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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is network television dead?

I feel like we’ve been having this same conversation every September for the last few years, but each year it does seem more urgent:

Is network television dead?

Today marks the beginning of the new fall TV season in North America, with a slew of new series debuting tonight and throughout the week, and USA Today makes some interesting observations:

It’s not the type of thing TV networks talk about when they’re trying to generate excitement for their new fall season: that many of their longest-running shows —Law & Order, 24, Cold Case, the CSI franchise, Desperate Housewives, The Simpsons— are either already history or fading.

So the fall season that starts Monday, an annual ritual of replenishment, is more crucial than ever in an industry where most new shows fail.

The competition will be intense. TV watching is at a record pace in U.S. households — 35½ hours a week, according to Nielsen. Challengers to the four major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — will be more aggressive than ever in trying to siphon viewers.

Broadcasters will try 23 new series this fall, including CBS’ new take on Hawaii Five-0, Fox’s Lone Star (about a Texas con man) and NBC’s conspiracy thriller The Event. Seventeen other shows will move to new time slots as network programmers try to maximize the impact of newer hits such as Fox’s Glee (now slotted for 8 p.m. Tuesdays) and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (now at 8 p.m. Thursdays). Networks plan a dozen new comedies throughout the season, part of a big push for laughs in what are trying times for many viewers.

Meanwhile, cable networks, which once avoided the programming overload as the Big Four rolled out their fall schedules, don’t do that anymore. Shows such as HBO’s Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire, Showtime’s Dexter and FX’s Sons of Anarchy will compete for attention.

Even the new shows sound familiar. The hideboundness of the networks could be their downfall: they’re afraid to try new things, yet the parade of the same old stuff is part of what turns viewers off.

USA Today offers a few suggestions for fixing what’s wrong with primetime network TV, but even its ideas are old-hat. Is network TV fixable? If so, will the networks actually fix it? Or are we in the middle of a transition to a new entertainment paradigm, one more focused on audiences creating their own primetime lineup with on-demand, streaming, time-shifting, and other do-it-yourself options?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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