Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Novelty Wears Off

I’m not sure when it started: maybe the ’70s, maybe the ’80s. I do remember objecting the first time a broadcast television program promised me an “all-new episode!” In a matter of weeks this ridiculous phrase had spread like the measles to spot the other networks (all three of them; ah, the bad old days). Now no premiering episode is ever dissed as being anything less than all-new. Simple new simply won’t do anymore, has been completely cheapened and corrupted.

Of course it’s all-new, if it’s indeed new at all. There is no such thing as a partly new episode, I argued. I perceived no difference between a new episode and an all-new episode, putting this monstrosity in the Department of Redundancy Department category of nonsense.

As it turns out, I was wrong. There is indeed such a thing as a partly new episode in the universe of network television programs.

Successful shows that enjoy a long life, several seasons or several years, occasionally run out of steam. Ideas dry up, the pile of scripts dwindles to a few dogs, the actors want some time off. One solution is to create a portmanteau or retrospective episode, wherein the characters review past events. The (usually very thin) story line generally involves as few of the cast as possible and intersperses a minute or two of acting/dialogue with clips from previous episodes. VoilĂ , a partly new episode.

I have conceded that all-new is not necessarily redundant in this context. However, I still have a beef, because these partly new episodes are advertised as all-new. No fair, guys! We demand truth in advertising! Portmanteau shows should be labeled as such, to save us all the trouble of watching or recording cobbled-together tidbits from earlier shows. Don’t promise us steak and serve hot dogs. You don’t have to admit it’s only partly new. But you must omit all and describe it accurately as simply a new episode, or the Nitpickers’ Guild will be on your case.

As an aside, let me point out that all-new must be hyphenated whether it precedes or follows the noun. In this phrase, all is being used adverbially; compare with the obvious adverb partly in partly new. The rule is that adverbs that end in -ly are never hyphenated to the adjectives they modify, because their grammatical function is clear, but those that do not end in -ly usually should be hyphenated to prevent misreading. Here, all must be hyphenated so that it won’t be read as either a collective noun (I gave it my all) or as an adjective (we danced all night): All of this is new = This is all new (noun, no hyphen), versus This thing is entirely new = This is all-new. I don’t believe I have ever seen all-new with a hyphen on my TV screen. This does not surprise me.

This is article 6 in a continuing series. © 2009 Christine C. Janson