Nevermind, I’ll take the shipping charges.

WTF?

So, it’s off to the store to get my card, but not the box that will ship from that store.   After a 30 minute wait, the wonderful(no sarcasm) lady behind the counter was happy to give me a card.  Unfortunately, the rep from the previous night had entered the wrong deal, with a note on the account mentioning the correct one.  Because that’s how computers and automated billing systems work.   His plan left an error on the account that prevented anything new from being added, like my cablecard.

Grr.

Double guh-errr.

Let’s cancel everything from the previous night.    There’s a better deal.

We got the same package for $49.99/month for a year, then $69.99/month for another year, with HBO for $5/month.  I got to leave with my card and my box.  Wee!  I love you, lady!

Comcast, seriously, WTF?

Now, if I could just get Tivo to recognize the channel lineup for Digital Economy.

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Five Ways to Save Money On Cable

Cable is a luxury.   There are very few people out there who can actually and legitimately consider cable television to be a necessity of life.  For the rest of us, it’s just something that’s nice to have.   Unfortunately, it’s expensive.  In my area, prices come as high as $90 plus tax, and that’s not including any of the fancy channels that could feed my True Blood addiction.  If you start adding on channels, you can get up to $250 per month.

That’s a lot of cash.

Cutting back on cable TV is one of the easiest ways to get your spending under control.  Here are 5 ways to make it happen.

1.  Ditch it

Do you really need cable at all?  How much of your life do you waste in front of the TV?  This wouldn’t work well in my house.  We enjoy too many shows, and a lack of TV aggravates my insomnia.   When I wake up at 2AM, I need something mindless to distract me while I fall back asleep.

2.  Netflix Instant

I love my Netflix.   With Instant, as long as you aren’t too hooked on watching the latest show as it comes out, you can catch most of the show you enjoy.   There are thousands of TV series to choose from.   I make a habit of choosing a couple of shows at a time, and watching the entire series before moving on.  This does have the drawback of leaving you a couple of seasons behind for some shows, like In Plain Sight.  Grr.

3.  Go basic

If you do need TV, do you need the extended cable-only channels?  Can you get by with basic cable, and just get the shows that would be otherwise broadcast?   That’s what we did.  This, combined with #2, make TV cheap and easy.

4.  All internet

Did you know that you can use a Roku box to get Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and more?  I have more channels available there than I’ve ever had on cable.   Starting at $50, it’s a steal.

5.  Drop the fancy channels

HBO, Skinimax, and Showtime are pure unnecessary luxuries.  Save yourself some money and buy each series on DVD as they come out.   If you buy one a month, you’ll still come out ahead.

I’m not about to tell you that cable is evil or that TV is rotting your brain.  I enjoy my rot, and you should be able to do so, too.   Try not to waste extra money doing it.

How do you save money on TV?

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Ditch Cable and Still Enjoy TV

A cutaway diagram of a coaxial cable
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Cable is expensive. If you have more than just basic cable, you are probably paying at least $65 per month or more, just for TV.   How can you save on television, without stealing cable?

The good news is that, in the internet age, it is possible to fully enjoy TV without having to pay exorbitant fees to the cable company.

Basic Cable

Basic cable generally runs about $15 per month, but it usually comes with a $10 per month discount on internet access if you use cable for that.   For $5 per month, you can get all of the local broadcast channels, including the news and weather, which we use in the morning while getting ready for work.

Netflix

We watch movies.  We watch lots of movies.  Spending $14 per month for an unlimited 2-at-a-time plan is a no-brainer for us.  It has also enabled us to scratch the movie itch without resorting to HBO or incessant movie purchases, which used to run $100+ each month.   When you include Netflix instant in the equation, which gives us a ton of older movies to choose from at a moment’s notice, we are more than covered for our movie obsession.

Hulu

Hulu.com has a metric crapload of TV shows and movies available for free.   They are moving towards a partial pay model, but most of their content will still be free.  But, you don’t want to crowd your family around a 15-inch laptop screen to watch something, you say?  Fine. We went to our local computer parts store and bought cables and converters to go from the video-out and headphone jacks on the laptop to the inputs on our VCR.    That cost about $30 for 2 extension cords and 2 converters.   We use the analog outputs, which allows for cheaper converters.  The quality after conversion is no worse than watching a movie in the VCR.

TiVo

TiVo comes with a Video-On-Demand(VOD) section, if you connect it to the internet.   It’s mostly free, with hundreds of channels to choose from, ranging from trailers to full shows and movies.   I have a season pass to TEDTalks, which are always impressive and usually inspirational.   There are many more channels to choose from.

Torrent

I’m kidding.  I’m not advocate piracy.  This is just search-engine bait.

As you can see, it’s entirely possible to save money on cable, without missing out on anything you care about.  How do you save money on TV and movies?

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