We first started to notice them years ago on Bravo. While watching an episode of Real Housewives or something else equally highbrow, there would always be some sort of random non-sequitur scene about the 40 minute mark. It usually didn't have anything to do with the plot line, and it was very short, a minute or less. It started after a commercial and immediately went back into a commercial.
It would drive The Gorilla and me nuts.
We always thought that it was just a place filler to put in a funny joke or scene that didn't fit anywhere else. Turns out it actually has a purpose. It's called a "pod buster" and it's meant to make you stop fast forwarding the tivo. With so many people using a DVR, advertisers want to get the most bang for their buck, and all those people were fast forwarding through their expensive commercials.
The network sets the format for their shows, and each network is a little different. So even if you're an outside production company - like my husbands - you are given perimeters for your show's format. Act I must fall between ___ and ___ minutes, then commercial, then Act II must fall between ___ and ___ minutes, then another commercial and so on. The advertising blocks are sold based on the amount of time in the format, and in their placement. To make up for DVR use, networks started building in the pod busters, meant for you to see the character from the show and stop fast forwarding. Since most people aren't all that precise with the remote, they bank on the viewer seeing more commercials this way.
Even working in the television industry for years and years, we had to be told the story behind these weird little scenes. More and more networks are working them into their formats. So next time you're watching tv and notice a very short, probably random scene from the show you're watching that's cushioned into commercials, you'll know what they're called and why they're there.
photo by .reid via flickr