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- Not to be confused with a telethon.
In television, a marathon is typically the sequential broadcast of a single or a number of related television programs, most notably reflecting a theme. It is an extension of the concept of block programming.
Marathons are usually aired by cable channels and consist of numerous episodes of a television series once broadcast on network television and more recently, also with original first-run programming aired on cable channels. The most common reasons for a network to run a marathon are:
- to celebrate the acquisition of a series,
- to lead into a highly anticipated episode of a series (such as a return from a hiatus or a series finale),
- when well known star of a show retires or dies (this is particularly popular on networks such as TV Land and Game Show Network, which specialize in reruns),
- to celebrate (or to take advantage of additional viewers on) a holiday,
- to burn off a contract for a television series that has proved unprofitable, or
- to inexpensively counterprogram against more popular programs such as the Super Bowl.
As the name suggests, marathons usually run for a long period of time; up to days if it is a movie marathon or a series with many episodes. There is no industry standard on how many episodes or hours officially constitutes a "marathon." Some of the longest running marathons are the two Twilight Zone marathons that air on Syfy in the United States on New Years Day and Independence Day; not counting early morning infomercials, each run for roughly three days straight. Holidays are a common time for marathons; for instance, on Thanksgiving in 2010, over 40 cable networks aired marathons of various lengths.
Because of the expense of producing new episodes, almost all marathons primarily feature reruns of episodes already previously seen, although a new episode may be tacked on at or near the end in prime time (the marathon may end by replaying that new episode into the overnight hours). In a few cases, especially with classic television, lost episodes, originally unseen television pilots, and other programming that may not have been seen during the show's original run may be included.
Television marathons originated at Nick at Nite, where Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert created the idea in 1985. Goodman and Seibert based the concept on a similar concept that radio stations used, in which songs by one particular artist would be played for a prolonged period of time. While early marathons were rare and special, in modern time it is common for some networks to air a television series in three- to four-hour blocks, sometimes on a daily basis, that are sometimes to referred to mini-marathons. Documentary channels such as History and National Geographic Channel, in particular, have begun routinely to broadcast marathons of 12 hours or more of some programs. Separated by movies and other series, Law & Order and its related spin-offs air on TNT, USA, and Bravo a total of approximately ten times a day.
Marathons have proven to be a viable way of rerunning reality television contests, which have otherwise been relatively difficult to rerun in traditional forms (e.g. daily "strip" syndication) because of the loss of the element of surprise. In December 2012, MTV announced that it would air a seven-day (168 hour) marathon of Jersey Shore before the series finale on December 20, 2012; this marked one of the longest marathons in television history.
It has been speculated in the early 2010s that marathon television viewing, usually done on-demand by ordering a whole season of episodes of a television series on a service such as Netflix, is increasing in popularity. Infomercial blocks are generally not considered marathons.
- "Football not your thing? Tee up these televised 'bowls'". USA Today. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
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