Why Networks Need To Stop Pointless Padding

Yesterday I settled down to watch this week’s edition of Celebrity Apprentice, DVR’ed from the weekend. Yes, I know it’s basically a commercial for whatever product placement deal Mark Burnett has negotiated that week – but I’m a sucker for a bit of Cyndi and Sharon (who sod’s law, were both largely absent from this week’s show!).

But as I sat down to watch the show and one of the dullest challenges of the season was unveiled, my finger got itchy on the remote. Do I really want to spend the next 2 hours of my precious time watching minor celebrities preparing yet another product presentation?

So I fast-forwarded through the show – and voila – I was done in less than half an hour. And the thing is – I don’t think I really missed a moment of good stuff. Because when it comes to padding Celebrity Apprentice is one of the most over-stuffed shows in TV. The ‘firings’ go on forever – it’s almost like bad improvisation at a comedy club – as Trump and his kids belabor the same key points over and over again. You can feel the Trumps desperately trying to provoke conflict from celebrities who really don’t want to fight – “The Donald” even lost his temper in Episode 1 when the girls played too nice. And for a scene that’s essentially set in just one room to take almost an hour of screen time – well no wonder I got an itchy ‘trigger’ finger.

But that’s not the only filler within the Apprentice. The challenge explanations take forever as we have to endure yet more corporate speak from the week’s company or product. Then there’s the endless recaps and set up,  of which American TV is so fond. The result – a 1-hour sprint becomes stretched out into a 2-hour slog.

And Celebrity Apprentice isn’t alone. American’s Next Top Model basically only gets interesting during it’s second half when that week’s photo shoot and judging takes place. For the rest of the show you have to sit through pointless challenges (the ‘acting’ ones are always the worst) with yet more product placement prizes.

And American Idol could do with some trimming too – less so the actual performance shows which smartly reduce in length as the contestants diminish – but the results shows which just scream out for a fast forwarded DVR. Everything from the Ford commercial to Ryan’s awkward Q & A with the contestants (‘so Aaron what’s your favorite color?’) to that week’s musical performances (Rihanna and Kesha have no right to perform on a singing contest, even as guests) and of course the horrendously lip synced group number which weekly massacres a classic song… Idol is a one-minute result encased in a 60-minute show.

But the absolute king of Super Size programming has to be The Biggest Loser. Kind of appropriate don’t you think!

Now I’m a Biggest Loser fan. I think it’s generally a really well produced show with great challenges, temptations and twists and turns. But I must admit this season I’ve given up a bit and find myself fast forwarding to the crucial Weigh In – always the highlight of the show. I’m pretty weary of yet more product placement – of which Loser is the absolute pimp king – from Wrigley’s gum to Brita water filters to Subway (‘Hey guys you’ve just run a marathon. Guess what your prize is. A Subway sandwich.’ Oh joy). I honestly don’t mind product placement if it’s well integrated into a show – but Loser is placement over-load – and actually hurts the viewing experience.

Then there’s the over-stuffed recaps – which again seem twice the size of other shows – including a full show recap at the halfway mark (doubtless to catch those 9pm channel hopping viewers). On top of this are the pointless pop quiz challenges and the boring cooking segments (Apprentice chef Curtis Stone is great eye candy but cooking demonstrations are deathly in prime time). And honestly when you’ve seen one Last Chance Workout you’ve kind of seen them all.

The thing is, I completely understand why networks stretch their shows to breaking point. Why on earth would you shrink a ratings winner like Idol to 30 minutes when you can schedule for a full hour and get 20 million viewers?

If your show is twice the length then that’s a whole extra hour of primetime you don’t have to schedule for. And of course as a producer it doesn’t really cost that much more to shoot and edit a 2-hour show then for an hour long show. The nature of reality TV is that you shoot and shoot – so there’s always an abundance of material. The problem is that a lot of those rushes aren’t all that great.

In the case of The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice I worry that such over-stretching actually costs the shows crucial viewers. This season I’ve given up on the former and am wavering on the latter. 2 hours is just a big time commitment to give to a show I’m lukewarm about. But if they were shrunk to an hour then I’d probably stick with them. So I guess what networks need to ask themselves is which is better – a 2 hour show that costs less but gets less viewers, or a fast paced hour long episode that perhaps rates higher but ultimately costs more money? I know which I’d take as a viewer – but as a network I see the dilemma.

But what do you think? Are there any shows out there you think are hopelessly over-padded? What shows would you cut down to size – and why? Weigh in guys…