Here's a hypothetical: You own a profitable puppet theater. (Chill out, Sparky. I said it was hypothetical.)
The plots in your little fables stay pretty much the same from week to week, but people just can't get enough of those marionettes.
Over the years, a number of other puppetry troupes, sniffing your success, set up theaters in town, inevitably siphoning off some of your audience.
Each of you puts on a number of shows a week varying in elaborateness and audience appeal. The theater across the street schedules its main attraction, its most popular Punch-and-Judy show, on Fridays at 8. You decide to put on your big-ticket event at the exact same time. All the other theaters in town follow suit.
Some might call that spite rather than sound business sense.
Congratulations. You now understand television's approach to commerce. It's a fight to the death, a cage match from which no one emerges.
Let's take Sunday night, a typical five-car pileup. Decisions, decisions. In the same time slot, you have Desperate Housewives, The Good Wife, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, or the big NFL matchup on NBC.
What do you feel like watching first thing Tuesday night, Marty? NCIS, Dancing With the Stars, or Glee? You know, you might consider The Biggest Loser because, frankly, you could stand to drop a few pounds, pal.
How about Thursdays at 8? Charlie's Angels, The Big Bang Theory, The X Factor, Community, The Vampire Diaries, or Antiques Roadshow? Pick one. I dare you.
Why is it always feast or famine with television? They fight like jackals over what they consider to be prime real estate, tearing each other to shreds. Then they totally neglect the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, shows like American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Blue Bloods, and Two and a Half Men have proven that if you put on a program that people want to watch, they'll tune in anytime.
Remember: There are no winners in the puppet wars.
Is anybody listening? Next week, a report card of all the new shows. I can already tell you CBS's Person of Interest will get a good grade. It reminds me of an '80s favorite, The Equalizer with Edward Woodward (and a terrific musical theme by Stewart Copeland of the Police).
I'm not saying Person of Interest is perfect. The premise of the show is that advances in technology have erased all vestiges of privacy. Surveillance cameras cover every inch of Manhattan, and e-mails and phones are constantly monitored by the NSA and others.
So, I was surprised when the assassin in this week's episode took his assignment on a sidewalk pay phone. Not only are those obsolete, in New York they're extinct.
Pay per view. Fox started beating the drums for its Jurassic Park-like sci-fi series Terra Nova about a year and a half ago. So it was kind of shocking when the two-hour premiere this week drew an audience of only 9 million.
Since the pilot cost a reported $20 million, that works out to about $2.22 per viewer.
For that kind of money, they could have used real dinosaurs instead of those phony CGI reptiles.
Where are the stars? Funniest line of the week belonged to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. In the middle of mocking Nancy Grace's, um, overexposure on Dancing With the Stars, Stewart suddenly paused as if a cartoon lightbulb had gone off over his head.
"Oh! You know what would be a great idea for that show?" he said. "A celebrity version."