Late Night Law and Order

11 Oct

I managed to watch two episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on two different channels. One at midnight on Oxygen and the other at 3am on Fox.

The one on Oxygen was an absolutely ridiculous experience–there were 45 commercials, over 6 commercial breaks, and one break had 11 commercials. Oxygen is a channel geared towards women, as evident by the programs they run, but it was surprising at how much the ads target women–a thing I never really noticed while watching the channel before. After reading the Spigel article, I became acutely aware to the types of ads that ran; all were very much targeting women, and more specifically, sad housewives that are awake at midnight watching Law and Order. The commercials were for other shows on Oxygen, discount shopping (K-Mart, Payless), cleaning supplies, skincare products, quick-fix foods (bread mix, etc), and (this is why I say “sad housewives”) California Psychics and Nutella and Hershey’s chocolate. This surprised me because one would think a whole network for women wouldn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of the housewife–that is, one who is always cleaning or cooking. But the incredibly long multiple commercial breaks seemed to almost parallel the shows of the 1950s that Spigel discusses that were short and segmented that provided information on shopping, cleaning, and beauty hints (among others) (81). One could probably go clean an entire room or prepare a whole meal in the time it took to get through one commercial break. Though, I don’t know why one would do that at midnight. It could perhaps be subliminally (or directly) targeting women for the next day–so they go to sleep after watching Law and Order thinking of Fleischmann’s bread mix or Downy Infusions.

As for the episode on at 3am on Fox, it actually started five minutes late and ended a minute early–so I don’t know if anything was cut from the episode, but there were far fewer commercials than on Oxygen (and probably less than when the episode originally aired), so the timing had to be adjusted. There were only 20 commercials over 6 breaks. These ads seemed to target a more general audience–but still aired on the side of addressing women (specifically ones that may be stay-at-home). These commercials were for other shows on Fox, cleaning supplies, items for children (Go-Gurt, Mucinex for kids), and skincare. There were also commercials that seemed to target people with depressing lives–Kanoski and Associates (legal aid), Lunesta (because people awake at 3am watching Law and Order probably need a sleep-aid), Keranique (for hair-loss in women), Geico, a Pradaxa injury alert (a blood-thinning drug), and stairlifts (for old people). I don’t really know what this says about the network or what they may think of the audience, but the later it got–the more sad the commercials became. I would think the opposite would happen, because it’s already depressing to watch Law and Order at 3am on a Tuesday on Fox, one doesn’t need to be told about a drug recall.

The other interesting thing about this is that Fox is a broadcast network, while Oxygen is a cable channel. So I would think the Fox episode would have more ads for cleaning supplies and more commercials in general, but that was not the case. Though, the time could have something to do with it. The network and ad agencies probably don’t think people who are up at 3am watching Law and Order are going to be the most focused consumers (if awake at all). This brought up the question (for me at least)–is there a correlation between time and content and target audience of commercials?

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3 Responses to “Late Night Law and Order”

  1. janfeldman October 11, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    There’s definitely a connection between the target audience and the ads that are shown. It also costs more to buy ads during popular broadcasts, whether it is a popular show or anything that airs during primetime. Think about ads during the Super Bowl, which are supposed to be astronomically expensive, but reach over 100 million people. Not many people watch Law and Order reruns late at night (on any channel), so this might be the only time some companies can afford to air their ads. Because they’re smaller companies, the ads probably don’t look as polished, which might contribute to the impression that they’re “sad.”

  2. Kirsten October 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    As an adolescent night owl, I often found myself in a strange place when it came to late-night advertisements. I was not quite a consumer in my own right, and I lost my commercial sway over my parents along with my childhood optimism around age 13, as all girls do. Oxygen commercials (during my fashion and house-cleaning shows) were particularly interesting for me as a teenage girl with a choice before me. It would be easy for me to be caught up in the skin care products, the fear of age and death that grips all women when they see their youthful beauty fading, and fall into that “sad housewife” stereotype before I even became a wife or a mother. These commercials acted like a kind of reverse aspirational devise. I did not want to become the kind of person sitting in front of the Oxygen network at 3:00 AM, pausing during the endless commercial breaks to examine the crows’ feet at the corner of my weary eyes.

    It’s likely that we all feel alienated by these “depressing” commercials, as young, unattached people with hope for the future. It’s interesting to think that the advertisers and the networks are in tune with an entirely separate demographic of late-night watchers: those beset by insomnia, prescription drug side effects, and suburban existential dread.

    • Keegan October 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      When thinking about the duration of the advertisement segments on each broadcast network, I think considering air times along with audience is productive. It would seem to me that someone awake watching Law and Order at 3:00 AM may be more likely to sit passively and watch complete ad segments, while an Oxygen viewer at midnight may be more prone to the channel surfing we’ve become conditioned to with the availability of cable TV guides. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with these two examples — as the earlier Oxygen episode was much more ad saturated than the later Fox episode. My gut instinct is that this has to do with a prevailing conception of the viewing habits of female audiences (expected with a network like Oxygen) mentioned in Spigel’s “Women’s Work.” Although, with features like channel guides, I might challenge the idea of there always being a predominantly female audience on Oxygen. I often find myself watching syndicated shows that I love regardless of network. For instance, TruTV may be one of the worst networks ever, but I’ll still watch it whenever Cops is on.

      All this being said, I think Jan is right to point to the economic factor involved — particularly with respect to the affordability of late night reruns.

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