Lead-ins? Lead-outs? Scheduling? Does any of this matter any more?
To 60% of U.S. TV audience -- those without time-shifting machines - timing is still a factor. But the 40% now in control with time-shifting devices are much less concerned about whether "NCIS: Los Angeles" follows the original "NCIS."
And that 60% number may be dropping quickly -- especially in those homes that can access the likes of Hulu, Netflix, and some video-on-demand services.
Don't get me wrong. Ratings still respond to big lead-ins. When CBS has a biglate Sunday afternoon football game that spills into early evening, "60 Minutes" gets a huge boost. Fox's Sunday night lineup also gets higher ratings from a big NFL late afternoon contest.
Outgoing NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker believes scheduling is less important. "We're clearly heading into a world where content will matter more than schedule," he said recently. It's more about the brand, and the content, he added. This is a big reason why he pushed so hard for that now-successful video destination Hulu.
But right now -- this second -- scheduling is very important to the likes of NBC's local late news programs. "Jay Leno" couldn't help struggling NBC affiliates last year -- and neither can NBC's return to dramas or reality shows this season. Scheduling still counts for local NBC affiliated stations because lower local ratings means lower advertising revenues. It's as simple as that.
Additionally, you can't exactly dismiss the whole concept of lead-in and lead-out programming when it comes to new shows -- even this year, where critics have complained the quality of rookie shows has been sub-par.
Give at least 50% credit to CBS's decent success with new shows "Mike & Molly" or "$#*! My Dad Says" because of scheduling. At 9:30 p.m. Monday, "M&M" has a nice "Two and a half Men" lead-in; at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, "Dad" has "The Big Bang Theory" for help.
You might not think these shows are of the same quality as "West Wing," "Frasier," "The Sopranos," or "Seinfeld." But maybe on a different network there would be another outcome. "Mike & Molly" on say, NBC, on Thursday? Or "Dad" on Fox on Tuesday?
Those shows wouldn't have nearly the same success -- because of scheduling.
Ten years from now, we might find all this talk about lead-ins and lead-out quaint. Right now it's still about the content, the brand and the schedule.