The rules of TV in 2012

It might look simple from our side of the screen but the ever-changing television landscape is not as straightforward as it appears. Daniel Burt, Paul Kalina, Elmo Keep, Craig Mathieson and Andrew Murfett take a look at how television works in the 21st century.

It might look simple from our side of the screen but the ever-changing television landscape is not as straightforward as it appears. Daniel Burt, Paul Kalina, Elmo Keep, Craig Mathieson and Andrew Murfett take a look at how television works in the 21st century.

TELEVISION rarely stands still. These days, a genuine hit show is one that, according to national ratings figures, is seen by 1 million people. It wasn't that long ago a hit show averaged 1.5 million or 2 million viewers a week. With digital TV real and tangible, audiences are fragmenting even more and, just like us, networks are playing catch-up (except we do our catch-up watching shows on the internet).

A few things, however, remain the same. Morning-show weather segments are still for sale, egos need stroking and The Big Bang Theory is still on - all the time. Here's our guide to TV 2012. These rules are by no means definitive, of course, so we'd love to get your thoughts at ggletters@theage.com.au.

In every reality show, there must be a hero and villain

We all know the best (or most popular) reality shows - think My Kitchen Rules, Survivor, The Amazing Race and so on - are created in the same way as any scripted drama. They have ''characters'' who are ''cast'' with the purpose of eliciting emotion, be it love or hate, from the audience. Art imitating life: MKR's self-proclaimed Dr Evil, Peter, has ambitions of landing a role on radio as a shock jock.

There must be a recap at the beginning and end of every segment in every Australian reality franchise

TV's assumption is thus: no viewer can recall what happened four minutes before the previous commercial break or not resist the urge to change the channel without a taste of what's going to happen after the commercial break. DVR friendly: Despite shows such as MKR and MasterChef being more watchable in catch-up mode, series such as Revenge and Person of Interest always increase their audience in ratings that incorporate DVRs.

If you are Channel Nine and your big reality franchise fails, put on Big Bang Theory

It used to be that if a show failed on Channel Nine, it was replaced with Two and a Half Men. Before that, it was Frasier. This year, when a prime-time show such as Excess Baggage flops, The Big Bang Theory is the go-to show. Nine recently ran a dozen episodes of BBT over its three channels in a week. Time is running out: in the past month, ratings for new episodes of The Big Bang Theory have dropped nationally.Soap operas after dark

The venerable soap opera is slowly disappearing from daytime schedules, but that's hardly the end. They have migrated to evenings, where they've become melodramas. Desperate Housewives was a sensation when it arrived here at the start of 2005, adding cattiness to old Days of Our Lives plots, and Revenge has been a smash, regularly drawing 2 million viewers. Ready for prime time? Surely there must be a show that can bring Ronn Moss, The Bold and the Beautiful's Ridge, to our screens at night.Zooey Deschanel proves that dorks can be hot but it helps if you're also hot

Pop culture's new ''it'' girl is New Girl. Zooey Deschanel plays Jess, a quirky middle-school teacher who wears eccentric clothes, sings her own theme tune and bumps into things. Such awkwardness might hinder other women but Jess has the X factor - she's thin and attractive. Her well-intentioned naivete causes pickles but, thankfully, others are at hand to protect Jess from herself. In the Australian vernacular, Jess is not so much adorkable as dagnificent. I do: Deschanel filed for divorce late last year, much to the delight of single indie boys with pipe dreams.

If you promise to solve a mystery in one season, don't end the series on a cliff-hanger

The conclusion of the American incarnation of the Danish hit The Killing initially seemed to be worthy of our attention. Developed by AMC, the American network behind Mad Men, it was an unconventional crime series. Yet when the show failed to solve the mystery at the heart of the series, fans turned. So much so, last week The New York Times Magazine ran a piece in which the network head basically apologised to fans. Other things we learnt about Seattle from The Killing: It rains. A lot.Great Australia drama is produced all the time but it screens only on pay TV

ABC1 and Matchbox Pictures' adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas' critically lauded novel The Slap was tightly written, astutely directed, woven around an ingenious Rashomon-esque plot structure and masterfully acted. Put simply, it restored faith in Australian-made, world-beating programming. But elsewhere there's a dearth of top-shelf drama produced on Australian television - two fine examples are Killing Time, the hard-bitten true-crime tale of disgraced Melbourne lawyer Andrew Fraser (played by David Wenham), and cross-generational family drama Tangle, now in its third season, to name just two - but they remain viewable only to those prepared to pay for TV. Stalled drama: Killing Time's broadcast was delayed for a year when its screening might have interfered with an ongoing criminal matter concerning some of its real-life protagonists.

Telemovies aren't going away any time soon

The most surprising thing about Nine's recent telemovie The Great Mint Swindle was that it was, shockingly, darn good. Audiences were clearly prepared to go along for the ride. Given the right cast and project, the much-derided Aussie telemovie genre is still one with plenty of life in it. Mining for drama: Advance word on Nine's coming Beaconsfield-related telemovie is very strong. The more you like a show, the less likely it is to start on time.

TV programmers have less regard for your routine than a newborn baby or a garbage truck at 6am. The clock of daytime scheduling runs like, well, clockwork. But the clock of prime time melts like a Salvador Dali. Those with DVR recorders quickly learn never to take a commercial network at face value. Major culprit: For starting on time, The Good Wife is a bad, bad girl.

When in doubt, bring back Andrew Denton

Andrew Denton recently swore off on-camera duties and instead pulled the strings behind the scenes at Zapruder's Other Films (now Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder's) as the executive producer of shows such as The Gruen Transfer, Hungry Beast, The Joy of Sets and Can of Worms. Yet the lure of the spotlight has proven irresistible, with the chance to adjudicate a very cerebral game show in the form of the ABC's soon-to-be-seen Randling, a bare-knuckle celebration of language in which contestants fight tooth and claw over etymologies in the tradition of QI. Word nerds rejoice, or as they say in Germany, nothing, because they don't have a word for rejoice. Wait, they do: it's ''frohlocken''. Logie time: Denton might have won almost every award there is in Australian television, but a Logie has so far eluded him. Could Randling be his time?

Two shows don't go into a single timeslot

There was no shortage of stunts on the two weight-loss reality series that were launched at the beginning of the year, but no one expected cannibalism to take hold. That's what happened when Channel Ten's perennial The Biggest Loser moved to 7pm on weeknights to confront Nine's plus-sized C-listers on Excess Baggage. There was going to be only one winner and despite Kevin Federline requiring an ambulance on the new entrant, it was The Biggest Loser that triumphed, with Nine exiling its failed format to the obscurity of GO! Shrunken audience: Last week's series final of Excess Baggage was seen by less than 90,000 viewers nationally.

Networks ignore the internet at their peril

Networks have a strange relationship with the internet. On one hand they want to slap a Twitter feed on everything and form catch-up video sites; on the other, they ignore the great number of people who don't consume television through the traditional box and instead download whole seasons, or watch individual segments on catch-up, by excluding them from ratings figures. This can prove disastrous for shows whose primary audiences are found online. Most recently, cult US comedy Community, which, thanks to a dedicated and sometimes ferocious campaign from its enormous internet fan base, lobbied NBC successfully to recommission the show for a third series to air later this year. Hell hath no fury like a scorned TV nerd who has access to email. We're online: 32 per cent of online viewers watch their preferred content via ABC's iView, according to the TV and Video 2011 Consumer Trends report, which was compiled by Ericsson.

Satellite interviews should always end awkwardly as we wait for both parties to say goodbye

Man landed on the moon more than 40-years-ago but communicating via satellite in 2012 still resembles a long-distance phone call with your hard-of-hearing grandmother. The guest is somewhere on the other side of the planet, such as Perth, and seated in front of a backdrop that hasn't been updated since 1976. After a question is asked, it is the job of the vision switcher in the control room to cut to the guest for an answer. If the cut is too early, guests are seen staring blankly in anticipation as the question flies through the ether, hits their earpiece and, finally, animates their face. The lag is tolerated at the end of the interview to say thank-you and goodbye, unless a decision is made to cut the feed or cue outro music that drowns out the farewell. To lose two is careless: despite thousands of communications satellites in orbit at a cost of millions of dollars, interviews must always wrap up because ''we are losing the satellite''.

Actors interviewed on talk shows must always be uncertain of what clip we are about to see

Film stars are a staple of the talk-show circuit, yet very few seem to be aware of what is expected of them. After a few minutes answering perfunctory questions about their holiday, family and antics they got up to on set, an actor will be invited to explain the scene to be shown to the audience. The clip is pre-arranged and designed to entice viewers to buy tickets to the film. However, the request comes as a huge surprise to some actors, who look over their shoulder or across stage to confer with their exasperated publicist, who explained the content of the clip not 20 minutes ago. Curb your enthusiasm: Without the ''applause'' sign, most clips would be met by the audience with underwhelmed and confused silence.

Success in the US doesn't guarantee success in Australia

The US still provides a large amount of our television programming but we no longer match their choices. The US has shown far more faith in police procedurals such as NCIS: LA, Unforgettable and Person of Interest, which have struggled to varying degrees here. The US, in turn, has shown no interest in the reality cooking format that's produced multiple blockbusters here. Americans, amazingly, still watch Grey's Anatomy but we do agree on Modern Family. Carrying a tune: Music reality talent shows have been massive in the US, with American Idol being joined by The Voice last year, yet Australian Idol wasn't renewed by Ten, even as Nine is investing in a local edition of The Voice.

Australia frequently makes better incarnations of overseas reality franchises

Not to be overtly patriotic but we can do telly pretty well sometimes. And in the case of Grand Designs Australia, The Amazing Race Australia, MasterChef Australia, Wife Swap Australia and Selling Houses Australia, we frequently improve on original concepts. Perhaps he was intimidated: Shamefully, Kevin McCloud has apparently watched only one full episode of his Australian counterpart's production.

We don't want to wait

When the post-apocalyptic zombie series The Walking Dead made its debut in the US in October 2010 it was a ratings smash on cable, and those figures were bettered by series two a year later. Foxtel, however, introduced the show here only earlier this year and it's hardly caused a ripple. Australian television watchers, especially younger ones, will tolerate nothing more than a small gap between international air times and our own. It's a DVD, your Lordship: Season two of Downton Abbey, which Seven hasn't screened yet, has been available on DVD via British websites since November.

We'd rather be anywhere but here right now

The immense popularity of shows that let us feel nostalgia for a time before we were born, such as Boardwalk Empire,Downton Abbey and the piping hot Mad Men, suggests that being anywhere but in 2012 is preferable, thanks to lavish production budgets. We can suspend our disbelief and leave our anxieties while sinking into a sumptuous vision of simpler times. Don's party: For all its historical accuracy, Mad Men has been caught out employing some anachronistic modern language in its scripts. For example, nobody used "leverage" in a business context in 1965.

The woman on a panel must laugh at a man's joke, even if it's not funny

There isn't a lot of work going around if you have a vagina. Women on TV have a historically shorter shelf life and live with the threat of being ''boned'', so the pervading type is flirtatious and maternal. Tina Fey says the definition of ''crazy'' in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to take her to bed. Outside of women's programming, the last time females outnumbered males on screen was during Channel Ten's Breakfast on International Women's Day. Andrew Rochford and Paul Henry confessed to being intimidated at talking to four eminent women but that didn't stop Henry from steering the conversation to ladies wearing bikinis in wind tunnels. Multitasking: Managing male egos with a smile is nothing to be sneezed at.

TV viewers on a Friday or Saturday night don't necessarily want to watch men kicking a ball or improving a house

For what seems like forever, anyone in their lounge room at the weekend had their viewing options limited to men kicking balls, punctuated by men who used to kick balls talking about men kicking balls, followed by more men kicking balls. There were also programs that gave tips on how to renovate a living space because, being a homebody, that was clearly all you had planned for the weekend. The norm has been upended by Doc Martin and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, popular dramas that prove weekend viewers can also enjoy gruff doctors and murders in period costume. Pilot idea to appeal to all demos: Dr Nathan Buckley and Mal Meninga crack cold cases in Footy Homicide.

Every week, television will be the source of a new outrage

Some people are just too busy to get passionate about things that actually matter. A few weeks ago, Yumi Stynes made a glib joke on The Circle about a photo of a beefy soldier standing in a pool. The aside caused controversy because vocal sections of the public did not find it funny. When the storm in that teacup passed, Germaine Greer appeared on Q&A and mentioned in passing the size of the Prime Minister's bum. Despite literally writing the book on feminism, and carrying on the timeless tradition of commenting on the appearance of prime ministers, viewers chose to chastise Greer at the expense of everything else she said. Stay tuned for the next empty scandal just around the corner. Unsubstantiated fact: You are 100 per cent more likely to attract vitriol if you are a woman.

Morning weather presenters have no shame

With the slot of morning-show weathermen and women now open to sponsors prepared to flog any two-bit holiday park or tenuously linked activity or product - Qantas is now flying to Chile, let's do the weather there! - Today's and Sunrise's weather presenters can be expected to turn up virtually anywhere doing any activity. We're not joking: Grant Denyer read the weather while jumping out of a plane.

Summer TV is crap because the networks presume we are outside (which we are because summer TV is crap)

As the sun shines longer and scorches the earth, so do television offerings dry up. Despite viewers having more free time in the summer season, the hopes of being entertained by TV fade along with the curtains. Shows that bombed in the US are given the opportunity to bomb here and ABC talent goes into hibernation for months. The only reasonable option is to go outside and have conversations - but, sadly, not about television because there is nothing on. The best medicine: When you are inside on a beautiful summer evening watching a soulless American sitcom that's already been axed, the laugh track is actually aimed at you.

Written and compiled by Daniel Burt, Paul Kalina, Elmo Keep, Craig Mathieson and Andrew Murfett.

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