The 41-minute Hour

Over the weekend, Robbie expressed a desire to see Stealth. I told him it was an old story, better told by Star Trek. After dinner last night, we were looking for something to watch and Deb suggested we show him the episode. Well, twist my arm…

Sure enough, “The Ultimate Computer” was a little over-the-top, a little ham-fisted in its message but still, a very entertaining story. About the biggest difference between this and the new movie is Jessica Biel in a bikini.

One of the things I noticed about the show was that the characters talked to one another. It wasn’t just exposition, but the characters discussed their feelings, their doubts and fears about man being replaced by machine. Even Spock got off some interesting observations such as his desire not to serve under a machine.

I delighted in letting the characters breath, so to speak and then I was reminded of an article I read the other week. David Kelly, the terrific producer of Boston Legal, etc. lamented that going into the new season he had maybe 41 minutes to tell his story every week. He lost time to opening and closing credits but the vast majority of the remaining 19 minutes was devoted to commercials.

The Star Trek episode, with credits, ran 51 minutes. So, since the late 1960s, producers have lost 10 minutes of storytelling time. Who suffers? Well, the actors for one who generally don’t get a lot to do. The writers also are hurting because they need to strip down their stories or worse, dumb them down.

Obviously it can be done. We’ve delighted in Aaron Sorkin’s use of language and theatrics for several seasons and lately there have been Battlestar Galactica, Gilmore Girls, and yes, even Boston Legal which seem to rise above the time constraints.

Still, Kelly complained that at this rate he would have to look to the basic cable or pay cable channels to get more time for his stories. After all, when HBO says you’re getting an hour program, you’re getting as many as 58-59 minutes of that hour most weeks.

I suppose an alternative would be to lengthen the shows to 90 minutes, have few clutter the schedule and really let the writers have a field day. Guys like Kelly could rise to the occasional and even Dick Wolf might find ways to make the extra time work. Other shows, weaker efforts, would merely flounder. Then again, it’s always been survival of the fittest and this would just be another test.

With so many commercials cluttering the hour, it’s no wonder our family has evolved to time shifting just about all out TV watching so we can zip through the commercials and do 4-5 hours of programming in closer to 3.5 hours. A much more effective use of my time, but not necessarily equaling better entertainment.

3 comments

  • gormuu

    90 minutes would be great- for all the reasons you suggest! But do you think they could shoot weekly shows on such a schedule?

    Shows like Law and Order have always had to be compressed, and even though they have been pretty good (especially the best years of the main show), it would have been interesting to see what they could have done with a little more time.

  • I’m not so sure the average person would be willing to devote 90 minutes of time to one program…I think shows would have a much tougher time attracting new viewers.

    Scary as it is to contemplate, maybe the answer lies in increased product placement?

  • I think you’ve stumbled onto yet another reason why TV programs are increasingly limiting themselves to less than 20 episodes a year, Gormuu, with your comments on Bob’s idea.

    Yours,

    Dwight