The Rerun

11 Oct

In the Williams article there was a lot of discussion about production costs and the history of the rerun.  He gave attention to how and when reruns happened (both historically and through programming schedules).  Something that I find interesting about reruns is how they give shows life after their original run.  There are so many shows that owe part of their cultural status to reruns.  For example, Star Trek found much of it’s cultural relevance in it’s syndicated run.  The constant and consistent airing in combination with the added exposure brings the opportunity to start a new show without having to invest in DVD sets, internet televisions, subscriptions, or the effort to find episodes online.  For a show like How I Met Your Mother, reruns have contributed to it’s massive success, as new viewers have had the opportunity to discover the show, catch up, and start the newer seasons (  

Reruns play a vital role for viewership.  Unlike movies which can be re-watched in theaters or purchased or rented, TV shows typically air once and that’s it until the rerun.  It makes it difficult to re-watch certain episodes.  In addition, since TV has multiple episodes making up a whole work, and since the total hours hours of air time will exceed the average movie length, it become difficult to manage if you miss a season because you have to play catch-up to some extent.  Reruns provide a venue for catching what you missed or re-watching specific parts.  They ease the process of discovery, and give shows another arena to garner viewers.

20 Responses to “The Rerun”

  1. hcloftus October 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    After reading William’s article, which focuses heavily on the network side of syndication– the competition between procuring shows, the technology involved which makes syndication possible, the sheer amount of money involved, etc– I think it is equally important to consider the viewer’s side of syndication in conjunction. For example, the high cost sale sale of the “Cosby Show” by Viacom might not make any sense in the context of the article without knowing to what extent the show found cultural relevance in reruns. Even today, I can say that I even know what the “Cosby Show” is due to syndication.

  2. Mikki October 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I think you do a nice job of summarizing the economic importance of the rerun, but I wonder if we can perhaps push the issue of narrative a bit further. On the one hand, yes, the rerun serves as an excellent source for “catching up” or even bringing in new viewers, but I think it speaks to the episode format and genre. As you’ve mentioned, shows like How I Met Your Mother, as well as other enduring cancelled shows like Seinfeld and Friends, are immensely successful in rerun. This is part seems to be because of the contained narrative format of the sit com (or, for shows like Law & Order, a single episode narrative) that allows for the viewer to hop in an out of the show regardless of where it stands within the season. Sit coms in particular seem to utilize only the smallest of narrative threads, that strike a careful balance between keeping the regular viewers hooked (drawing them back week to week), while allowing for the casual viewer to slip in an out without loosing one’s place within the show’s diagesis. This seems to rely heavily on character development and thus reinforcing that character type throughout the show’s lifespan. Other than perhaps simple interpersonal or professional character developments, sit com characters rarely diverge from their established type, and instead move in a cycle of endless “progressions” that never bring about any fundamental change to the show’s central plot: a kind of illusion of development without ever actually going anywhere. This can even draw us back to Spigel’s article with regards to TV’s development of habits. In a sense the sit com’s longevity through the rerun comes from a form of habit that is developed by returning to the same central character and narrative devices to establish a sense of familiarity through repetition. We can slip in an out of the sit com (among many other narrative formats) as the reruns air, and continually return to them as a source of habitual comfort in the familiar, established patterns of narrative containment. And additionally, as you’ve mentioned above, others begin to be drawn in through these reruns, falling into the same cyclical patterns of narrative, viewing habits and characterization.

  3. crystalfong October 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    I definitely agree with what Mikki said. When I was reading the Williams article, at the same time I was thinking back to what re-runs I’ve watched throughout my life such as Simpsons, House, Jackie Chan Adventures — they are all sit-coms or single episode narratives. There’s definitely that feeling of comfort and control when I can pick any episode and fully enjoy it without the confusion of what’s going on storywise. At the same time, I have a different sense of enjoyment when I binge on a drama series and I’m following along the ups and downs of a specific plot-line. It just made me think, if I was about to create a TV show, would it be more successful to make a hit serial drama show or to make a sit-com that could later be syndicated as re-runs years later? Or if we polled viewers, if they prefer one over the other? I would predict that those who lead a busy life with long hours would prefer sit-coms they can watch any episode that’s on, as opposed to, say college students who have time to binge on shows after class or on weekends.

  4. vhas October 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    I think it would be interesting to explore why certain shows seem to have more popularity once rerun when compared to their original run. Aside from the obvious answer of word-of-mouth from the viewership that watched the series in it’s original run, I feel like there might be something more either about the format of these shows themselves or perhaps in the advertising for the shows by their respective networks that affects their success in viewership. When I ask this question, a show that comes to mind is “Arrested Development,” which only garnered a cult following during its original run resulting in its cancellation after a short three seasons. However, a combination of reruns of the show and release of the seasons on DVD made it more accessible to viewers who hadn’t seen it in its original run. Considering the show’s immense popularity post-cancellation, where were all of these viewers before?

  5. alessiofranko October 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Your analysis suggests something that I think is very true, which is that networks aim to create consistent viewership for their shows. In my experience, it doesn’t even stop at “following” a show, in the sense that I am caught up with the story and tune in every week for more. Often this experience goes much deeper in that I not only want to see new episodes, but am more inclined to watch a rerun that I have already seen, for the second, third, fourth, or even fifth time than I am to watch a program I’ve never seen before. I think this has a lot to do with TV’s function as a relaxation outlet, as it allows you to watch with attention, following a story, or to nestle into an incredibly comfortable, familiar world.

  6. rohulray October 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    I think this conversation about what type of television narratives are best suited for the syndicated rerun format is interesting. Traditionally, formulaic shows with countless self-contained, single-episode narratives (i.e. multi-camera sitcoms and procedural crime dramas) are safe bets as far as ratings go, even with the recent meteoric rise of ad-free streaming services like Netflix. I occasionally find myself guilty of watching Family Guy reruns late at night (another show that enjoyed a revitalizing post-cancellation afterlife thanks to syndication on Adult Swim) and suffering through television’s segmented flow of commercial breaks, despite having a Netflix subscription. There’s definitely a kind of pacifying comfort to being fed images by a TV channel, as opposed to dealing with the sometimes-overwhelming luxury of choice afforded by Netflix. Also, as someone mentioned in class, there’s sometimes a nostalgic comfort to watching old, cancelled shows on TV (i.e. the ’90s Are All That block on TeenNick).

    Also, one note about Arrested Development: If I recall correctly, it really only had a successful afterlife in the DVD format, since it was the rare comedy series with a more continuous, serialized narrative that made it more binge-friendly than rerun-friendly — definitely not the type of show one could tune into mid-season and catch all the references to previous episodes.

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