TV Programmer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotTelevision programmers decide what TV shows air. They also choose when the shows run. Sounds simple, right? Well, it's not.

Programmers first have to pick the shows that will go on the air. They have to pick them with several questions in mind. But one overrides all. Can the schedule and the shows on it attract viewers? And in the case of commercial television, can the shows attract advertisers who buy commercials?

That is, after all, how commercial television works. Commercial TV programmers should never lose sight of this, says Isme Bennie. She is director of programming and acquisitions for two cable specialty channels.

"It is not just sitting there and making a pretty schedule and buying nice programs," she says. "You are running a business. They have got to be programs that will attract an audience and attract advertisers and get ratings."

And you cannot let your own tastes sway your decisions, adds Bennie. "If I did that, that would not be responsible."

dotAfter they pick the shows, programmers then decide when to show them. Audiences change from hour to hour, in both size and kind. The schedule has to reflect such changes.

Television audiences also change in size over a year. Audiences are generally low in the summer as people spend more time outside. Audiences, meanwhile, are generally at the highest in fall and winter.

dotProgrammers try to get the most viewers during the "sweep" months. During "sweeps," Nielsen Media Research collects detailed viewing data from sample homes in every one of the 210 television markets in the U.S.

Television stations and networks use that data to set the price of commercials. So if a station or network does well during sweeps by attracting a lot of viewers, it can charge advertisers more money. And success depends largely on what programmers put on the air.

dotTelevision programmers must be able to make good decisions. They must also be good communicators.

"Once you [have] got a schedule together, you have to be able to communicate it very effectively to the rest of the organization," says Michele Paris. She is the program manager for a public television station.

dotTV programmers work for television stations and national networks. However, if a station belongs to a national network, it may have little freedom in its programming decisions.

dotTelevision programmers generally work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, says Paris. But sometimes they have to work evenings and weekends screening new shows or looking over proposals from production companies.

Eric Maki is the program manager of a public television station. He says he spends up to 15 hours a week previewing new shows. He often has to take work home. And putting together a schedule can occupy one's total attention.

"It is always in the background of your mind," says Maki.

dotPhysical requirements for this career are minimal. It is generally accessible to people with some kinds of physical disabilities.

dotTravel in this field is fairly common, as programmers may attend several trade shows during a year. Television production companies and documentary filmmakers use those trade shows to pitch their shows and films to programmers.

At a Glance

Schedule the shows

  • You have to pick shows that both audiences and advertisers will like
  • You need good communication skills for this job
  • Studying television production through a journalism program is a good way to start