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FiTV

Living by the TV schedule

My mother often refers to Tuesdays as “Mark Harmon night.”  I’ve long accepted her devotion to the NCIS actor.  And after almost 18 season on the same night, Tuesdays have certainly earned this distinction.

And that’s saying something considering the lack of consistency in the television schedule.  Fifty years ago, there were three networks and primarily one TV season: September to May – with a brief hiatus for Christmas specials.  The summer revolved around repeats, more specials and made-for-TV movies and mini-series.  So for much of the year, the TV line-ups for each night were pretty much set in stone.

That said, we knew what day of the week it was by the show that aired that night.  When I was growing up, Tuesdays meant Happy Days.  And despite current day revelations, Thursdays belonged to Bill Cosby, Cheers and L.A. Law.

Fridays were for the politically incorrect Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas.  If The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were on, it must be Saturday night.  And of course, families gathered Sunday evenings for The Wonderful World of Disney.

It seems a simplistic way of following the passing of time.  But I was a kid and I didn’t exactly keep a datebook.  The TV Guide was my calendar and it was reliable.

These days, TV schedules are anything but.  With an increasing variety of channels and online platforms available, the TV networks are constantly re-organizing their schedules to improve their ratings and get the highest advertising dollar.  That makes for a rather fluid line-up each season.

But in the past year, COVID-related production delays have wreaked havoc with the schedule.  Shows are changing times and even days every other week.  After all, the networks have 24-hours a day, seven days a week to fill – each one of them with a dollar sign attached.  That’s 16 minutes of revenue potential versus 44 minutes of costs.

So I get the importance of the accountants’ balance sheet.  However, with people out of work or working from home, their own regular schedules are also flying out the window.  Many have lost track of time.

How often have you heard someone complain that they don’t know what day it is anymore?  And weekends?  What are those?

The personal daily routines that helped so many organize their schedules are gone.  And half their schedules and to-do lists have either been cancelled or become virtual.  That lack of routine and the way it grounds us is causing stress levels to peak.

And that’s where television comes in.  Not with a “very special” episode of Dr. Phil or some star-studded mental health P.S.A.’s.  (Although who wouldn’t mind a little Ryan Reynolds action?)  Instead, the networks should focus on making the TV schedule stable again.  Predictable.

In the midst of this ever-changing, stress-laden world, give viewers a touchstone.  Something we can rely on just because … it’s Thursday.  Stability keeps us sane.  And off YouTube.

I know my mom feels better when she goes to bed with Mark Harmon every Tuesday.