Broadcast TV’s reduced role made clear in fall presentations


They couldn’t even go on stage.

Last week, entertainment companies Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. There were constant reminders of the waning influence of television broadcast networks as Discovery, NBC Universal, and Fox sold their upcoming products to advertisers with flashy New York presentations.

Nothing was more dazzling than the fact that ABC and CBS entertainment chiefs Craig Erwich and Kelly Kahl watched from the sidelines. Erwich has been replaced by a boss with broader responsibilities, and NBC doesn’t even have a head of entertainment; instead, there is a manager who oversees several networks and streams.

Broadcasters once owned the week and exposed their fall schedules to much fanfare. They now come to mind almost as an afterthought in inflated presentations where the action is flowing and how advertising will invade this format in the coming days.

Yet with plans ABC, CBS and NBC – Fox didn’t even bother to air a fall show – it shows that they clearly know their new place in the entertainment world.

“How can you not notice the reality?” said Garth Ancier, former head of entertainment for NBC and Fox. “All networks basically know reality through their programming. They’re not saying, ‘We’re going to rebuild the audience’.”

Twenty years ago, networks were coming out of a season where three scripted shows – “Friends”, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “ER” – averaged more than 22 million viewers per episode. The Nielsen company said that “NCIS” and “FBI” are the only shows to exceed 10 million this season.

Nielsen said that in April, less than 25% of the time an American household’s TV is on, a television channel is watched. The rest of the time was spent on cable networks, streaming, gaming, DVR use or videos.

With premium cable and streaming still a dream in its heyday, the network programmers in 2002 spent freely and took risks. ABC, CBS, and NBC introduced 19 new screenplays, eight of which were comedies, to their fall programming that year.

This year, they’re planning just seven new scripted shows for the fall. NBC’s star vehicle for George Lopez and his daughter, “Lopez vs. Lopez” is the only comedy.

“We have now officially turned the page. “Everyone sees that we’re not back in the network age,” said Aaron Barnhart, a veteran critic and author of the Primetimer Guide to Streaming TV. “In some ways, it’s just the culmination of a culture shift that happened when everyone first started hooking up on cable TV.”

Even Ancier, a network TV creature that also works for Walt Disney Studios and The WB, is now recommending developers an app to help people catch up on their favorite shows on their streaming service.

Network TV is primarily becoming the home of franchises and reboots, unscripted and live events and sports.

NBC has three Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” dramas that fill Wednesday nights, and CBS does the same for Tuesday’s “FBI” shows, also produced by Wolf. NBC’s trio of “Law & Order” shows (yes, Wolf again) will fill Thursday nights, CBS has an “NCIS” series, Fox has two “911” shows, and ABC is trying to create its own series with its “The” spinoff. . Rookie” in the fall.

“They have established audience bases and require a lot less time and money to promote and tend to have strong audience sampling,” said veteran TV analyst Steve Sternberg.

Even CBS comic Stephen Colbert couldn’t help but mock his network’s formula, saying on the Paramount show that he specializes in “solving sexy body murders of hot people.”

NBC succumbed to the tried-and-true idea of ​​reviving old shows with the drama “Quantum Leap” and the mid-season comedy “Night Court.”

“This isn’t a fall show,” said ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, whose sarcastic monologues are a ritual at annual program presentations. “These are the tapes you found in your dead uncle’s VCR.”

“We’re really leaning towards live events,” like “American Idol” on ABC, Erwich said in an interview. The network is also promoting a famous version of “Jeopardy!” and admits that the syndicated game show routinely attracts more viewers than any prime-time show. For the first time this fall, CBS is planning an evening of completely unwritten programming.

Both ABC and NBC will have more unscripted hours than scripted hours on prime-time this fall. In total, 34 of the 66 prime-time hours on the top three networks will be written. That’s 42 and a half compared to 20 years ago, excluding nine hours of scheduled movies.

Publishers want to save money; Barnhart said CBS’s cancellation of two comedies from lead producer Chuck Lorre this spring is another example of austerity.

CBS’s Kahl noted that 17 of the top 30 shows on its corporate sibling, Paramount+ streaming service, were CBS shows.

“When it works right, it’s a kind of virtuous cycle,” he said. “We can get young people who can’t watch our shows on the net, who can watch them at Paramount+ and come back to us.”

Audience numbers, lack of attention and decreased creativity may not bode well for broadcast networks. But Barnhart said they’re in better shape than many cable networks and have a clearer path to the future.

“They served mass audiences before,” he said. “With the 25% who still watch broadcast TV, it’s hard for us to think of network audience as a niche, but in a way it is.”

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.


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