What happened to commercial limitsIJ

May 20, 2012

Q: What ever happened to the FCC ruling that restricted the number of minutes allowed on TV shows for commercials? Also, many news programs now put in feature stories about programs running later on the same channel. Isn’t that considered advertising also?

A: It’s been close to 30 years since commercial time in prime-time programs was strictly limited.

At one point, the Federal Communications Commission set a maximum amount of advertising in radio and TV programs. And the National Association of Broadcasters had a standards code for stations, which included commercial limits. But in the Reagan era, the FCC embraced deregulation; its then-chairman, Mark Fowler, famously called TV nothing more than “a toaster with pictures.” And deregulation included dropping the limits on commercials.

The NAB, meanwhile, found its guidelines under fire. As the TV reference “Stay Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting” notes, “After a March 1982 decision on one small part of the advertising code went against the NAB, the government and trade association signed a consent decree effectively ending both the advertising and program guideline codes.”

To be sure, those ads pay for making TV. And advertising is not entirely unchained; there have been restrictions on ads in children’s programming since the passage of the Children’s Television Act in 1990.

But in most cases, shows can have as many ads as they want — and about a third of a commercial TV program’s time slot is surrendered to commercials. And that’s not counting all those onscreen graphics touting other shows and products, or the paid-for placement of products within a program. Ads are also becoming more frequent in online telecasts; I recently watched nominally noncommercial PBS’ Frontline online and sat through several ads for an upcoming movie.

Q: I’ve never seen you review the series “Flashpoint” on ION. Don’t like it?

A: I have been reasonably entertained by the police drama, made for Canada’s CTV as well as CBS in the U.S. before moving to ION here. It’s a sturdy show, though not one that has ever been on my must-viewing list.

By the way, the fifth season, currently in production, will be the show’s last. “Every creative producer knows in their heart of hearts, in their gut, when it’s time to end a series on the creative level,” one producer told the CTV website. “And we’ve been talking about this for a very, very long time. … We really felt that this was the right moment to do it.”