May 19, 2013

The Brave Future of Television

This week, my local public radio station which hosts a program called "Studio 360" had a show segment entitled "Is Network TV Dead Yet?" discussing how the television industry recently held its upfronts, where the networks unveiled their fall lineups.  The problem seemed to be that the outlook for the traditional broadcast networks suggests an industry still struggling to find its place in a brave new media world where cable networks and even internet startups like Netflix and Hulu (which, at the moment, is still partially owned by the major broadcast networks) have won most of the viewers and advertisers.  Even Google's YouTube is now commanding viewers.  It wrote that all "The buzzy shows you love to talk about are on cable, while CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox are all wrapping up one of their worst seasons on record."

Indeed, based on the 2014 upfronts, broadcast networks now seem to be taking their cues from cable, such as by trying shows with shorter runs than the typical 22-episode model.  However, network television is struggling in a world of nimble upstarts only too willing to pick up network TV's discards (see my posts at and for a few examples).

Indeed, this week, Marketplace Radio featured a segment that suggested how one state, my home state of Connecticut, has claimed a space in this brave new world, being the production home to the soap opera reboots as well as NBC Sports' new home.  That clip may be listened to below, or by visiting

To be sure, as Warren Littlefield, who was the former Chief of NBC during its heyday of "Must See TV" back in the late 1980s to the early 1990s (see my post featuring an interview with Mr. Littlefield at told NPR that "Network is still looking for a larger tent, still looking to find something like a 'Modern Family' that appeals to adults and kids, audiences of all ages. That's still, at nearly 20 million people a week, that's a pretty broad-based hit that really far exceeds what's being watched on cable."

As my post about the recent soap opera reboots on Netflix (see my post at prove, the economics differ in this new environment, making it feasible to make money on shows with only about one-sixth the viewers, or 500,000, in order to break even on them.  You may listen to the "Studio 360" segment I referenced previously below, or by visiting its website at

I should also add that Warren Littlefield acknowledged that the era of big network's control over what we watch seems to be over, noting that today, its possible for people to make a television program themselves and post it online.  He told Audie Cornish:

"Well, 200 channel choices in most homes certainly gives you the world of choice. And so slicing it, dicing it and offering someone their favorite thing - by the way, if it's not good enough, make it yourself and post it."

Some are doing just that.

For example, I cited one such example, notably Jane Espensen's gay-themed sitcom "Husbands" about two gay men who wake up married in Las Vegas which is distributed via YouTube (see my post on that at which funded its second season via Kickstarter.  Incidentally, NBC just cancelled a similarly-themed program called "The New Normal" which was co-created by Ryan Murphy of "Glee" (and "Nip/Tuck") fame, which got some attention for its premise of two gay men deciding to have a baby through a surrogate, a long with the termination of a higher-profile series about Broadway called "Smash" which was a personal favorite of NBC entertainment boss Bob Greenblatt - whose interest extended even to production design decisions, according to insiders (see news of the cancellations for both at  Others would like to try rebooting old shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (see, but haven't managed to succeed ... yet, but time will tell.

Given the cost of producing content has plunged thanks to internet distribution and low-cost cameras and the like, the possibilities for new content today seem to be wide open in today's TV market.  Finding an audience may prove to be more challenging, but its not inconceivable that the networks could be mining YouTube for new content before too long!  Don't laugh.  KCRW's (in Los Angeles) "The Business" radio program on the entertainment industry noted that a comedian named Marc Maron reignited his comedy career with a popular podcast which landed him a television show (see for that podcast), so that is indeed coming.

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