A basic goal for any TV show is to "win" its timeslot for the network by having the highest ratings, and thus the highest ad revenue. However, there are some battles you just can't win
: "Appointment Television
" or "must-see TV" events such as sports championships
, Award Shows
, and major premieres/finales are going to win their timeslots no matter what the other networks air.
In response, the other networks may not even try to compete for ratings and instead look for the least expensive way to fill that airtime. Often, this means reruns of a popular show, a movie marathon, or something else with extremely low production costs. Affiliated networks may actively seek out their worst
programming to avoid interfering with the dominant program's ratings, or even direct viewers to the other channel rather than competing at all.
A variant is scheduling something special during a break in the action. This usually means timing the best content to run during the dominant program's commercial breaks to try and convince people to flip channels. For the Super Bowl
, this means an alternative to the Halftime Show, as no one wants to miss the ads.
These are sometimes used to fill a Friday Night Death Slot
- On Super Bowl Sunday, the cable channel Animal Planet schedules a program called the "Puppy Bowl" — basically, extended footage of puppies playing in an enclosure resembling a football stadium, along with "play-by-play" commentary (for many years provided by an actual football announcer, Harry Kalas). From the second Puppy Bowl onwards, they had a kitten halftime show. 2013 introduced hedgehog cheerleaders. Over the years, this has become popular enough to crawl out of No Hoper territory. Ratings have increased from 690K when it premiered in 2005 to 10 million in 2012. While not coming close to competing with the Super Bowl's viewership, it's repeatedly broken Animal Planet's network records. It's also gotten popular enough to have its own imitator: Hallmark Channel is now running a Kitten Bowl.
- Animal Planet also created an Olympic-themed spin-off of the Puppy Bowl, the Puppy Games, to run opposite the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies.
- American broadcast networks used to attempt to compete with whoever had the contract for the current Super Bowl, but now that they all air some form of NFL content, they don't even try. Fox sacrificed new episodes of Til Death to the 2010 Super Bowl. The show had no following by that point (at least, that wasn't in it for the trainwreck fascination) and the initial airing was only so that the producers could reach the syndication threshold.
- The No Hoper phenomenon was mentioned In-Universe in Futurama, when Professor Farnsworth pays to have their commercial aired during the Superbowl... just not on the channel that's showing the Superbowl.
- Likewise, in King of the Hill, the first episode with Luanne's Manger Babies puppets has her getting airtime on Channel 86... opposite the Super Bowl, which puts Hank (cast as God) in a tough spot.
- When the famous Dallas "Who Shot J.R.?" episode was first broadcast, NBC officials joked that opposite it they would just run a card reading, "We're watching it too."
- When Johnny Carson aired his final episode as host of The Tonight Show, Comedy Central aired a 90-minute live feed of a bottle of Tabasco sauce in an empty talk show set. Mc Ilheney's Tabasco Sauce was the only advertiser crazy enough to sponsor the channel's Dadaist tribute to a legendary comedian.
- During the Grand Finale episode of Seinfeld, MTV interrupted programming whenever NBC went to commercial, and showed a clip from their then-upcoming Animated Anthology Cartoon Sushi. The host claimed they were timing their broadcast by looking out the window of the studio, and watching the giant TV in Times Square.
- During that episode, TV Land ran a card encouraging its viewers to turn to Seinfeld. The same was done for Everybody Loves Raymond... two extremely successful comedies that TV Land expected to syndicate the nostalgic dickens out of in future years.
- In Australia, Seinfeld was run on two channels—one showed new episodes, one reruns—at about the same time. When the finale was shown on the first channel, the second showed only a black screen.
- In many local markets it was for many years assumed that either Oprah or Judge Judy would win the 4pm weekday timeslot, so the other stations aired programs (like local news, sitcom reruns, or talk shows) with low ratings expectations but some hope of maintaining viewer momentum.
- The US version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? actually benefited from low ratings expectations for its timeslot. ABC aired it Thursdays at 8:00 (7:00 Central), opposite Friends on NBC and Survivor on CBS. ABC knew Whose Line was cheap to produce and had a dedicated fanbase that would produce consistent ratings, and the show lasted longer there than it would have in a timeslot with higher overall expectations.
- For the last few years, every MTV network (including VH-1 and digital channels such as MTV Hits and VH-1 Classic) has switched to a black screen directing viewers to MTV during the Video Music Awards. The same networks used to air their lousiest programming during the awards show, like VH-1's the run-into-the-ground TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream. One year, MTV 2 showed a split-screen simulcast, with the official MTV feed in one corner and three other "behind-the-scenes" cameras in the other boxes.
- The Miss Venezuela gala is the Venezuelan equivalent of the Super Bowl, and attracts a broad audience; the other channels know this, and either keep their usual schedule or play movies of the national and/or controversial variety. One year, the cast of a popular late show decided that the best way to compete would be simulcasting and MSTing the beauty contest to turn it into a Drinking Game. Some parts of the simulcast got higher ratings than the original contest.
- The Mexican soccer finals, as well as some derby matches such as Chivas vs. América, are often broadcast against old movies as Mexico's other TV channels don't bother to compete.
- The Doctor Who series 4 finale "Journey's End" was hyped weeks before it was aired, with the excitement level growing exponentially. It had an expected viewership of 10 million, so The BBC's rival ITV showed Kindergarten Cop against it.
- ITV did actually put some effort into competing against Doctor Who in the show's first relaunched season in 2005. Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway aired against the first four episodes of the revival, and while it didn't beat Doctor Who, it still performed pretty well in the ratings, all things considered. ITV's next effort Celebrity Wrestling got utterly ripped to shreds in the ratings, though, and became a national joke within days. ITV subsequently realised that shows like Saturday Night Takeaway were best saved for when the BBC themselves were broadcasting No Hoper Repeats, and since then have mostly aired old films and clip shows against Doctor Who.
- Ironically, Doctor Who was itself an example of this trope when it was broadcast against ITV's Coronation Street from 1987—1989.
- During the 2008 Olympics, Fox8 (an Australian cable TV channel) aired almost non-stop Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Futurama and American Dad! episodes. It almost worked, until they ran out of American Dad! episodes so they had to run repeats of the No Hoper Repeat during the extended No Hoper Repeat.
- During the 2004 Olympics, they just showed Simpsons episodes during the day. That's right, at least six hours of Simpsons episodes a day.
- Ironically, this is Fox Latin America's entire programming strategy, all day every day.
- The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 are a tragic example. Any channel with even a tangential relationship to news reporting was airing non-stop updates, while other networks aired the most anodyne canned material they could find (partially out of respect and partially because they knew no one was watching...including them), and some just stopped broadcast altogether. Thankfully, such programming provided an opportunity to escape from the Heroic BSOD for a few minutes, if needed. Very little original programming aired on any network for at least a week. Sites like the Understanding 9/11 repository from the Internet Archive show how much the different networks' coverage converged immediately after the attacks.
- On the day of the attacks, MTV and its sister station VH1 did a national simulcast of coverage from New York City's WCBS-TV, the only major English-language station still broadcasting in the City (they had a backup tower on the Empire State Building, unlike the other stations). For the following week, MTV aired a nonstop loop of No Hoper Music Videos, consisting entirely of Destinys Child's "Emotion", Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird", and U2's "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of".
- Like MTV, BET intially simulcast coverage from CBS, then switched to blocks of music videos interspersed with periodic updates from BET's own news division.
- Discovery Channel aired many No Hoper Documentaries during the week after the attacks.
- One of the few bits of original programming that did air in the week following the tragedy was, of all things, Professional Wrestling: in a widely criticized move, WWE held a special live edition of SmackDown! just two days after 9/11 that featured matches put on just to entertain the fans (no storylines were advanced). Vince McMahon came out at the top of the show to beam with pride that it was the first such large gathering since the attacks, and painted it as a defiant statement against fear of terrorism. Incidentally, the reason it was a "special live edition" was that the show was originally scheduled to tape on Tuesday... September 11. That event, naturally, got cancelled.
- HGTV and Food Network left the air completely, showing only still screens for two days, knowing that nobody was in the mood to be instructed on anything.
- Some PBS stations aired kids' programming almost all day during the two weeks after the tragedy so that children would have something to watch besides news on the regular networks.
- For the first several hours after the attacks ESPN ran coverage from ABC News. After much soul-searching in Bristol about whether to air SportsCenter, the network decided to go forward with an episode that merely informed viewers of the sports events that had been cancelled or otherwise affected by the day's grim events. Had the decision gone the other way, it would have been the only day in the network's history without at least one airing of SportsCenter.
- The Latin Grammys were to broadcast that evening on CBS from Los Angeles. The ceremony never took place and the awards were given out at a news conference over a month and a half later.
- In Canada, almost every major basic cable station ran news reports about the tragedy - except for youth programming channels which continued airing repeats of their early morning shows (i.e. stuff for the little ones rather than the KidComs and Teen Dramas normally seen later in the day) and public access stations (almost all of which went to a static image saying that programming was suspended).
- Parodied by The Onion, which showed the TV listings for the week after 9/11. And they were quite accurate.
- Saturday Night Live's first episode after the attack opened with New York Firemen on stage with mayor Rudolph Giuliani giving the audience permission to laugh.
- Subverted by The Funday Pawpet Show, which usually runs on Sunday nights. The cast of the interactive show quickly gathered together that Tuesday night and did a live broadcast discussing the incident and calming people down. Both out of respect and the fact that it wasn't a 'show' per se, it was not recorded by the creators. The only known recording was viewer-made.
- Parodied on LateNight With Conan O'Brien which, playing opposite the Olympics on CBS, ran a segment called "Nobody's Watching", which featured antics such as Conan and Andy smoking cigarettes, Conan revealing that he wore a Hanson t-shirt under his shirt and tie, and Al Roker stopping by to confess that he hated being a weatherman.
- Played with during the fifteenth series of Top Gear. The trio knew that one of their episodes was going to go out against The World Cup Final on both BBC and ITV, figuring "no-one's going to be watching" they put less effort into the episode and did not even show a proper Power Lap. But the episode does contain Star-in-a-Reasonably-Priced-Car records been broken twice: Rubens Barrichello on the F1 leaderboard, and Rupert Grint in the Cee'd (and breaking the Liana and Lacetti records before it). The following week, Jeremy Clarkson admitted even he didn't watch that episode, as he was in Johannesburg at the final at the time. A similar thing happened when they realied they were in a losing fight they were in a losing fight against BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.
- In Australia, immediately after an election is called, the leaders of the major parties are obliged to take part in a televised debate. Unfortunately, due to bad planning, the 2010 debate ran on the same night as the finale of MasterChef, the most watched programme in Australian TV history. Eventually, everyone decided to hold the debate before the MasterChef finale so people could watch both.note
- This was attempted in reverse by the George H.W. Bush campaign during the 1988 US presidential election. Fearing a poor debate performance against Michael Dukakis, the Bush campaign agreed to two televised debates—one to be scheduled against the Olympics and the other against baseball's National League Championship Series. The broadcast networks foiled this plan by quickly accommodating the debates in their schedules. NBC suspended their Olympic programming for an hour and a half, while ABC scheduled a late start for the baseball game, which was being played at Dodgers Stadium on the West Coast.
- Similarly, when it became apparent that Barack Obama's first State of the Union address would conflict with LOST's sixth season premiere, the president rescheduled. He reshuffled to accommodate the TV schedule again in September 2011 for a speech to Congress that had already been rescheduled once to appease the GOP (it had originally been set for the night of a Republican primary debate), which was shuffled again to an earlier time to avoid competing with the Saints/Packers season kickoff game. Needless to say, in Wisconsin and Louisiana? You didn't see that speech on NBC at all.
- NBC used The Monkees special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee as this, scheduling it against the 1969 Academy Awards.
- For Election Day 2004, Cartoon Network played ONE EPISODE of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. It was a thematically relevant Quick Draw McGraw episode, where Phil Ken Sebben runs for President thanks to support from The Guitar Lobby, but it was all they aired. All. Day. Long.
- British soap operas EastEnders and Coronation Street used to battle it out in the ratings, but now none of the soaps from the main three terrestrial channels run simultaneously. In fact, you can watch Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, and then EastEnders one after another.
- For the last few years, every time football matches are broadcast, German network Pro7 has put on a comedy marathon (The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, etc. depending on the current day of the week).
- The BBC has played this along with a Take That, going up against the Big Brother finale with an episode of Judge John Deed that utterly annihilates reality TV.