July 5th, 2011
05:24 PM ET
In the fall, I’ll need several advanced logarithms to figure out a plan to DVR all of the shows I’ll be watching. But right now, the TV landscape is a little more sparse.
That means there’s an opportunity to watch shows I normally might not make time for, like “Covert Affairs,” “Falling Skies” and “Wilfred.”
They’re not the greatest shows ever, but they’re entertaining enough to overlook some occasionally clunky dialogue and implausible/predictable plot points. And a large part of that willingness to dive into these shows is the fact that, honestly, there’s not a whole lot else on. (If you're saying to yourself, "Jordan, I thought this was supposed to be a critical blog. Why are you writing about shows you like? Where’s the hate?" I'm getting there...)
So my question is, why are network programmers – especially broadcast networks – so reluctant to try a model that’s proven to be successful? Oh, that’s right, because they’re still stuck in the 20th century. (THERE’S the hate.)
For the most part, broadcast networks still think that when you and I take summer vacations, we’re taking those vacations from TV, too. With a few exceptions, the summer is normally used to burn off episodes of shows that failed during the year (Hi, “CHAOS” and “Law & Order: Los Angeles”), or to test reality shows that often get moved to the fall or winter if they’re successful.
But by and large, scripted shows that broadcast networks actually care about won’t start showing up again until September, when the airwaves are flooded with new and returning series, making the likelihood of watching new stuff that much smaller.
Cable networks aren’t beholden to this antiquated schedule, and it serves them well. AMC is bringing “Breaking Bad” back in the middle of July. TNT and FX have new and returning premieres slated for the summer months. And USA seems to have introduced an entire season lineup only after the standard TV season has ended.
By debuting series when viewers have more time to watch and don’t have many other options, these networks are building a fan base that is willing to make time if the shows DO come back during a crowded mid-season.
You know what show premiered outside of the standard network TV season? “The OC.” (Before you snicker, remember what a cultural juggernaut that show was at its outset.) In fact, Fox deliberately ran the first 7 episodes before the network’s standard fall break for the baseball playoffs, and fans were rabid for its return.
Unfortunately, it’s a risk that few broadcast networks have been willing to take since. Programmers forget that TV viewing habits have fundamentally changed. We watch things when and how we want to. Viewers don’t limit their entertainment options to the strict confines of the season format, and networks shouldn’t either.
I realize how hokey it might sound (especially given that we’re talking about TV), but with networks struggling to find scripted shows that can stick with audiences, it’s probably time to think outside the box.
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