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Burning off is the low-profile airing of otherwise-abandoned unaired television programs, usually by scheduling in far less important time slots or on less important sister networks. Abandoned programs may be burned off for a number of reasons:
- They have to air to meet contractual or legal requirements.
- The production company needs enough first-run episodes to meet minimum requirements for syndication.
- Their use as "filler" is perceived as slightly more profitable than reruns or other fillers.
Up through the 1990s, this often meant the airing of pilots for shows that were not going to be picked up, such as The Art of Being Nick, Seinfeld and Barney Miller, usually during the summer months to provide some form of "new" programming in the technical sense. In the latter two cases, the pilot proved popular enough that a series was eventually commissioned. The anthology series Love, American Style was devoted to many such failed pilots.
Since the late 1990s, episodes of long-running shows that are no longer hits and have been taken off the schedule have been burned off. The Drew Carey Show is an example of a series whose entire final season was burned off (the series' ninth season aired on ABC in the summer of 2004). In many cases, instead of airing the episodes during the regular television season, the episodes are held back and presented during the summer months to fulfill the network's obligation to air them and to produce at least some return on their investment. Recent examples of summer burn-offs include Sons of Tucson (2010) and Do No Harm (2013).
Some programs may not air in even this form; in 2010, the final unaired episodes of the seldom-promoted ABC comedy Better Off Ted were to be used solely as a filler just in case the 2010 NBA Finals ended after five games. However, the Finals were a full seven-game series, and the remaining episodes of Better Off Ted would not premiere until the release of the series' second season DVD box set and via internet streaming over Netflix's "Watch Instantly" service. The rise of reality television has altered the network tradition of simply airing all new episodes of a canceled series in a regular schedule (often on the same night or timeslot where the show failed during the regular season); series are now more likely to be moved around the schedule or simply not shown at all, because ratings for reality shows are often much higher than new episodes of scripted shows with no future.
During the 2009-10 season, Fox aired 37 first-run episodes of the sitcom 'Til Death: 22 season four episodes and 15 unaired episodes from season three. The series had been renewed for a fourth season only after Sony Pictures Entertainment offered Fox a discount on the licensing fee in order to get enough episodes aired to compile a saleable syndication package. Several episodes of the series were burned off in unusual time slots, including: four episodes in a Christmas Day "marathon", two episodes being aired against Super Bowl XLIV, and three unaired third season episodes being broadcast in June after the fourth season (and series) finale had already aired.
Other examples include in television syndication, having a station pick up one program solely to air another, as was the case in 2009 when a syndicator offered stripped repeats of MTV's Laguna Beach which were of little interest to viewers or the stations themselves, but eventually led into the more popular MTV series The Hills, which was part of the same package. In the reverse, shows such as The Golden Girls and Three's Company have had their spin-offs (in the mentioned cases, The Golden Palace and Three's a Crowd) bundled together due to the strong continuity between the original series and the spin-off.
Often, the program is moved to a sister cable network into low-profile time slots to mute collateral damage to the main broadcast's schedule as much as possible. Such was the case with NBC's broadcast airing of Quarterlife, the ABC pageant reality series All American Girl and ABC's Greg Behrendt's Wake Up Call. In these cases, Quarterlife aired in the form of a one-day marathon on NBC's Bravo, while All American Girl was quickly placed on ABC Family. In the case of Wake Up Call, the show never aired on ABC due to several factors, including the failure of Berhendt's self-titled talk show during the same season, and a glut of reality series during the 2006–07 summer season. The program was held up until January 2009, when it had a short run on ABC's SoapNet. Fox similarly dumped the canceled sitcom Running Wilde on sister channel FX, which consigned the show to four different time slots during the burn off.
Another case involving cable television had the final five episodes of Syfy's Caprica being burned off on January 4, 2011 after the network determined that it would neither renew the series nor be able to support a traditional finale due to scheduling factors.
- Schneider, Michael (April 6, 2010). "Fox axes 'Sons of Tucson'". Variety. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
- "'Human Target,' 'Lie to Me,' 'Sons of Tucson': Keep 'em or kill 'em?".
- Fox Broadcasting. " 'Til Death Fact Sheet". FoxFlash.com. Press release. Retrieved March 8, 2010.
- Longsdorf, Amy (January 24, 2010) "Kate Micucci: 'Really exciting things are starting to happen'" The Morning Call. Retrieved March 8, 2010. Archived 4 September 2010 at WebCite
- Andreeva, Nellie (25, 2014). "Benched A&E Drama Series 'Those Who Kill' To Air On Sibling LMN". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
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