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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s the most dramatic thing broadcast TV networks could do to shake things up?

The New York Times this morning is running an article about how terrified everyone is about the poor prospects of the upcoming broadcast television season, which doesn’t begin till September but planning for which is all but done now:

Each May, the big broadcast television networks invite advertisers, agency executives and affiliates to peek at their schedules for the coming season. But the awful economy threatens to spoil the party before it begins on Monday.

The recession has suppressed demand for commercial time during the shows the networks are planning for the 2009-10 season, which starts in September. That is particularly true for crucial advertising categories like automotive, retail and financial services.

As a result, the broadcasters are making some startling moves in hopes of shaking up the market, most notably a decision by NBC to replace traditional fare at 10 p.m. on weeknights with a comedy talk show hosted by Jay Leno.

But the only other “startling move” mentioned in the article is this:

CBS has been more successful than ABC in developing a popular lineup of 10 p.m. series. CBS is expected to shore up the time period with even stronger shows in its 2009-10 schedule; the network has been experimenting this spring by giving 9 p.m. hits like “The Mentalist” trial runs at 10 p.m.

Wow. Moving a show an hour earlier? I wonder how many programming geniuses it took to come up with that one.

What does TV need to do to survive in this new environment of not only declining ad revenues but the fracturing media landscape? Surely there must be things they can do beyond juggling the same old shows around the same old schedule over the course of the same old TV season?

What’s the most dramatic thing broadcast TV networks could do to shake things up?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • Pollas

    How about bringing back cancelled shows they never gave a chance to?

  • Fett101

    Um. How about some new creative content? No more crime shows, law shows, hospital shows, etc. Then again, the creative shows usually get canned before they can build any base.

    Or, a more specific idea, how about TV series that have an actual solid plot line and fixed number of episodes (ala, 24 and The Prisoner). A good beginning, middle and end. I watch much anime and many of them run no more then 26 episodes. None of this Lost nonsense where they string you along randomly trying to make more money off advertisers.

  • Hank Graham

    How about making shows that don’t suck?

  • Cate

    Maybe not ditch unique, interesting and well-written shows like Kings only to inundate the airwaves with more lowest-common-denominator “comedy.”

  • As always, the best way to shake things up would be to drop commercials.

    However, a solid second would be to begin offering in-box On Demand for their channels (Hulu is a good first step, but it’s hardly a perfect solution — we need something that doesn’t require hooking your laptop up to your plasma). It’s a simple, technologically feasible solution to let you watch your ABC or NBC shows whenever, bringing revenue streams back to the network and away from Tivo and DVR.

  • PaulW

    Dammit, Newbs beat me to the no-commercials idea. Although that kinda defeats the whole “boosting ad-revenue” point of the idea.

    The biggest problem with commercial TV is honestly cable: there’s 57000 channels and EVERYTHING’S on. And best of all I can wait for the commercial-run shows for DVD inside of 8-12 months later.

    The best solution I can come up with is the one-season maxi-series: instead of a 3-part miniseries movie, just plan out a 22-part one-hour episode series sort of like a videonovel, with a defined beginning, middle and end. Not like the Sopranos or Lost (or even 24, which because of its narrative could have just worked that one season instead of the 5 or 6 they’ve done now), which are multi-seasons long because re-selling the shows to syndication apparently requires at least 3 seasons and at best 5 seasons to be viewed profitable. Just plan one year’s worth of episodes: 22-24 episodes long. Sell it as a one-year only series and people will tune in for the serial nature of the storytelling (how fares Little Nell?): you’ll still get interest later on for the DVD boxset.

    If the networks re-think away from syndication and towards more select markets, they might re-develop their finances…

  • Anthology shows. “Creative Minds: a series of 3 to 6 hour Dramatic presentations sponsored by individual companies.” 24 episodes would yield a lot of new ideas.

    Focus on the creators/actors not the show. Dollhouse is focuses on the Actors because they have no character (with the exception of a handful of regulars) Make a show that is about how many creative ideas can a single creative team create in a given period of time (“Wes Kraven’s Night Spirit”, “The worlds of J.J. Abrams”)

    Resurrect completely dead franchises: “Lost in Space”, “My Favorite Martian”, “F-Troop”, “Car 54 Where are You?” “Dragnet”, “The Munsters”. Do this with an eye to nostalgia not “flash”. Avoid the word “Re-Imagine” which is Hollywood-ese for “Fuck with” and embrace the words “homage” and “retelling”. The comedy/drama formula worked once and a lot of the jokes and some of the characters will need to be updated but Nostalgia is a bank you can draw from and if you are judicious in your spending you can make some scratch.

    Do an “American Idol” type “create a 30-minute Sitcom” show. The tasks of finding premise, scripts, and talent mated to industry experts in direction, production and design could produce a winner. And as a plus every 4 weeks or so for 12 weeks you get 4 new shows. Then at the end of the 12 weeks you have a finale show where you show the 3 best for 3 weeks (with a 90-minute showdown on week 4) and let the People/Judges (Rosanne Barr or Michael J. Fox, Chuck Lorre or Les Charles, and Graham Linehan) and vote on the show that gets picked up for a 13 week run in the summer.

    I always laugh at creative in-show plugs. The Show Eureka makes me giggle in the ways it shills for Degree antiperspirant. I also laughed at the completely blatant use of Dodge Ram trucks in Sarah Connor Chronicles. But it didn’t take me out of the show and it didn’t kill the story momentum. As long as the sponsor doesn’t interfere and the creative people are allowed to tell the story it makes sense to let them work cooperatively to make their product be pervasive in front of the consumers.

    Make a show that isn’t on TV. A full show with 13 episodes. Only show it at theatres before selected movies. Make it compelling enough and people will talk about it. Take a full year to show all of it. If it gets enough buzz, put episodes of it on HULU (after they premier in theatres). Make sure you promote that it is a fixed length show (15-30 minutes) so people who don’t want to see it won’t show up at the movie at the wrong time. perhaps even offer a premium card that theatres can stamp (or you can send in ticket stubs or something) to get a free DVD of the entire series or a bonus episode or something. Show the SECOND season on TV.

    Create a that is started by a movie. Get an original idea, film a 2-hour movie pilot that is shown in theatres whose story leads directly into the TV series. But plan it from the start. If the movie tanks, don’t film the tv show. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Thats just right off the top of my head. It isn’t that there aren’t any ideas. The problem is that Hollywood isn’t looking for ideas that don’t fit the model.

  • Althea

    Some very good ideas here. Elsewhere I’ve weighed in on the British model of series, that you make a short run of episodes, putting your best effort into them, and let it go. Bring it back when/if you’ve got some more good stuff.

    The video-novel WOULD WORK. Unlike a miniseries, which often crams too much into a few hours, a season-long story would allow good work and give advertisers something to get behind. In fact, over on Telemundo they’ve been running a telenovela called “Dona Barbara” for months now – it’s a remake of a 1930s feature film and two other telenovelas, which were based on a novel. It was designed to run 41 weeks. Not even counting the original material waiting to be written, can you imagine the books you could make into great TV? Every genre has tons of stuff that would work (and wouldn’t suffer by it), and plenty of it wouldn’t be too expensive to produce. And it doesn’t saddle the networks with a series meant to drag on for years.

    Even with the existing series format, the “story arc” has potential. For instance, “Heroes” has taken a stab at it, with a basic plan for an annual Big Bad to be overcome by our heroes. They haven’t got it quite right yet but it could happen.

    I have qualms about remaking classic shows, particularly 60s sitcoms, but Pollas had it right off the bat: Go back to the shows that were dismissed out of hand. Millions of us stick up our hands here and shout, “FIREFLY!” without even thinking about it. It would be hard to get the cast back – not to mention expensive – but we can dream. My own private bugaboo is “Wonderfalls”. My gods, they only ran, what, 4 episodes? And the pilot like 3 times. Networks, ask yourselves, why do these people keep harping on these shows? (Oh, “Greg the Bunny”…) Networks, it’s because they were either good and you are idiots, or because they had potential and you let them fall apart.

  • RogerBW

    Admit that prime time is dead, and let the networks die with it.

    Forget the mass audiences that you used to get. Cable exists now. It’s never going to happen again. Live with it.

    Make direct-to-DVD series – 20-24 x 30-60 minute episodes, so that people aren’t too thrown from the current model. Make them available with advertising on-line (much cheaper than broadcast television), then without advertising on DVD.

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