You probably watch television every day, but do you know how everything that you see gets to your screen?
It’s quite a process.
The actual act of getting all programs and promotions, as well as any other elements broadcast, is most often overseen by a network’s scheduling department.
Everything that is paid for, like commercials, is handled by the traffic department. All other on-air elements are handled by the scheduling department.
The production department oversees the actual production of all shows that will air on the network.
Each show is produced by a separate production unit, often a production company, hired by the network.
One function of the scheduling department is to create programming grids. These grids list every show that will air on the network in their time slot. These grids are created months in advance.
This schedule is then distributed to all departments within the network so that everyone involved in the production and scheduling process knows when each episode of each show is due to air.
The promotion department is responsible for creating all on-air elements that are used to promote each show. The most important thing created by this department are called ‘promos’ which are the ‘commercials’ that advertise each show but unlike commercials, they are not paid for by outside income.
Usually to keep track of all of these products, the scheduling department creates work orders for the production department for their shows and for the promotion department for their promos.
The show work orders list how many segments will be in each show. The promotion work orders list how many spots should be produced for each show and what lengths those spots need to be.
For example, an hour long show is usually four segments and runs about 44 minutes long without commercials and promos. A half hour show is either two or three segments, sometimes four, and runs about 23 minutes, also without commercials and promos.
When the work order is generated, a unique code, sometimes referred to as a ‘house number’, is assigned to each segment and each promo This number is then used in the scheduling computer system to schedule the segments for the show and promos as well.
The promos created for each show usually call for a variety of lengths for those spots. A work order will usually call for :30 spots as well as :20 and :10 spots. Sometimes a :15 spot is ordered as well.
The number and length of spots depends on the number of ‘avails’, or open available time, in the schedule and the length of those avails in certain shows.
For example, I worked in the scheduling department of one network in which our highest rated show was the Sunday night movie. I knew that within that movie we sold a lot of commercial time so there were usually only :15 avails, with a few :10 avails. So, if we had a new show that I wanted to promote within that movie I would make sure to order :15 and :10 spots for that show.
Sometimes, when ordering promos, the scheduler might want different ‘sells’ as well. Like maybe a more male-oriented sell to feature in a movie that might have more male viewers than female viewers. But if the new episode of the show can also be promoted in female skewing material, a more feminine sell might also be needed.
For example, when promoting a show, the scheduler might ask for one type of sell to air during “The View” and another type of sell to air during college football over the weekend.
Once everything has been produced and delivered, it’s time to create the actual daily air ‘log’. The log is an intricate document that lists what will air on the network during every single second of a given day.
Usually what happens is the scheduler inputs the program segments as the traffic department is inputting the commercial spots. Once the traffic department has finished with all of the commercials, they turn the log over to the scheduling department to fill any additional holes with promotional spots.
Most networks allot a certain amount of time for promotional spots per hour as it is important to promote future shows on the network to get ratings which then help to sell more commercial time.
Selling commercial time on the network is what pays for everything to do with the network – the shows, the promotions and the salaries of those people who work at the network. So, it’s key to sell as much air time as possible.
When traffic finishes with the log, no matter how well the sales department has done their job, there are usually a few open holes to fill with promos.
Using strategic placement to best promote new shows, the holes are filled.
Once all promos are added to the lot, any other on-air elements needed are handled by the scheduling department. These include anything that you see on your screen that is not specifically part of a show, like ‘snipes’. Snipes appear on the screen, most often on the bottom of the screen, to promote upcoming shows. For example, on the USA Network, while you’re watching “Burn Notice” you might see a snipe for “Psych”. It will slide onto the screen, animate in some way, and then leave the screen.
‘Bugs’, which are the television ratings assigned to each episode of each show and that appear in the upper corner at the beginning of the show, are the responsibility of the scheduling department as well.
If there is a ‘crawl’, as seen on CNN and other channels, that too is handled by schedulers.
The scheduling department is usually also responsible for scheduling the promos that run in the end credits of a movie. These are often called “squeezebacks” as the credits are squeezed into the lower or side part of the screen to make room for a promo to air.
So the main elements handled by the scheduling department are program segments, promos, snipes, bugs, crawls and squeezebacks.
When I worked in scheduling, I created a checklist with all of these elements listed and on the front of each log the checklist was completed prior to handing the log off to a senior staff member for review.
Once all of this information is input into the computer scheduling system, someone in an authoritative position reviews the log to make sure that everything is correctly in its place. If everything is scheduled correctly, then he/she will ‘close the log’.
The log is usually closed 48 hours before the broadcast day.
Then log then goes to the broadcast area.
In this area, engineers begin to compile all the elements — shows, promos, snipes, commercials, squeezebacks, bugs and anything else that the log calls for — to make sure that they have everything that is supposed to go on air.
If they are missing any elements, there are calls to scheduling and/or the traffic departments to track down those missing pieces.
If something airs incorrectly, the scheduling department is usually the first department to be notified so they can review the incident and figure out what went wrong.
There is a log generated for every single broadcast day and it usually takes several people several hours to completely finish a single log. It’s very detailed work.
As there are seven days in a week and only five work days, schedulers are often working on two, or more, logs at the same time. It is a position that truly has very little, if any, downtime.
A position in the scheduling department calls for a great deal of data entry and problem-solving skills. It is not a glamorous position, but it is a very important position within a television network.
So the next time you sit down in front of your television, remember that someone had to schedule everything that you see. Watch and enjoy!