Why are television show aired at different local times?
November 18, 2004 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Why don't television programs air at a consistent local time across the United States?

Anytime I see a commercial for this season's new wacky sitcom, it is advertised for airing at, for example, “9/8 Central.” As far as I know, this show will also broadcast at 9 pm Pacific and (oddly) 8 pm Mountain. Why is a prime-time lineup not constant wherein “According to Jim” could be seen at the same local time in Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle?

I realize there may be some discrepancies within markets encompassing multiple time zones, although I would believe that alone is not reason enough for the current setup.
posted by brad! to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
 
A holdover from the earlies days of radio, when there was no good way to record and then rebroadcast a program. For a while it was even against regulations to rebroadcast. But by the mid-1930s, the networks were recording programs for West Coast broadcast (and very shortly after that discovered the notion of the "rerun"), so you'd think it would have gone away a long time ago...but some habits die hard.

As far as the Eastern/Central thing goes, again a lot of East Coast radio stations were picked up in the near-midwest, and it was easier just to live with one live broadcast for the two time zones.
posted by briank at 12:50 PM on November 18, 2004


Primetime on the east coast starts at 8pm, which is 5pm on the west coast. You're not going to get as many viewers at 5pm -- people are still at work, preparing dinner, running errands, whatever. One hour of difference is obvioulsy do-able, given that prime time starts at 7pm in Central and Mountain, but any earlier and you lose viewers.

Though sports games are broadcast live everywhere at the same time. Monday Night Football starts here (west coast) around 6pm, which seems very very odd to newcomer me. The World Series games were all on at 5:30pm, too.
posted by occhiblu at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2004


Primetime on the east coast starts at 8pm, which is 5pm on the west coast. You're not going to get as many viewers at 5pm -- people are still at work, preparing dinner, running errands, whatever.

I think brad! is saying that the program should start at 8pm local time at all locations. If you are on the east coast it's 8pm your time, if you are on the west coast, it's 8pm your time again...

It seems like they were too lazy to make alterations for 4 different time zones, so they just split it into 2. One for East/Central and another for Mountain/Pacific. Although briank's explanation from the Radio's make sense from a historical standpoint, I don't see what is keeping the TV stations from just switching over to a more consistent schedule.

Of course, live broadcasts and games are always going to be a problem...
posted by tuxster at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2004


More feeds cost more dollars. So, while splitting between east and west may make economic sense, getting more granular apparently doesn't.
posted by sad_otter at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2004


Central and Mountain time zones are perfect for TV. 11:00PM just seems too late for the news, and 12:30 for Conan just seems ridiculous. Do people on the coasts start work an hour later, too?
posted by zsazsa at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2004


Another olden-days issue for live programs is that recording a program from 8-9 PM and then playing it back at 9 PM is tricky with physical media.
posted by smackfu at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2004


What briank and tuxster said. This goes back to the radio networks' days of doing two broadcasts, one at (say) 8 p.m. EST, which would be picked up by stations in the Eastern time zone at 8 p.m. their time and stations in the Central time zone at 7 p.m. their time, and another broadcast of the same show at (say) 11 p.m. EST, which would be picked up by stations in the Pacific time zone at 8 p.m. their time. The stations in the Mountain time zone, which was far less populated in the 1920s and 1930s than it is today, had their pick of whether they wanted the show at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. their time.

People get used to stuff. See, to me, the news "should" be on at 11:00, but I used to live with a guy from Chicago who believed that the news "should" be on at 10. My guess is that the "two time zone" for US network broadcasts has never changed because people grew up in the Central time zone believing that "prime time starts at 7" and in the Eastern time zone believing that "prime time starts at 8" and they were never inspired to change it.

And on the East Coast, people generally try to get to work at 9. My perception is that in the Central time zone, most people think of the workday as starting at 8:30.

How does this work with the CBC, I wonder?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on November 18, 2004


Response by poster: It seems like they were too lazy to make alterations for 4 different time zones, so they just split it into 2. One for East/Central and another for Mountain/Pacific.

Is Mountain in a world of its own? If it were receiving the same feed going to the west coast at 9, that would mean MT would be airing the program an hour later, locally, at 10.

On preview: Sidhedevil, and if Mountain were picking up the original feed from the east, wouldn't that mean a 9 o'clock show would air at 7 instead of 8?

Average sitcom:
ET 9 pm
CT 8 pm
MT 8 pm
PT 9 pm

What in the world is going on in MT?

It seems as though there are 3 distinct feeds -- Eastern/Central, Mountain, and Pacific -- but I could be wrong.

This is all very confusing, but I appreciate everyone's responses, and I know my five dollars has been well spent.
posted by brad! at 1:53 PM on November 18, 2004


Best answer: Cecil Adams' classic column on the subject.

As for CBC programming, I believe that all shows are shown at the same local time — the National is on at 10 PM no matter where you are. The exception to this, of course, is Newfoundland, whose time zone is a half-hour late than the Atlantic time zone, and so they get the National at 10:30.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2004


Response by poster: Johnny: Thanks! That article helps a lot. Along with history, it seems like much is determined by those ever-important dollar signs.
posted by brad! at 2:19 PM on November 18, 2004


I agree with zsazsa. Perhaps it's because I grew up in central time zone, but it seems kind of ridiculous that on the east and west people can't watch even the Tonight Show or David Letterman and still get 8 hours of sleep before getting up for work the next day, not to mention Conan.
posted by gyc at 2:55 PM on November 18, 2004


It's an hour earlier in the Mountain time zone than it is in the Pacific time zone, Brad. So when it's 9 p.m. in Los Angeles, it's 8 p.m. in Salt Lake City.

And, yes, back in the old days, Salt Lake City might air the 8 p.m. EST broadcast of, say, "Make-Believe Ballroom" at 6 p.m. local time, or the 11 p.m. EST "West Coast" broadcast (either a playback from disk or wire-recording, or another broadcast of the same material) at 9 p.m. local time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:14 PM on November 18, 2004


It's an hour earlier in the Mountain time zone than it is in the Pacific time zone, Brad. So when it's 9 p.m. in Los Angeles, it's 8 p.m. in Salt Lake City.

Nope. The time zones pretty much go in order. Eastern is 3 hours ahead of Pacific. Central is 2. Mountain is 1. Has something to do with how the earth rotates. ;-)

NYC: 11pm.
Chicago: 10pm
Denver: 9pm
Los Angeles: 8pm

If that weren't the case, Sidhedevil, your example of SLC showing the 11pm EST broadcast (which is 8pm PST) at 9pm local wouldn't work.

I've always wondered about Mountain time broadcasts for this reason.
posted by jewishbuddha at 8:03 PM on November 18, 2004


I'm sorry, I did do that completely backwards, didn't I? Mea culpa.

In any case, my guess is that, since the Mountain time zone was very very sparsely populated during the radio years, there weren't enough people to get used to an "off" time for network broadcasts, the way there were in the Central time zone, so they just show programs at the same time, locally, as they are shown in Eastern and/or Pacific time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:18 PM on November 18, 2004


they just show programs at the same time, locally, as they are shown in Eastern and/or Pacific time.

Except that they don't! 9 eastern/8 central makes sense. But the same show airs at 9 pacific and 8 Mountain! For ease or efficiency of broadcast, assuming one east coast feed and one west coast feed, a 9pm show would air at either 7 mountain (with the east coast) or 10 mountain (with the west coast). It's neither.

More Google works suggests that Eastern and Central were always linked because there just wasn't time to do it differently. In the ol' days of live broadcasts and tape delays, even if Chicago wanted to watch the 9pm New York shows at 9pm local, it wasn't possible to repeat the same show that quickly. Mountain apparently just chooses to be different for its own sake.

See here.
posted by jewishbuddha at 9:41 PM on November 18, 2004


I see. Well, that's just strange, then. No wonder I was confused. My brain kept trying to make it rational, but it wouldn't go.

Maybe there are more farmers or ranchers or other people who have some pressing professional need to get up early in the morning in the Mountain time zone, and that's why they like having their programs "early". Maybe there are more emigres from the Central time zone who believe that the network news "should" be on at 10.

I don't know, but I'm going to stop reading this thread before my head explodes and/or I get any more stupid. At this rate, my expensive college is going to come and repossess my diploma.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2004


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