television program that airs one or more times following its first
broadcast is known as a rerun or a repeat. In order for a program
to be rerun it must have been recorded on film or videotape. Live
telecasts, obviously, can not be rerun. The use of reruns is central
to the programming and economic strategies of television in the
United States and, increasingly, throughout the world.
the early days of U.S. television, most programming was live. This
necessitated the continuous production of new programs which, once
aired, were gone. Certain program formats, such as variety, talk,
public affairs, quiz, sports, and drama, dominated the airwaves.
With the exception of variety and drama, each of these formats is
inexpensive to produce, therefore the creation of live weekly or
daily episodes worked fairly well for broadcasters. Even the production
costs for variety shows could be reduced over time with the repeated
use of sets and costumes.
of dramatic programming, however, was more expensive. Most dramatic
series were "anthologies"--a different story was programmed each
week, with different characters, and often times, different talent.
The costs involved in creating each of these plays was considerable
and could rarely be reduced, as in the case of variety programs,
by repeated use of the durable properties. Because of the expense,
dramatic programs decreased, and the number of other less expensive
types of programs increased during the first decade of television.
the early 1950s, however, several weekly prime time series, most
notably I Love Lucy, began filming episodes instead of airing
live programs. This allowed producers to create fewer than 52 episodes
a year, yet still present weekly episodes throughout the year. They
could produce 39 new episodes and repeat 13 of those, usually during
the summer months when viewership was lower. While some expenses,
for additional payments to creative personnel, are involved in airing
reruns, the cost is almost 75% less than that incurred in presenting
a new first-run episode. The practice proved so successful that
by the end of the 1950s there was very little live entertainment
programming left on U.S. television, and the television industry,
which had been well established in New York, had shifted its center
to Hollywood, the center of U.S. film production.
the 1970s most network prime time series were producing only 26
new episodes each year, repeating each episode once (the 26/26 model).
And by the 1980s, the standard prime time model was 22/22 with specials
or limited series occupying the remaining weeks.
the shift to film or videotape as the primary form of television
production also turned out to have benefits far exceeding the reduction
of production costs and modifications of the programming schedule.
Reruns and repeats are not used merely to ease production schedules
and cut costs. By contractual arrangement episodes usually return
to the control of the producer after two network showings. They
may then be licensed for presentations by other television distributors.
This strategy is financially viable only after several years of
a successful network run, when enough episodes of a television program
are accumulated to make the series valuable to other programmers.
It does lead to the possibility, however, that reruns of a program
can be in syndication forever and almost anywhere. A common industry
anecdote claims--and it may be true--that I Love Lucy is
playing somewhere in the world at any given moment of the day.
development of the rerun system, particularly as it supports syndication,
has become the economic foundation on which the American television
industry does business. Because networks, the original distributors
of television programs, rarely pay the full production costs for
those programs, independent producers and/or studios must create
programs at a deficit. That deficit can only be recouped if the
program goes into syndication (not a foregone outcome). If the program
is sold into syndication the profits may be huge, sufficient to
pay off the cost of deficit financing for the original production
and to support the development of other series and the programming
of less successful programs that may never be syndicated. This entire
system is dependent on a sufficient market for rerun programs, a
market traditionally composed of independent television stations
and the international television systems, and on an economical means
film was more desirable than videotape as a means of storing programs
because film production contracts called for lower residual payments--the
payments made to performers in the series when episodes are repeated.
Programs produced on film were under the jurisdiction of the Screen
Actors Guild (SAG), which required lower residual payments than
did the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA),
which oversaw programs produced on videotape. By the mid-1970s residual
costs for film and taped performances evened out and more and more
programs are now produced on or transferred to videotape for syndication
In addition to their use in prime time, reruns are scheduled in
all other dayparts by the networks. Several unions have petitioned
the FCC in an attempt to restrict network use of reruns. Their claim
is that the use of reruns results in a loss of jobs because it leads
to less original production. Needless to say, all of these attempts
the tremendous growth of television distribution outlets throughout
the world in the 1980s--growth often founded on the expansion of
cable television systems and the multi-channel environment--additional
markets for reruns of old network series were created. So long as
these venues continue to increase, the financial basis for American
television production will continue to be stable. And as more and
more countries establish large programming systems of their own,
the amount of material available for second, third and continuing
airings will continue to grow.
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