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Why TV shows run longer than scheduled

I’ve been wondering for quite some time now why one-hour TV shows so often run one to three minutes over their one-hour time slot. Makes it a bit difficult to see the beginning of another show on a different channel if it starts right on time. Why is this done?

Your question actually includes part of the answer. If a show runs past the one-hour mark (or the half-hour, for that matter), then the thinking is that you will be less likely to switch to another show. (This was especially annoying in the super-sizing era of shows at NBC, when it would expand its Thursday comedies to about 40 minutes each, making for more commercial time in the shows and keeping people from channel-hopping.)

In addition, if a popular series leads into a less popular one, then the extended time for the popular show boosts the ratings in the next quarter-hour.

Sometimes shows are extended to give the makers more time to tell their stories while maintaining a heavy commercial load; “Mad Men” comes to mind. And in some cases, with live entertainment shows such as “American Idol,” a telecast simply runs longer than planned.

Of course, this is a nuisance for viewers, especially when trying to record programs. There have been occasions when onscreen guides have not had the correct running time for a show, so you lose a bit at the end, and that may be an important bit story-wise. If a show is especially important, I’ll usually add a couple of minutes to the recording time to play it safe.

But then suppose you want to record a show at 9 p.m. and two more at 10 p.m. If your 9 p.m. show runs long, and your DVR only records two shows at once, then that overrun keeps you from getting both the 10 p.m. shows. What do you do then? You may want to have a second DVR. Or, if the show is on a cable network, see if there’s a telecast at another time – for example, a late-evening feed aimed at West Coast viewers. Then record that one. Or look for online replays, although not all shows are put up online.

In the movie “The Natural” starring Robert Redford, Darren McGavin’s name is not listed anywhere on the credits. Why would that be?

“It was my choice,” McGavin said in a 1992 interview on “Larry King Live.” (You can find the clip on YouTube.) “There was a kind of a beef, and a thing going on between my agent and the new producer on the film, and they couldn’t agree on money and … they couldn’t agree on billing.” McGavin was unhappy about the situation and finally said “forget the billing, forget any mention of me in the show. We’ll just do it and forget about it.” McGavin also told King that director Barry Levinson later offered him a credit in the film, but McGavin stuck with his original deal.

What is it with series that introduce a character and/or a storyline and then the characters vanish without any explanation about them. For example; “The Mentalist” had a female character named Hightower who was a supervisor who Jane helped escape and has not been heard from since. Why?

Shows often jettison characters when the writers run out of ideas for a character or just reach a logical end for him or her; when actors get other jobs or when the show needs shaking up. Nor are those changes always explained.

For example, viewers still ask what became of Richie Cunningham’s older brother Chuck on “Happy Days” and Judy Winslow on “Family Matters.” As you may recall, Hightower, played by Aunjanue Ellis, had been part of a very dramatic storyline on “The Mentalist” when she made her final appearance at the end of the 2010-11 season.

It was a logical point to say goodbye to Hightower, whose permanence was open to question anyway; she was a recurring character, not a regular one, and was the replacement for another boss. Ellis, by the way, has remained active in theater, movies (she co-starred in “The Help,” which premiered not long after she left “The Mentalist”) and TV, where she had a supporting role on the short-lived ABC drama “Missing.”