The Story So Far … Repetitive Television

What do we think of repetitious television programmes? I don’t mean the showing of repeats; I mean those programmes that, after an advert break, repeat what they have already told you.

They insist on giving you “the story so far”.

Why do they do that?

  • Do they think that we’ve forgot what’s already happened?
  • Do they think that the adverts have so diverted our minds that we need to be refocused back on the programme?
  • Is it simply used as an easy or lazy means of restarting the programme after the advert break?
  • Is it just a way of filling programme time – two minutes of “the story so far” means two minutes less of original filming required?
  • Do the programme makers think that they’re actually being helpful, that it’s beneficial to the viewer?

The only reasonable explanation that occurs to me for “the story so far” is that it is because viewers will often switch channels during advert breaks (which tend to occur at about the same time on most channels), some viewers may chance upon this new programme and opt to watch this rather than their previous viewing choice. In such circumstances they might appreciate “the story so far”.

For those viewers that have been with the programme from the beginning “the story so far” repetition is an annoying waste of time – they’re just telling you what you already know. It’s also, arguably, a slight on the viewers’ memory and intelligence.

What does it tell you about programme makers and their view of our attention spans?

It may be that an hour long programme has three advert breaks within the broadcast. That means three lots of “the story so far” repetitions. And, more often than not, these repetitions are exact repeats of the earlier repetition, extended only by what the programme has shown since the previous advert break. Such is the case that you may end up seeing a particular piece of the early part of the programme four times – the original film and then three repetitions after three ad breaks.

Without the advert break programme makers would never attempt to retell what has already been shown. That would come over as very patronising. “You’ve been watching this programme for half an hour now; we’d better have a recap on what we’ve been through.” And yet, when there are adverts they feel that it is something they need to do.

I recognise that there would certainly be benefits from “the story so far” recap between episodes of a programme that are spaced out, perhaps a week apart. But to have a recap after a mere few minutes away from the programme seems unnecessary.

I am no expert on media studies so I have no idea when this production technique first surfaced. Nor do I know where it arose from or whether certain countries, channels or programme makers use the technique more than others.

It is, however, a practice that has crept into programme making. It has become the norm, the accepted way that programmes are made. It is also a technique which would seem to be difficult to reverse. There is little downside to doing it.

The only opposition to it is from opinionated people like me who like to occasionally have a rant. And although we might moan, that’s all we will do. We won’t turn off our televisions. If we’ve already watched a good proportion of a programme we’re hardly likely to walk away from it just because it has a brief recap after the adverts.

Perhaps those astute programme makers have recognised this. They have done the calculations. With limited downside, these repetitions have the potential to draw in new viewers which, ultimately, maximising viewer numbers, is what they are after, even if it may marginally impinge on the overall quality of the programme.

It seems that “the story so far” moments are something that we will have to tolerate and accept. They are an extension of the adverts – an irritation, only really to be appreciated if it takes slightly longer to make your ad break cup of tea than you expected.