Programming & Program Development

Tiffany Bender

Programming (n.); refers to the practice of scheduling television programs in a strategic matter in order to increase or maintain viewer retention rates.

Program (n.); also known as television show, produced with the intention of being broadcast locally, nationally, and or internationally. Program content includes (but is not limited to) fiction, non fiction, and news (as seen in the figure above)

Production (n.); from story idea to visual/audio editing, production teams are responsible for bring the program from the drawing board to real life.

The Art of Programming

Programming is a game of chess; with each show as a pawn competing for a primetime slot, and network kings trying to checkmate the next for the top overall ratings.

However all producers and programmers place an emphasis on nightly or weekly ratings. This ultimately decides a shows fate within the network. If shows debut or maintain a less than satisfactory rating, they will produced will be halted and sometimes the show will be pulled off air mid season

Program Genres


Comedy sitcoms are often twenty four to twenty six minutes of scripted situational, loosely real life occurrences that make people laugh. Programmers usually group comedies together in one to two hour segments during primetime as they only run less than a half hour. Comedies are often targeted towards a broader and younger audience.

Comedies are traditionally typed in a studio, mostly in front of a live audience. The plot typically revolves around one set which is split into several different rooms in front of the live audience, very similar to a live theater performance.


Sound Studio: Everybody Loves Raymond (TBS)


Dramas are scripted and carefully written twenty-six to forty plus minutes of plot and characters entangled in webs that leave viewers wanting more. In American culture, these dramas have typically revolved around soap operas; however more recently criminal investigation have become more popular.

The production of dramas is a cross between feature length movies and comedy sitcoms with the regard that they can be filmed in any location. In fact, dramas feed off of the realness of actual locations, extras, etc. Miniseries | Television Movies are often dramas that have either an exact number of episodes (less than a 13-episode season) or are shorter than a feature film to be aired only on televisio


On Location: Law & Order SVU (NBC)

Reality Television

Reality television has recently become the reigning champion of primetime on most cable networks like VH1, Bravo, and E! Reality shows are secretly situational (as opposed to scripted) series that follow the lives of one or more “real life” characters. These real life characters must offer something special to the viewers whether it be lavish lifestyles or living with a debilitating disease; the ultimate rule in reality television is to expose the average audience member to another culture, or socio-economic group in an way that is entertaining and captivating.

Reality shows are cheaper to produce than other programs; however they are a poor long term investment as they are based on current contemporary fads that change with trends and generations.

Fight Scene: Mob Wives (VH1)


The world now revolves around a 24-hour news cycle; therefore traditional news no longer just rotates on the same early morning, evening and late night hours outside of broadcast and basic cable. Some major cable networks are dedicated solely to news such as CNN and MSNBC, however on traditional broadcast station news plays its traditional time slotted role.

For example, ABC runs roughly thirty six hours of news per week beginning with Good Morning America at 6am. News shows filtering throughout the course of the day however never enter primetime slots.

ABC News Set

Children’s Programming

Children’s programming doesn’t typically compete for airtime in on primetime, in fact they don’t compete much outside of their designated networks (for example: Nick, Cartoon Network, Disney). Instead, the networks themselves compete for the most popular and original shows that will build a loyal fan base amongst children.

Spongebob (Nickelodeon)


The Pitch

Programs are the brainchild of writers and or producers who have sometimes spent years working on a show. After several drafts of scripts and tossing around characters –the script is then pitched to a network. Many major networks have a particular brand; therefore shows are pitched accordingly by writers outside of the network. Pitch meetings may be some of the most difficult meetings to

According to Blumenthal and Goodenough’s The Business of Television, pitch meetings happen in one of three ways:

1. A writer’s agent and a network executive “do lunch”, following this meeting a writer begins his own artistic process of creating his work of art.

2. A less popular, specifically with notable writers, is that the writing process begins first and is then pitched to a network.

3. Sometimes a popular celebrity decides that he or she wants to star in a film and with network backing a writer and producer are assign to create a show tailored to the character of that celebrity


Beyond the pitch, network executives want to see what your show can bring on and off the screen; this is known as packaging. Packing a show includes potential product placement opportunities, promotions the show can partner with, and most importantly: online buzz.

Also See

Audience Measurement & Advertising


Big Media


Broader Definition of Television


Legal & Business Affairs




T.V outside the U.S.


The Business of Television, Bleumenthol & Goodenough

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