October 4, 2008

So Much TV, so Few Time Slots

By Gail Pennington

Talk about culture shock. As of this week, "regular TV" is back, and TV hasn't really been regular since last winter, when the writers strike disrupted network schedules.

Sooner or later, every series was forced into premature reruns, and some never returned. Unscripted shows, many of them missable, filled prime time. And then it was summer -- rerun time.

So the arrival of the fall TV season has some TV fans hyperventilating, not so much from excitement as from anxiety. When all your favorite shows, which you're pretty sure you missed, come back all at once, juggling is required, not to mention a recording device or three.

Here's a look at some of this fall's particularly tough time periods.

9 p.m. Monday

"Heroes" (NBC) vs. "Gossip Girl" (CW) vs. "Prison Break" (Fox)

"Heroes" gets No. 1 priority, of course. But the time slot is further complicated by encroachment from the last half-hour of "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC and by the popular "Two and a Half Men" and the charming new comedy "Worst Week" on CBS. I've been known to watch both "Gossip Girl" and "Prison Break," but I'm guessing their audiences don't otherwise overlap much, which could resolve some conflicts.

10 p.m. Tuesday

"Without a Trace" (CBS) vs. "Law & Order: SVU" (NBC) vs. "Eli Stone" (ABC) vs. "Privileged" (CW)

ABC has done returning charmer "Eli Stone" no favor by slotting it against two popular procedural dramas, including "Without a Trace" in its new time slot. And many viewers have already latched onto the CW's new "Privileged," which "Eli Stone" fans might enjoy, as well. The only thing that makes 10 p.m. easier than 9 is that Fox isn't in the mix.

9 p.m. Thursday

"Grey's Anatomy" (ABC) vs. "CSI" (CBS) vs. "The Office" (NBC) and "30 Rock" (NBC)

Assuming you can record two things at once, or at least watch one while recording another, there's still a logjam on Thursdays, especially given that Fox's addictive "Kitchen Nightmares" also airs at 9 p.m.

For me, "The Office" and "30 Rock" are must-see. "Grey's Anatomy" may have faded, but I'm not yet ready to give up on those doctors' antics. And "CSI," preparing for William Petersen's exit after the 10th episode, can't be ignored. The auxiliary DVR must be pressed into service.

Viewers have tough choices in popular time periods. Here are some tips for TV time management.

If you have to skip a show, make it a comedy or a procedural crime drama, especially on CBS. Those are the most likely to be repeated. A serialized drama probably won't be rerun at all.

Look for scheduled repeats. NBC has same-week reruns of "Knight Rider" and "Law & Order: SVU" slotted on Saturdays, and CBS will repeat its crime series (although which ones aren't specified) that night. The CW reruns "America's Next Top Model" on Fridays. But don't count too heavily on scheduled repeats. Networks have been known to pull them midseason.

Consider a DVR (digital video recorder, which uses a hard drive rather than tape) if you don't have one. A DVR records two things at once and organizes your recordings in an easy-to-retrieve fashion. With a DVR, give network shows high priority and cable shows lower. Cable series air multiple times each week, and the DVR can pick up a later airing if there's a conflict with the first.

If you can't resolve a conflict, watch on your computer. Many series are now streamed free on such sites as Hulu.com or Fancast.com, or can be downloaded for $1.99 on iTunes.

Or, you could always skip a whole season and wait for the DVD box set.

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