It’s All About the Benjamins: Clip Shows and TV’s Financial Realities

[Editor’s Note: Tonight on ABC (April 12th), Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy aired Clip Shows. I figure this is a good time to focus on this piece, which explains why a Clip Show is a television reality, and why we’re waiting until next week to see new episodes of ABC’s hit Thursday Dramas. While written about an episode of Scrubs, this applies to all shows. – Myles]

Now, everyone, last night was certainly a slower night than usual when it comes to Thursday Night TV Club, which is really quite sensible considering that it’s now no longer the coveted February Sweeps period; as a result, I’m going to put it on a one week hiatus, maybe more if nothing’s on next week as well. And yet, I have a lot to say about last night’s television, specifically the episode of Scrubs: “My Night to Remember.” This was actually quite a literal title, because the show took 22 minutes to remember some of its “best” moments of the past 2 and a half seasons. I was very much disappointed to learn it was a clip show, but I think this is a good opportunity to discuss something fairly important. Because, I want to call a special meeting right now about the reality of the clip show and the financial reality of network television.

Link – Wikipedia: “Clip Show”

Shows go clip shows for only one reason, and it wasn’t the tongue-in-cheek reason found within the episode itself; rather than being a lack of creativity, it is purely for budget reasons that such episodes are constructed. It’s really quite pragmatic, as with the number of episodes these shows have in a season some will no doubt be more complicated and, therefore, more expensive than others.

In the case of Scrubs, there is no question that it was designed to save some money, but it’s easy for comedies that have run for a number of seasons. Clip shows are cheap and easy ways to save money, and work extremely well on Sitcoms; the Simpsons was a large proponent of them, as well as family situational comedies such as Family Ties (Funny how that is). They don’t work so well with dramas, considering their lack of short bursts of entertainment, but within comedy they are used quite often.

Now, I don’t think I was alone with my disappointment in discovering that tonight’s episode of Scrubs was a clip show. In fact, to be honest, I tuned out halfway through and went back to the TV for 30 Rock a bit later. While I think that the clips have merit, there just isn’t anything there to keep me watching beyond the concept itself. While a fine idea in theory, clip shows just usually aren’t worth their weight when it comes to entertainment value.

So, then, if we take them as purely financial decisions, are they forgivable? In doing a clip show they are at least acknowledging their situation, and understand that they don’t have the budget to do 22 full-on episodes in a season. While we might not watch these clip shows with much appreciation for them, what is the alternative exactly? If we don’t get a clip show, what’s our other option?

The other option, as far as I am able to tell, appears to be designing episodes which save money within a show’s structure. Most common in dramas, these are episodes which feel almost small-scale within the rest of the show’s infrastructure. They are most apparent on a show like Lost, or Battlestar Galactica, where things occasionally get very engaging, expensive. While Lost is able to hide it slightly better due to their consistent shooting in the lush locales of Hawaii, Battlestar is unable to work in the same light.

Battlestar Galactica is a show that often escapes into its own world of viper pilots, Cylon battles, and giant exploding spaceships. When this happens, special effects budgets are sent through the roof, and the show would be incapable of balancing the 22 episodes if they were all battles between the Cylons and our intrepid heroes. As a result, multiple episodes in the span of the year are going to be more insular, more claustrophobic than others. And, for the most part? These episodes suck. In these slower moments, needed to balance out the budgets, the plot often falls apart at the seams. It is only in episodes like Jane Espenson’s last week that such budget saving works on a smaller scale, and that level of finesse is not an inherent ability.

Not only do such budget cutting episodes take the form of small-concept drama, but the cast members are often kept out of multiple episodes. How many episodes of Veronica Mars have we sat through without Wallace or Mac present? Show’s budgets mean that certain actors are only contracted for 10 or 12 episodes, which makes for certain episodes feeling weaker than others. It also shows up in shows like Lost or Heroes, when actors are absent for weeks because there just isn’t the money in order to have every character in every episode.

Often times, I think that we forget how much finances really affect these shows at a creative level. Scrubs didn’t WANT to do a clip show, although it surely provided the crew a break; instead, it was an issue of financial necessity. Battlestar Galactica producers would love to provide larger scale set pieces every week and to cover their entire crew, but they’re limited by their budgets to do so. The creators of Lost would love to have every single cast member in every single episode, where the plot requires it, but finances often mean that extras are used instead (Explains the lack of Rose and Bernard, no?)

So, when your favourite TV show airs a clip show, or an episode devoid of most of your favourite characters, know that your anger should be sent in the direction of capitalism, not necessarily the show’s creators. It’s not their fault, because it’s all about the benjamins in the end.


Filed under Battlestar Galactica, Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Scrubs, Television, Ugly Betty

2 responses to “It’s All About the Benjamins: Clip Shows and TV’s Financial Realities

  1. Pingback: The Office’s Bait and Switch: The Irrelevant yet Attractive TV Clip Show « Cultural Learnings

  2. Pingback: The X-Files – Home Again (Review) | the m0vie blog

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