Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Can the Structure of Network Television Completely Change?

Let's have a discussion about TV.

I'm going to throw out a bunch of crazy ideas, and let's talk about them.

I like TV. I LOVE great TV shows. I hate being a TV lover during the summer. Why? Because the landscape of network television is nothing but a sea of reality shows and reruns, sparsely dotted with islands of original programming provided by cable and premium networks.

As I think about the summers of my youth, lo the many years ago, I remember the summers as a time for reruns. You could catch up on many of the episodes of your favorite shows that you might have missed for some reason during the normal "season."

But that's not necessarily the case anymore (same basic outline with occasional changes to the details), and really, I don't think it SHOULD be the case. At least from my point of view (a viewer, not a network exec or an advertiser or an actor), I think that method of programming should be totally scrapped.

Will it ever be feasible for the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and, to a lesser extenet, The CW) to adopt a similar programming schedule as cable and premium networks (FX, AMC, A&E, HBO, Showtime, etc.)? If so, what would this mean? Would sweeps months disappear? Would reruns? With Netflix, Hulu and network website streaming, is there even a need to air reruns? Would it be possible to for a network to air 22-24 consecutive weekly episodes of a show, then replace that timeslot with a different show? They already do this with reality television, and channels such as FX, AMC, HBO, Showtime, etc. do it with episodics. Over the past 5-10 years, we've already started to see the breakdown of the standard television viewing season, September-May. Would a system like this force a network to choose their shows more carefully rather than just greenlighting a ton of shows, throwing them on air and seeing what sticks? Would the networks have to have faith in their programming choices and allow a show to build an audience rather than canceling a show after one episode of less-than-pleasing ratings? Or would this scare network execs and we'd only get statistically "safe" shows, more Chuck Lorre produced sitcoms and less Community or Parks & Rec, more CSI spin-offs and less Firefly or Fringe. How would this affect advertisers? Hell, how would this affect actors? The shows we see this happening to now have an average of 13 episodes per season. Would networks shorten their episode loads in order to save their actors from burnout, and would this in turn force writers to tighten story arcs and give the viewers more "meat" and less "filler"?

Could a plan like this actually make TV better (imagine a TV landscape where EVERYTHING is on par with Justified or Mad Men). Could it make TV worse (playing it safe rather than taking chances). Would it change anything at all? Or will the major networks forever be content letting the FXes and AMCs take all the risks, even if it means never being able to take credit for the next critically acclaimed masterpiece?

I know there are only a handful of people who occasionally glance at this blog, but I'd like to get as much of a discussion going about this as possible. I'm not saying WE could effect any change, but it'd be nice to know that I'm not the only person who has thought about this.

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