Saturday, 26 January 2008

The Credits Squeeze

These days I seriously doubt that most people pay much attention to the end credits of TV programmes or the end credits of movies shown on television. Let's face it, with only a very few exceptions, the end credits are squeezed either to one side of the screen or to the top or bottom of the screen, while some sort of promo occupies the other part of the screen. As if squeezing the credits to one part of the screen did not make them hard enough to read, in many cases they are ran at such speed that one would have to be The Flash to even find out who the show's set designer was.

It wasn't always this way. Those of you over the age of 25 probably remember the time when the end credits of TV shows occupied the whole screen. In those days shows actually had closing themes, although even at that time they were often obliterated by an off screen announcer reading a promo. It was a time when it was easy to read the end credits, thus allowing the individual to find out who made that particular guest appearance or who did the make-up on the show with little problem. For the television viewer, it would seem to be an ideal situation. You could read the end credits and even be treated to a catchy closing theme (my favourites were always Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies).

All of this changed in the Nineties when the networks became concerned about the device known as the remote control. Now remote controls for television sets have existed in some form since the Fifties, but they would not really become commonplace until the infrared remote control was developed in the late Seventies. By the late Eighties, the majority of television sets sold would come with a remote control. Of course, the end result of this was that no longer did TV viewers have to get up from their easy chairs to change the channel. In theory, at least, this would make them more likely to change the channel. For the networks this seemed like a dire situation. Indeed, in the early Nineties NBC researched the "problem" and discovered that that 25 to 30% of viewers would change channels during the end credits of programmes. NBC then sought a solution to the "problem."

That solution was developed by an initiative by NBC called "NBC 2000." Called "the tease and squeeze" in the industry, but called "the credits squeeze" or "squeeze credits" by everyone else, credits on NBC shows were compressed to only a third of the screen, with the other two thirds of the screen being occupied by promos. Supposedly the credits were tested for readability, although given the complaints of most viewers I know, it would seem that NBC failed on that account. NBC introduced these squeeze credits in 1994. It was not long afterwards that ABC, CBS, and Fox developed their own "squeeze and tease." The cable channels would follow not long after that.

The format of squeeze credits have changed since they were first introduced. In the earliest days NBC would compress the credits to one side (I believe it was the left side, although I may be wrong). These days they compress them to the bottom of the screen, making them even harder to read. TBS has even taken to beginning one show on one side of the screen while the credits for the last show are still rolling on the other side of the screen. And often TBS runs the end credits by so swiftly that one could not read them even if they did occupy the whole screen. One would think that the credit squeeze, being such a bad idea, would never have spread beyond the States. Sadly, it has. The CBC has been using squeeze credits for some time. The BBC only recently started employing them.

I think I can easily speak for a majority of viewers in stating that I despise the credits squeeze. The simple fact is that there are many times I want to know who performed a particular song or whom a particular guest star was. I can remember that when I watched the first episode of the second season of Lost ("Man of Science, Man of Faith") I wanted to know who performed the song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" (I'd apparently forgotten it was Mama Cass). Had I not recorded the show (I worked nights at that time) and not had "pause" available on my VCR, I would have had to have looked it up on the Internet. As it was, I should not have had to use my VCR to simply read a song credit...

Of course, beyond the irritation of not being able to read the credits, there is also the fact that I miss the closing themes of TV shows. As I mentioned earlier, I always enjoyed hearing the closing themes of The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island. On the second season of The Monkees, the closing theme was "For Pete's Sake"--one of my favourite Monkees songs. The closing themes on TV shows were an entertaining means of sitting and watching the credits roll by. They were certainly more entertaining than the network promos that now air beside the squished up credits.

So far I have simply spoken as a television viewer. The fact is that there is a much more important reason to do away with squeeze credits than mere viewer irritation. That is the simple fact that TV shows and movies are collaborative efforts. It takes more than a writer, actors, director, and producer to make even one episode of a TV series. TV shows require cameramen, make-up artists, electricians, and dozens of other crew. These people don't simply deserve to have their credits on the screen. They deserve to have their credits displayed on the screen in such a way that the average person can read them. That means the credits can not be squeezed to one side of the screen or ran at such a speed that you'd have to be Jay Garrick or Barry Allen to read them.

Sadly, I doubt the broadcast networks or the cable channels will do away with the credits squeeze for some time. It is an unfortunate part of television history that the networks, in particular, rarely listen to viewers. Of course, the bitter irony is that while the credits squeeze was developed to prevent viewers from changing channels, I rather suspect that they have had the exact opposite reaction. I know that I tend to change the channel during the end credits of shows more than I ever did in the old days when the credits occupied the whole screen. After all, why shouldn't I? I can't read the credits as they are all scrunched up on the screen, and there is no catchy closing theme to hold me there. I can only hope that some network does another study and finds out how much viewers hate the credits squeeze. Maybe then we won't see them any longer....

9 comments:

d. chedwick bryant said...

I hate the credits squeeze! It is so disrespectful to the people who work on the show.

another thing I hate is what I call "the promo bounce." I was watching "Platoon" and Johnny Depp's character was about to get killed off, when a bouncing cartoony head danced across the bottom of the screen advertising some inane show coming up after the movie! This is why people will see a great film and later say "I didn't get it" or "I lost interest" well, yeah ... all the interruptions....

Toby said...

What I hate is the credit squeeze on TV Land programs. They just HAVE to plug the next show at the beginning of the credits when you want to see who played certain characters.

If they only waited until the cast credits rolled, they'd still have time for the promo.

I realize this gives short shrift to the technical credits, but I'm being realistic - it's not like we've been waiting to see who did the lighting on that episode....

Mercurie said...

Ah yes, Ched. In the business those "promo bounces (as well as the watermarks in the corner of the screen) are called Digital On-Screen Graphics or "bugs." I kind of like the watermarks--they let know which station I am on--but I hate the little bouncing graphics. Too often they distract from what I am watching.

I agree, Toby. I think TV Land's credit squeeze is terrible. What I hate is that not only can I not read the credits, but because of the promo I can't hear the closing themes either...

dennis said...

Dennis does not approve of the credits squeeze. Dennis often guest stars.

Aaron said...

"Y'all Come Back Now Ya Hear"

This phrase alone should be on every TV execs wall. After all is it not the Beverly Hillbillys's and Gilligan's theme we all remember and not the products they sold? Not to mention they were funny.

Give us quality TV and fun themes and tell us who is sponsoring them perhaps one sponsor.

You put the Underdog Show on TV again even NOW and by gum I will be rushing out to by Cheerios.

Ahhh quality... brings to mind Jay Ward Quaker commercials and the great cartoon voice man....no NOT the wonderful Mel Blanc....the superb Daws Butler. But I digress.

Mercurie said...

Aaron, that's true. Everyone remembers those closing themes. No one remembers those promos. And I remember those old Jay Ward commercials for various Quaker products. They don't make 'em like they used to.

Jeremy Barker said...

Of course if the networks find out that viewers hate the credit squeeze aren't they just as likely to do away with them all together?

Mercurie said...

Well, I think the unions require them to show the closing credits, so I am not absolutely sure they can do away with them altogether...

Toby said...

Looks like they MIGHT take action in the UK:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7222679.stm

I doubt you'd see TV execs in America giving them even a chance to voice their complaint!