Friday, September 16, 2011

All "Simpsons," All the Time

According to the LA Times, FOX is considering an entire digital cable channel devoted to "The Simpsons." Wow. My first reaction is to wonder if there's really the demand for that much "Simpsons" out there. Then again, the show airs in syndication practically around the clock in some places, and having a single channel devoted to the show probably beats having to hunt for it every time you want to catch a different airing. And I do remember my brother and I sitting though an awful lot of "Simpsons" reruns when we were younger, and it probably accounted for a good chunk of the total programming we regularly watched during the late 90s.

But still, an entire channel? Could you really program a whole cable channel with a single show? Well, "The Simpsons" has been running for twenty-two seasons and amassed at least two hundred and fifty hours of content. Math tells me that you would have to watch for ten days straight with no breaks to see them all. Assuming a staggered schedule and that most viewers consistently watch at certain times of the day, a subscriber could easily go months without seeing a repeat. And a real "Simpsons" obsessive would probably love to have so much access to so much "Simpsons" all at once - oh wait.

Most "Simpsons" fans have already bought the DVD sets (I have joint custody of the first four seasons with my brother), which means that they probably already have constant access to all their favorite episodes. Subscribing to a "Simpsons" channel to access the same content would mean that they would still have to look through schedules to see when their favorites were airing and sit through commercials - yes, almost all the channels on the upper cable tiers still have commercials. And of course there's the old argument that "The Simpsons" isn't worth watching past its first seven or eight seasons. I still watch the "Treehouse of Horror" specials every year, but that's about it. And that means that the discerning subscriber wouldn't be watching at least two thirds of the content he or she would be paying for.

On the other hand, most viewers aren't nearly so picky. Some people like the experience of watching shows live with commercials between the act breaks. Getting randomized episodes instead of picking and choosing yourself could be seen as a plus. And there's a good chunk of the viewing audience that just wants something familiar on the tube to veg out to, and "The Simpsons" is always a good standby. But you have to wonder if these are the kind of viewers who would seek out a cable channel specifically devoted to "The Simpsons," especially at the rates FOX is charging these days. You could buy a whole season of the show with the extra fees it would cost to get the "Simpsons" channel for a month or two through the usual cable providers.

I can see the novelty of the idea, but I don't think that a "Simpsons" exclusive channel makes any sense. The only content you could have are the reruns, a single movie, a couple of specials, and whatever "Simpsons" themed original programming FOX can think up ("Simpsons" game shows? "Simpsons" reality TV? A "MST3K" revival with "Simpsons" characters sitting in for Joel and the Bots?). Most people love "The Simpsons," but would probably balk at subscribing to a channel that is only "Simpsons" and nothing else. The only circumstances where you might get enough real interest is if the channel were the only place to see the older episodes being broadcast, and that's just not going to happen. Syndication is too lucrative, and removing the reruns from wider circulation would hurt the show in the long run.

What I would do if I were FOX would be to launch a FOX animation channel, and add "Family Guy," "King of the Hill," and "American Dad" to the mix, which is what I suspect would end up happening anyway. Or, if the rights to those shows are tied up for a while, air out the archives and get some use out of those moldering episodes of "The PJs" and "The Critic." Figure out where the hell the Saturday morning guys stashed "Toonsylvania" and "The Tick." Even if the primary reason for the channel's existence is "The Simpsons," there's no reason for FOX to paint themselves into a corner by limiting themselves to a single show - even if it is "The Simpsons."

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