Q&A on the News

Q: Is there a maximum number of minutes that can be devoted to commercials on a TV show? Has it changed in the recent past?

-- Doug Aiken, Decatur

A: There are no federal requirements setting a maximum number of minutes, except for limits in certain children’s programming. But the number of minutes of commercials has steadily increased, Walter J. Podrazik, co-author (with Harry Castleman) of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” and a consulting curator for the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, told Q&A on the News. It is a business calculation as networks try to determine how many commercials they can squeeze in without losing the audience, he wrote in an e-mail. In the 1950s-1960s, for a 30-minute sitcom, there might be an opening ad, Act 1, middle ad, Act 2, closing ad, maybe a closing bit, then credits, he said. Each commercial was generally one minute. Going back to 2005, Podrazik remembers that in the premiere of “Everybody Hates Chris” (which aired on UPN, then the CW), the number of breaks, plus network promos and local ads, pushed the episode’s running time just past 20 minutes out of 30, he said. The clustering of commercials has changed in the past five years, too. On some shows, viewers see a long batch of commercials toward the middle, then a short final bit of the show at the closing credits. The end of the show immediately flows into the beginning of the next one in hopes that viewers will watch the first seconds of the next show, he said.

Lori Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or e-mail q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).