Television networks in Canada and the U.S. are crying for help. They all complain of dwindling viewership and ad revenue. Some say that the current problems are due to the global recession, while others have noted that viewers started abandoning conventional broadcast TV a while ago.
One sign that networks are in trouble comes from NBC. In a move that will see primetime viewing reduced to just two hours a night, NBC will fill the 10pm slot on weekdays with Jay Leno’s new show starting this fall. Well, it’s not really a new show; it’s essentially the Tonight Show, but with a different name and airing in what used to be primetime. Several NBC affiliates have protested and vowed not to carry the show. In effect, NBC will become a second-tier network, like FOX and CW, both of which provide two hours of primetime programming a day only, instead of the standard three.
For actors and scriptwriters, this is extremely bad news, as the 10pm slot used to be reserved for dramatic and scripted television, such as the now-defunct ER. In an already-troubled TV industry, this will mean less work for the creative types in Hollywood. If other networks decide to follow suit, say, if CBS moves David Letterman to 10pm as well, Hollywood’s television industry will really be in deep trouble.
Cable, however, seems to be doing quite well under the circumstances. Many of the recent TV cult hits, such as Mad Men and Monk, have been found on cable, rather than network TV. With a greater willingness to experiment and be daring, cable networks have earned viewers’ respect and loyalty over recent years. Another factor that has been driving demand for cable’s scripted TV has been the broadcast networks’ excessive reliance on reality TV, such as Survivor. Several years ago, most of the networks decided to go cheap and fill their schedules with reality shows. People were drawn to them in the beginning, but quickly lost interest. They wanted good old “regular” TV again, but the networks didn’t listen. So, cable networks jumped in and filled the void.
Even though the main networks have since largely given up on reality TV, viewers still remain with cable. It will take more effort to bring them back, but once they have tasted the quality of cable shows, most of which are of exceptional production standards, people are quite reluctant to return to According to Jim or Law & Order. NBC’s latest attempt with Southland to produce a “cable show”, complete with all the expletives, which are all bleeped, of course, may bear fruit, but it’s still too early to say for sure.