You don't watch a whole lot of TV, but you do like the news shows. Among your favorites is CBS' "48 Hours."
You'd like to watch it every week. You really would. The only problem is, you've had a heck of a time trying to find the program.Last season, it was on Thursdays at 7 p.m. Then, when the 1990-91 season began, "48" had jumped to Saturdays at 9 p.m.
After just a few weeks there, the show moved to Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Except that it ran every so often on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. or Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Now you hear that the show's new "permanent" time slot is Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Confused? You're not alone.
And neither is "48 Hours" in this increasingly bizarre television season.
The broadcast networks have always been competitive. And they operate with sort of a hair-trigger mentality - if a show doesn't work, instantly pull it or move it.
But this year has been particularly brutal. Not only are ad revenues down, not only is the Big Three's share of the audience dwindling, but ABC, CBS and NBC are locked in the tightest battle for No. 1 since 1964-65.
The 1990-91 season wraps up Monday, and NBC (which has held commanding leads for the past five seasons) will squeak past ABC and CBS for another win. Going into the final week, NBC held the top spot by averaging a 12.7 rating, while ABC was just two-tenths of a rating point behind at 12.5 and CBS just another two-tenths behind at 12.5.
With the battle this close - and with each tenth of a rating point worth about $15 million in advertising - patience at the networks has been in even shorter supply than usual.
And for the viewers, it has meant shows are bouncing from one night to another, one time to another, off the schedule, back on the schedule . . . basically, it's a mess.
Here are just a few examples of what's happened to network series this season:
- "Evening Shade" started out on Fridays at 7 p.m. before moving to Mondays at 7 p.m., swapping places with "Uncle Buck."
- "Uncle Buck," after moving from Mondays to Fridays, went on hiatus. (A sort of never-never land for TV shows - they're not quite canceled and will probably show up again sometime, but nobody knows when.) "Buck" returned from hiatus for a few weeks on Saturdays at 7 p.m. - now it's back in limbo again.
- "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" spent much of the season on Mondays at 9 p.m. before disappearing without much explanation. "Rosie" returned for one Monday night recently - with a rerun - and now it's waiting around for a new night and/or time.
- "thirtysomething" spent most of the season in its regular Tuesday at 9 p.m. position. Then, rather suddenly, it was sent on a six-week hiatus to make room for "Eddie Dodd."
- "Eddie Dodd" proved to be such a ratings bomb that it was canceled after two airings and pulled from the air after its fourth airing - meaning "thirtysomething" returned two weeks earlier than scheduled.
- "Wings" did quite well as a spring series last year, airing after "Cheers" on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. So it returned last fall, only this time on Fridays at 8:30 p.m., after "Night Court." Then NBC moved it back to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.
- "Night Court," which also aired after "Cheers" once upon a time, moved from Wednesdays at 8 p.m. to Fridays at 8 p.m. when the '90-'91 season began. Now it's back on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
- "Seinfeld" began as a summer series last year, airing after "Cheers" on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Then it returned a few weeks ago on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., only to be sent on hiatus before showing up again on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.
- "Quantum Leap" moved from Wednesday at 9 p.m. to Fridays at 7 p.m., then back again.
- "Dark Shadows" began as a two-part, four-hour miniseries on Sunday and Monday. Then it moved to Fridays at 8 p.m. before being bumped back to Fridays at 9 p.m.
- "Midnight Caller" moved from Tuesdays at 9 p.m. to Fridays at 9 p.m., only to be sent on hiatus for a few weeks before reappearing on Fridays again.
- "Lenny" began life on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before going on hiatus. Then it moved to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. for a few weeks. It's now on hiatus again.
- "The Flash" started out on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Then "Top Cops" expanded from 30 minutes to an hour (Thursday at 7 p.m.), bumping "The Flash" to 8 p.m. Then our hero became somewhat of a vagabond, spending a week on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and a week on Saturday at 9 p.m. It's now supposed to be on Saturdays at 7 p.m. - at least for a few weeks.
And then there's the strange saga of "Twin Peaks," which began life as a two-hour Sunday night movie last season.
From there, it moved to Thursdays at 8 p.m. - except for one week, when it aired on Wednesday at 9 p.m
Then, as the '90-91 season began, it shifted to Saturdays at 9 p.m. - except for the season premiere, another two-hour movie on a Sunday.
This was until it was yanked from the schedule and sent on hiatus. ABC then returned the series to Thursdays at 8 p.m., promising to run out the string by airing the final six episodes there.
Ah, but network promises are made to be broken. "Peaks" is being yanked again after next week's episode. The final two hours will show up almost two months later, as a Monday night movie on June 10.
And the networks wonder why their share of the audience continues to decline.
Not that schedule shuffling is the only thing that's made it almost impossible for the viewer to keep up with what's on TV. In their rush to improve their ratings, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox introduced more than 30 new series last fall, more than any average viewer could possibly keep track of.
Not surprisingly, none of those 30-plus series has proved to be a big hit, and oldies like "Cheers," "60 Minutes" and "Roseanne" continue to dominate the ratings.
Here's just a partial list of series that have come and gone since September:
"American Chronicles," "American Dreamer," "Cop Rock," "Dark Shadows," "Davis Rules," "D.E.A.," "Doctor, Doctor," "E.A.R.T.H. Force," "Equal Justice," "Family Man," "The Fanelli Boys," "Ferris Bueller," "Going Places," "Good Grief," "Haywire," "Hull High," "Lenny," "Life Stories," "Married People," "Over My Dead Body," "Parenthood," "Sons and Daughters," "Sunday Best," "Uncle Buck," "WIOU," "Working It Out" and "You Take the Kids."
And, never fear, we're not finished yet. There are several more new shows coming our way in the next few weeks.
But don't get too attached to any of them. Or at least don't get too attached to watching them on any particular day or time.
Chances are they'll be doing some bouncing around of their own.