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A rerun or repeat is a rebroadcast of an episode of a radio or television program. There are two types of reruns – those that occur during a hiatus, and those that occur when a program is syndicated. Reruns can also be, as the case with more popular shows, when a show is aired outside of its timeslot (for example, in the afternoon).
In the United Kingdom, the word "repeat" refers only to a single episode; "rerun" or "rerunning" is the preferred term for an entire series/season. "Repeat" is also used to refer to programs shown less than a week after the original broadcast, before the next episode of the series.
The term "rerun" can also be used in some respects as a synonym for reprint, the equivalent term for print items; this is especially true for print items that are part of ongoing series (such as comic strips; Peanuts, for instance, has been in reruns since the retirement and death of creator Charles M. Schulz).
Reruns in the United States
In the United States, most television shows from the late 1940s and early 1950s were performed live, and in many cases they were never recorded. However, television networks in the United States began making kinescope recordings of shows broadcast live from the East Coast. This allowed the show to be broadcast later for the West Coast. These kinescopes, along with pre-filmed shows, and later, videotape, paved the way for extensive reruns of syndicated television series.
In the United States, currently running shows will rerun older episodes from the same season to fill the time slot with the same program. This is often done for headliner shows because the length of the year (52 weeks) is far more than the length of a pick-up (from six to 13 episodes – usually one per week) or a full season (usually from 22 to 24 episodes or weeks). Shows will tend to start rerunning episodes after the November sweeps period and usually show only reruns from mid-December until mid-January or even February sweeps (where a show will return to airing new episodes in order to increase its ratings, which will determine the cost of a commercial run during that time slot). This winter (or "mid-season") phase is also used to try out new shows that did not make it onto the fall schedule to see how they fare with the public. These series usually run six to 13 episodes. If they do well with the public, they may get a renewal for a half (13 weeks) or full season in the new fall schedule. Major shows that are already a hit with audiences will return from February sweeps until the end of the season (which sometimes ends before May sweeps) with only limited reruns used. These are more frequently referred to as repeats, with reruns the term more commonly used for syndicated programs.
Often, if a television special such as Peter Pan or a network television broadcast of a classic film like The Wizard of Oz is especially well-received, it will be rerun from time to time. Before the VCR era, this would be the only opportunity audiences had of seeing a program more than once.
Seasonal programming such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life or the Charlie Brown television specials are normally re-shown once (or occasionally twice) each year, in the appropriate timeframe.
A television program goes into syndication when many episodes of the program are sold as a package for a large sum of money. Generally the buyer is either a cable channel or an owner of local television stations. Often, programs are not particularly profitable until they are sold for syndication. Since local television stations often need to sell more commercial airtime than network affiliates, syndicated shows are usually edited to make room for extra commercials. Often about 100 episodes (four to five seasons' worth) are required for a weekly series to be rerun in daily syndication (at least four times a week). Very popular series running more than four seasons may start daily reruns of the first seasons, while production and airings continue of the current season's episodes; until approximately the early 1980s, shows that aired in syndication while still in production had the reruns aired under an alternate name (or multiple alternate names, as was the case with Death Valley Days) to differentiate the reruns from the first-run episodes.
Few people anticipated the long life that a popular television series would eventually see in syndication, so most performers signed contracts that limited residual payments to about six repeats. After that, the actors received nothing and the production company would keep 100% of any income until the copyright expired; many shows did not even have their copyrights renewed and others were systematically destroyed to recycle valuable film, such was the lack of awareness of the potential for revenue from them. This situation went unchanged until the mid-1970s, when contracts for new shows extended residual payments for the performers, regardless of the number of reruns, while tape recycling effectively came to an end and the Copyright Act of 1976 extended copyright terms to much longer lengths, eliminating the need for renewal.
Once a series is no longer performing well enough to be sold in syndication, it may still remain in barter syndication, in which television stations are offered the program for free in exchange for a requirement to air additional advertisements (without compensation) bundled with the free program during other shows (barter syndication is far more common, if not the norm, in radio, where only the most popular programs charge rights fees). The Program Exchange is the most prominent barter syndicator in United States television, offering mostly older series from numerous network libraries. Barter syndicated series may be seen on smaller, independent stations with small budgets or as short-term filler on larger stations; they tend not to be as widely syndicated as programs syndicated with a rights fee.
With the growing availability of cable and satellite television channels as well as over-the-air digital subchannels, combined with a growing body of available post-syndication programming, a handful of specialty channels have been built solely or primarily to run former network programming which otherwise would no longer be in syndication. Branded as "classic television", these often carry reruns of programming dating back to the monochrome television era and are promoted as nostalgia. The corresponding radio format would be that of an oldies, classic rock, classic hits or adult standards station. Depending on the programs chosen for a classic network, running the format can be very inexpensive, due to many shows beginning to fall into the public domain.
On cable and satellite, channels that devote at least some of their program schedule to post-syndication reruns include Nick at Nite, TV Land, TBS, USA Network, WGN America, TVGN, Hub Network, Game Show Network, Boomerang, Nicktoons, INSP, RFD-TV, and the Hallmark Channel; on digital broadcast television otherwise-vacant subchannels may be used to carry Retro Television Network, Antenna TV, Me-TV, This TV, Bounce TV or PBJ. Equity Media Holdings had been using low-power television stations to carry RTN in various markets; those stations were, as a result of Equity going bankrupt, sold to religious broadcaster Daystar Television Network.
Traditionally, shows most likely to be rerun in this manner are scripted comedies and dramas. Game shows, variety shows, Saturday morning cartoons and, to a lesser extent, newsmagazines and late-night talk shows (often in edited form) have been seen less commonly in reruns. Most variants of reality television have proven to be a comparative failure in reruns, due to the competitive nature of the format and the lack of the element of surprise. Despite this, reruns of sports broadcasts have found a niche, and networks such as MSG Network, ESPN Classic and NFL Network currently have a significant portion of programming time devoted to reruns of live sportscasts.
With the rise of the DVD video format, box sets featuring season or series runs of television series have become an increasingly important retail item. Some view this development as a rising new idea in the industry of reruns as an increasingly major revenue source in themselves instead of the standard business model as a draw for audiences for advertising. While there were videotape releases of television series before DVD, the format's limited content capacity, large size and reliance on mechanical winding made it impractical as a widespread retail item. Many series which continue to air first-run episodes (such as Modern Family and Grey's Anatomy) may release DVD sets of the prior season between the end of that season and the beginning of the next.
Some television programs that are released on DVD (particularly those that have been out of production for several years) may not have all of the seasons released, either due to poor overall sales or prohibitive costs for obtaining rights to music used in the program; one such incidence is Perfect Strangers, which has seldom been in wide syndication since the late 1990s primarily due to lack of demand, which had only a DVD set of the first and second seasons released due to the expensiveness of relicensing songs used in later seasons of the series that are performed by the show's two lead characters. In some cases, series whose later season releases have been held up for these reasons may have the remaining seasons made available on DVD, often after a distributor that does not hold syndication rights to the program (such as Shout! Factory) secures the rights for future DVD releases.
TV Guide originally used the term rerun to designate rebroadcast programs, but abruptly changed to repeat in the early 1970s.
Other TV listings services and publications, including local newspapers, would often indicate reruns as "(R)"; since the early 2000s, many listing services now only provide a notation only if an episode is new ("(N)"), with reruns getting no notation.
Repeats in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, most drama and comedy series run for shorter seasons – typically six, seven or thirteen episodes – and are then replaced by others. An exception is soap operas, which are either on all year round (for example, EastEnders and Coronation Street), or are on for a season similar to the American format.
As in the U.S., fewer new episodes are made during the summer. Until recently it was also common practice for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to repeat classic shows from their archives, but this has more or less dried up in favor of newer (and cheaper) formats like reality shows, except on the BBC where older BBC shows, especially sitcoms like Dad's Army and Fawlty Towers, are frequently repeated.
Syndication did not exist as such in Britain until the arrival of satellite, cable and later, from 1998 on, digital television, although it could be argued that many ITV programs up to the early 1990s, particularly imported programming was syndicated in the sense that each ITV region bought some programs independently of the ITV Network, and in particular many programs out of prime time made by smaller ITV stations were "part-networked" where some regions would show them and others would not. Nowadays there are many channels in the UK (for example, Gold) which repackage and rebroadcast "classic" programming from both sides of the Atlantic. Some of these channels, like their U.S. counterparts, make commercial timing cuts; others get around this by running shows in longer time slots, and critics of timing cuts see no reason why all channels should not do the same.
Early on in the history of British television, agreements with the actors' union Equity and other trade bodies limited the number of times a single program could be broadcast, usually only twice, and these showings were limited to within a set time period such as five years. This was due to the unions' fear that the channels filling their schedules with repeats could put actors and other production staff out of work as fewer new shows would be made. It also had the unintentional side effect of causing many programs to be junked after their repeat rights had expired, as they were considered to be of no further use by the broadcasters. Although these agreements changed during the 1980s and beyond, it is still expensive to repeat archive television series on British terrestrial television, as new contracts have to be drawn up and payments made to the artists concerned. Repeats on multi-channel television are cheaper, as are re-showings of newer programs covered by less strict repeat clauses. However, programs are no longer destroyed, as the historical and cultural reasons for keeping them have now been seen, even if the programs have little or no repeat value.
- Kompare, Derek (2005). Rerun nation: how repeats invented American television. Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 0-415-97054-7.
- TVShowsOnDVD.com - The "What's The Hold-up?" FAQ