My colleague Aaron Barnhart of the Kansas City Star says it's gone too far: now there are the more ubiquitous "mid-season finales" -- especially ones from cable networks. For example, shows like USA Network's "Burn Notice" seemingly have two finales, one mid-season on Sept. 18, and another after the show starts up again in January and ends seven episodes later.
Cable networks are not alone. Many broadcast reality shows essentially have two finales, like ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" -- one for their fall edition, and another for the spring.
This environment can only get worse. While cable networks laid claim to stockpiling shows to run for the summer over the last several years, they now have their sights set on the fall -- or at least TNT does. Steven Bochco's "Raising the Bar," which premiered this month, is Turner's attempt to compete with the big boys in their prime launch season.
Priming viewers to see mid-season finales and/or "true" end-of-the-season finales is, of course, also a great way to push advertisers around. For many marketers, getting commercials in better-rated episodes of high-profile series is a good way avoid the clutter of a busy TV season.
Viewer fatigue is a growing problem -- especially in figuring out when series start and end. How to avoid this? Have a season finale! Everyone will watch then.
You would think TV programmers would be throwing more money into marketing to get people interested in watching at other times of the year. The problem is the noise level among networks is already at a very high level right now.
Broadcasting networks have reported their total marketing efforts -- on a paid dollar basis as well as coming from "free' media" from their own airwaves -- are about the same levels as in years past.
On the surface, this makes sense: How can TV programmers double and triple marketing dollars in the wake of ratings than drift lower and lower? Then again, if TV marketers pay the freight for those lower viewership shows -- as they have in the past -- the financial equation will continue to work well.
While we wait, TV networks will tempt us with more finales to keep us always tuned in. Perhaps there is more frequency to be had: Stay tuned to this week's finale -- and next week's as well.