CBS says it will re-air Billy Joel special after ‘error’ caused final song to be interrupted

After a technical glitch caused CBS’s feed of its much-promoted “Billy Joel: The 100th — Live at Madison Square Garden” to cut out during Joel’s signature hit “Piano Man,” the network is planning to rebroadcast the special for viewers who missed out.

CBS blamed a “programming timing error” for essentially ending the show early for most viewers in the central and eastern time zones during its first airing Sunday, April 14, 2024.

“Piano Man” was the final song in the concert’s set list, so most viewers in these regions never saw the end of the special either.

Instead, most of these viewers saw their feed cut away unexpectedly at around 11 p.m. eastern or 10 p.m. central to when local late news normally starts on most stations. 

It appears CBS had planned to run the Joel concert over by a few minutes on purpose, a common tactic to help encourage viewers to stick around into a new ratings block. 

Apparently, however, not everyone got the memo that the network planned on tweaking its schedule slightly for the special, meaning that many viewers ended up getting short-changed. 

The gaffe was noticed by many viewers, some of whom took to social media to express their disappointment that CBS dared to cut off “Piano Man.”

CBS will re-air the three-hour program in its entirety at 9 p.m. eastern and Pacific on Friday, April 19, 2024, displacing repeats of “Fire Country” and a new episode of “S.W.A.T.”

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Because the Joel special was pre-taped (despite having “live” in its name, which is a reference to the fact it was recorded from a live performance on Joel’s arena tour), the entire final song exists on the “master” of the special. Even if the special had been live, the network likely would have been recording it directly from its own feed upstream of local stations for airing in later time zones, so the end would have likely been preserved in that scenario as well.

Why did the Billy Joel feed cut out?

Like most networks, CBS typically provides a feed for most of its stations in the eastern and central time zones to use to show primetime and other network programming.

Most stations in these time zones simply rebroadcast this feed in real-time to local viewers, which in turn is then provided to pay TV providers and over-the-air signals in local markets.

Viewers in both the ET and CT time zones are usually seeing the feed at the same time, but because central time is one hour behind eastern, the local air times differ by one hour.

The other time zones are provided with separate network feeds provided by the network so that programming airs at the correct time in those markets. 

East coast stations typically end primetime at 11 p.m. local time, while central time zone stations end at 10 p.m. local. Viewers in the mountain, Alaska and Hawaii-Aleutian time zones typically see primetime until 10 p.m. (similar to the central time zone), while Pacific time zone stations end primetime at 11 p.m., a schedule that mimics the ET.

These stations have to air a delayed version, however, because they are more than two hours away from eastern time.

Most local TV stations today rely on computerized systems to cut between network and local feeds and handle local commercial breaks, but these systems still rely on humans to program them, especially when there’s a deviation from the normal schedule.

Although CBS did not elaborate on the nature of the issue, it would appear that the affected stations’ computerized systems were not properly updated with the modified schedule.

Because the issue was so widespread, it’s likely that the error originated at the network level. CBS could have forgotten to notify stations of the change or update the systems it maintains that feed runtime and other information into computers at local stations. 

When networks make changes to the schedule that could affect local news start times, such as with the Joel special, they also typically notify affiliates separately with an advisory so that they can adjust how much time is allotted for local news on a particular day.

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