Tuned In: Traditional TV season slips away

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"Why are there no new episodes of X show?"

"When will Y show be back?"

These recurring questions all trace back to the same issue: Viewers need to reset their expectations when seeking new episodes of their favorite TV series.

In the era before cable networks got addicted to original, scripted shows it was easy to know when to look for your favorite programs: Anytime between September and May original episodes would be on the air; from May to August, broadcast networks put out a "Gone Fishin' " sign.

With the advent of cable that easily understood schedule has been jettisoned -- and so has a predictable programming model that succeeded it.

In the early days of cable original series, cable networks pretty much only put their programming on in the summer when the broadcast networks went into hibernation.

As ratings for cable networks climb, cable outlets have gotten more aggressive and now program shows year-round. But they don't all do it in the same way, which can make it tough to keep up with when your TV favorite is rolling out new episodes.

Most of the time the premium and prestige cable networks (HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC) follow a formula of airing a full season in a single 13-week burst (or a 10-week burst or however many episodes are ordered) -- but not always.

AMC breaks "The Walking Dead" into two half-seasons, one airing in the fall that wrapped up this past Sunday and another that begins on Feb. 10.

FX's "American Horror Story" is taking a shorter break over the holidays: After next week's episode the show takes two weeks off, returning on Jan. 2.

Basic cable network shows are more confusing. USA routinely breaks seasons of its series into multiple chunks: a batch of new episodes in the summer, maybe another batch in the fall, a batch in the winter. TNT also programs in batches.

The cable trend of breaking shows up has come full circle as the broadcast networks have taken to labeling the last new episode of the fall as a show's "winter finale" or "midseason finale."

How is a viewer to keep track? The best way is to read as much as possible about TV to make yourself media literate. I do my best to include season premiere dates and other media outlets do, too.

If you're lost and don't know where to turn, it's always smart to check the show's official homepage on the website of the network that airs the program. You can find links to network sites at http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/tv-radio/tv-network-addresses-web-site-information-632906/

'Midwife' back at midseason

PBS announced this week that the British import drama "Call the Midwife" will return for its second season on March 31, airing in America shortly after it premieres in England.

But before then, a "Call the Midwife" Christmas episode, airing in England on Christmas Day, will debut on PBS just five days later, airing at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 30 on WQED-TV.

In years past, it took British shows months (sometimes years) between their premiere in England and their debut in America, but that time has shrunk dramatically. BBC America has been aggressive in pushing U.S. premiere dates closer to those of British shows, especially "Doctor Who," sometimes just a matter of a few days difference. Now PBS is doing the same.

"It's becoming a global world," said Beth Hoppe, PBS vice president of programming, general audience. "In an Internet-connected world, someone searching for 'Call the Midwife' sees it's on over there and it changes audience expectations and needs. I just came from a meeting where we went through the pros and cons of [this sort of fast turn-around] and not everybody agrees with me but I think we've got to tighten it up."

Not only does less lag time between premieres make U.S. viewers more content, it could also deter illegal online downloading of programs. Ms. Hoppe said her daughter watched "Sherlock" from PBS's "Masterpiece Mystery!" through unofficial means online.

"My daughter didn't know it was on PBS," she said. "It's really important we tighten up those windows between the UK and US premieres if we don't want to lose ground in an increasingly connected world."

Local, national telethons

WTAE's annual "Project Bundle-Up Telethon" airs today during newscast segments beginning at 5 a.m. and culminating in a one-hour special tonight at 7 hosted by meteorologist Mike Harvey and news anchors Sally Wiggin and Michelle Wright.

Now in its 27th year, the telethon seeks to raise money to buy winter coats for area children and senior citizens. This year viewers will be able to text BUNDLEUP to 80888 to make a one-time, $10 contribution. Donations can also be made at WTAE.com under the "Community" tab.

On Wednesday WBGN's digital sub-channel 59.4 (Channel 463 on Verizon's FiOS TV), the Live Will Network, will air "121212: The Concert for Sandy Relief." Airing live 7:30 p.m.-midnight, the concert will feature performances by Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band as they raise money for the Robin Hood Relief Fund to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. The concert will also be carried on an assortment of cable channels, including AMC, HBO and Showtime. Details: 121212concert.org.

Channel surfing

NBC's "30 Rock" will have its one-hour series finale at 8 p.m. Jan. 31. ... No official word from AMC yet but Hollywood trades report "The Killing" has been un-canceled and the show's writers have resumed work on a third season that will likely debut in May. Why is the show coming back despite low ratings and poor reviews in its second season? Reports suggest a digital deal is in the works, possibly with Netflix, that would allow AMC to share production costs. ... DirecTV's Audience Network (Channel 101) will re-air the entire series of "24" from the beginning at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 and for the first time the show will be presented in HD. ... Monaca's Dan DeLisio, a judicial staff attorney with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, will be a contestant today on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (2:30 p.m., WPXI). ... Jeff Rhodes of Baden will be featured on next week's episode of Travel Channel's "Toy Hunter" (9 p.m. Wednesday) as host Jordan Hembrough visits Western Pennsylvania to track down more vintage toys and collectibles.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Price Is Right," "The Middle" and "Last Resort." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on Sundance Channel's excellent new miniseries, "Restless;" NBC's new game show, "Take it All" and ABC's "The Neighbors." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "The Walking Dead," "Restless" and "Ink Master." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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