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Viewer bonus as shows roll out

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AT THIS time of year, TV programmers tend to keep just enough fresh stock on the shelves to ensure the viewers (and advertisers) stay loyal until the end of the ratings season, but hold most new shows back for the new year.

But this year the networks have been compelled to flood the airwaves with new shows.

The unusual broadcast cycle began with the London Olympics, which created an artificial ratings reprieve. Seven and Ten gave Nine a free pass, airing a few semi-competitive shows such as Once Upon a Time, Winners & Losers, MasterChef All-Stars and The Shire.

This meant a raft of new shows had to launch in mid August - many of which have now failed (Ten's Everybody Dance Now), faded (Nine's GCB and Anger Management) or wrapped up (Nine's Howzat! and Underbelly: Badness; Ten's Puberty Blues).

Seven held back its big shows - with the exception of The X Factor - to avoid the ratings bloodbath as the other networks' new shows scrambled for traction.

There are now holes to be filled and any show intending a full series run before the end of ratings in late November must start airing in the next two weeks.

Nine programmer Len Downs says the race to the finish line is a mind game between competing networks as much as anything else. ''If you're at this point, if you're coming out of the year pretty well, from a psychological point of view you want to finish up the year in a good position.''

Fortunately for programmers, a new season has just begun in the US (and to a lesser extent in Britain), with popular established shows returning and an array of new series starting.

The shows would usually be held back until the new year but lean schedules and a desire to combat illegal downloading dictates most will be fast-tracked to air (Seven, however, seems content to hold back series three of Downton Abbey, which began in Britain in September).

The result is a glut of new programs just when viewers might expect a decline. More than 10 debuted or returned to air in the past week, with more than 20 scheduled to debut on the main free-to-air channels this fortnight.

Viewers would be wise to clear their PVRs and their schedules, as the race to Christmas in TV land is going to be crowded.

All this, in what has been a highly competitive ratings year.

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