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Old September 12th, 2012, 07:27 AM   #1
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Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

I'm planning a project with the dream/goal of getting it on local PBS. I
was speaking to a producer who told me films that are 30 minutes are easier
for their programmers to schedule than ones that are one hour. I'm
wondering if, as a general rule in TV, that is true? I actually would have
guessed otherwise......with the caveat of I know nothing of how PBS/tv
program scheduling works. So...which length is more attractive: 30 or 60
minutes? Is there a general rule here?
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Old September 12th, 2012, 12:19 PM   #2
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

IMO it's the subject matter and content that determine whether it's good for TV and is saleable, not the length of tme it runs. I've seen 30 minute programming that makes me drool and want to see more, I've seen 60 minute stuff that could have ended at 22 minutes and I would have been fine. So in answer to your question, IMO, there is no rule.
Content rules!
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Old September 15th, 2012, 03:15 AM   #3
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

I'd just say that one hour is a long time to fill and many documentaries start running out of steam at 50 minutes. The BBC used to have a series of 40 minute documentaries and that was an ideal length for many of them.
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Old September 15th, 2012, 04:49 AM   #4
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

And aren't one hour TV programmes aimed at an American audience in fact 50 minute long with an allowance for 10 minutes of commercials? I remember reading or hearing that this was the reason why a lot of BBC wildlife stuff, when shown here, would often have an "extra" ten minutes or so added covering things like how the filming took place or the logistics involved etc. etc. this being because the BBC doesn't have commercials.

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Old September 15th, 2012, 05:57 AM   #5
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

Another thing to remember is that a 30 minute program doesn't have 30 minutes of content and a 60 minute program doesn't have 60 minutes of content. Commerical TV sells ad time for a very high price and the advertisers want to see their ad. Public stations, (PBS) doesn't have commericals per sey, but they do have their "please help us out" times (asking the public to become members) which amount to about the same amount of time.
Regardless of which way you go, contact your local PBS station to get all of the particulars you need to know before worring about the what length it should be.
BTW, in the US, 30 and 60 minutes are pretty much standard, common and the way things are done. AUS and other counties may have other slots that they use so lets not confuse the issue. In the US you won't find a 40 or 50 minute slot. Just sayin'.

Ronald, actually it's more like 42 minutes of content with 18 minutes of commericals but there are times it seems like 42 minutes of commericals with 18 minutes of content! ;-)
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Last edited by Don Bloom; September 15th, 2012 at 05:58 AM. Reason: forgot to add
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Old September 16th, 2012, 11:43 PM   #6
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

Typical run time for a US network show will be somewhere between 22-24 minutes for a half hour show and 42-28 minutes for an hour show. Actual run time will vary by network, and many will expect your show to be cut into a specific number of acts, with your narrative arc timed to those breaks.
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Old September 20th, 2012, 12:46 AM   #7
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

Hi Noam

Over here they expect 23 minutes for a half hour show (for commercials of course) but I would most definately contact your proposed network and ask for format requirements first otherwise, regardless of how good it is, it will be tossed out if it's not exactly prepared to their requirements ..some will ask for colour bars for 30 seconds or cue points and you probably will also need to split a half hour show into two segments. Broadcasters are very fussy about this and also just as fussy about the media you use too!!
(I had a buddy in St Augustine, FLA who used to do a cable Realty Show and they ONLY accepted the finished product on SVHS tape!!!!! and that was a mere 2 years ago)

Most stations will have a guidelines booklet for new contributors.

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Old October 20th, 2012, 10:19 AM   #8
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

I think that internationally it is much easier to sell a one hour doc show than a 30 min show as a one hour show will stand alone in a given slot. If it's sold as a 30min show the broadcaster may need a companion 30 min show to fill the hour slot. The majority of programming is based on one hour slots. All the commissions I have had have been for 1 hour slots.
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Old December 5th, 2012, 07:38 AM   #9
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

The following is quoted from the PBS Producer's Redbook, available online. Thought this is for network production, you can't go wrong following the same specs for local productions as well.

"Standard lengths for fully packaging PBS children’s programs are
as follows:
Program length of 30 minutes = 28:46.00
Program length of 60 minutes = 58:46.00
Standard lengths for all other fully packaged PBS programs are as
follows:
Program length of 30 minutes = 26:46.00
Program length of 60 minutes = 56:46.00
Program length of 90 minutes = 1:26:46.00
Program length of 120 minutes = 1:56:46.00
Programs must time exactly to the frame or PBS will edit them to
time at the producers’ cost."

http://www.pbs.org/producing/red-book/
http://www.pbs.org/producers/TOS-1-2...ion-to-PBS.pdf
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Old January 14th, 2013, 02:36 PM   #10
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Re: Which length is best for getting a documentary on TV: 30 or 60 minutes?

And finally let me add that, if you have enough material for a 50 minute show, make it 30 (26:46) or if your show fits comfortably in 90 minutes, make it 60 (56:46). There's nothing like stalling and milking a topic when you could move on to the next one to keep your documentary dynamic and have viewers attention.

By the way, those lengths required by PBS and similar distributors (EPS, APT, etc) assume you are including everything your show needs. From the opening screen, to content, to the credits.
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