Programs find a second life on nighttime schedules
“Day for night” is a production term for techniques used to create the appearance of night in shots actually taken during the day.Yet watching TV lately, the term is taking on another meaning, with programs and formats traditionally associated with daytime — an increasingly moribund medium — finding second life on nighttime schedules. This phenomenon isn’t exactly new. Indeed, it was a dozen years ago when “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” set TV scrambling to launch primetime quiz- and gameshows, before the trend cooled — amid inevitable saturation — faster than you can say “You are the ‘Weakest Link.’ Goodbye.” The latest salvo, however, is more varied, and comes as daytime approaches a significant crossroads. The cancellation of several long-running soap operas — most recently ABC’s “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” replaced by cheaper talk/lifestyle shows — highlights a shift in viewer patterns and habits, as well as economic forces compelling programmers to reexamine every daypart. Nothing better reflects the drip of day into night than “The Rosie Show,” Rosie O’Donnell’s fledgling talk program for Oprah Winfrey’s struggling OWN network. Love her or not, the show was originally conceived with syndication in mind and certainly wouldn’t look out of place at 3 p.m. on a local station. Then again, perhaps in keeping with Winfrey’s sensibility from her talk days, much of OWN’s programming approximates daytime — including “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” which repackages old episodes and dresses them up with Winfrey dispensing New Age wisdom. OWN isn’t alone in mining genres traditionally associated with daytime as traditional lines of demarcation between day-parts fade, with additional examples premiering in the next few weeks. MTV’s “Friend Zone” might be airing at 7 p.m. starting Nov. 1, but the series — featuring teens confessing a hidden infatuation to the friend who’s the object of that desire — appears modeled after the “secret crush” episodes of Maury Povich’s talkshow. By showcasing a pair of stories within each half-hour, the presentation doesn’t allow more time to expand on the “yes or no” revelations than Povich’s daytime pairings did. Elsewhere, BBC America will unveil a U.S. original patterned after British panel shows, but also resembling ancient artifacts like “What’s My Line?” In this case, it’s “Would You Rather? With Graham Norton,” where a quartet of panelists (to call them “celebrities” would be unduly charitable) bat around hypothetical questions, like whether they’d rather eat dog food for a year or be shot in the knee. What seems clear is with the industry’s business model in flux, everything is in play — including, potentially, renewed efforts to migrate soaps into the evening. While ABC’s Soapnet is going away and MyNetworkTV’s dalliance with English-language-style telenovelas flopped, any genre with an established track record merits consideration — particularly if it can be mounted inexpensively enough to survive in a heavily fragmented environment. The main challenge is that soap sensibilities have been co-opted by reality shows that replicate their narrative dynamics, on channels such as Investigation Discovery and A&E. Such programs have done to daytime serials what newsmagazines did to TV movies — approximating the thrills in less time, for less money. As the quizshow flameout suggests, networks — even niche-oriented ones — need to be cautious about getting carried away and winding up with a surplus of programming where “cheap” is the first adjective that comes to mind. It was five years ago, after all, when NBC first floated plans to air only less-expensive unscripted programs at 8 p.m., with then-NBC Universal TV Group CEO Jeff Zucker saying of the network business, “I don’t know if it is irreparably broken, but the economic model is under a tremendous amount of pressure.” NBC followed that initiative a few years later with “The Jay Leno Show” experiment at 10 p.m. And we all saw how that worked out. Nevertheless, there seems to be little doubt networks will continue seeking programs to balance lineup costs, which also includes having talent such as Anderson Cooper wear multiple hats, straddling daytime and primetime with separate shows. All of which might explain the current wave of “day for night” production, as networks appear determined to tap the most economical avenues available — trying, as best they can, to keep the lights on.