I was watching a DVR’d episode of House recently and I became aware that the amount of show between commercials was changing as the show went on. The commercials were getting closer together. Then at the end, a long run of show between the last commercial and the credits. I did what any normal person would do. I backed up to the beginning and recorded the times of the changes so I could chart it.
My first attempt was a stacked bar chart. My data looks like this:
Column B is the air type. Column C is the time it started. Column D is the duration. The stacked bar looks like this
It didn’t really work out too well for me. For one, the legend shows Show, Ad, and Intro for every instance. I hid the legend and showed data labels for one of each of the different air types. I would have spent more time making it look less stupid, but even if I could get it just the way I want, it wouldn’t tell the story in a compelling way. You can see that the blue strips are getting thinner as time marches on, but would you notice if you didn’t already know the hypothesis? If I just showed you that chart without any explanation, would you draw the same conclusion as I did? Methinks not. Here’s the source data for that chart.
Take two was a bar chart. I isolated only the show air types and plotted the duration on the x-axis and the start time on the y-axis.
Yeah, much better. A short teaser before the intro. Gradually shortening durations as the show progresses. A reversal of the trend on act VI. I get why they put the commercials closer together later in the show. Once I’ve been watching for 26 minutes, I’m enough invested that I’m willing to tolerate commercials more. Put that same commercial spacing in the first 15 minutes, and more people will find something else to watch.
But why the long one at the end? Do the writers need that much uninterrupted time to wrap it up? That was my first thought, and I think it’s correct. Kind of. When I took another look at the bar chart, I noticed that the final segment was not really that long. If I exclude the intro, it’s the fourth longest segment. Yes the writers need that much time, but it’s not that much time. It just seems long because acts IV and V are so short.
I’m sure these inter-commercial segments aren’t really called acts, but calling them acts and using Roman numerals makes me feel like a Hollywood bigshot.