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The state of network television


Showtime Scandinavia

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t really watch network television anymore. Not because I’m vehemently opposed to some network because of canceled favorites, but because there the quality of network television pales in comparison to basic and premium cable competitors. And with shows such as The Walking Dead posting a 3.0 in the 18-49 demographic, one has to wonder: what is the future of networks?

Let’s look to the recent Golden Globe nods:

Drama –

  • Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Mad Men (AMC)
  • The Walking Dead (AMC)

Musical or Comedy –

  • 30 Rock (NBC)
  • The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • The Big C (Showtime)
  • Glee (Fox)
  • Modern Family (ABC)
  • Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

While these nominations aren’t necessarily the best metrics in a show’s quality (Glee? Really?), they show a general trend in the television landscape when compared to a decade ago:

Drama (2001) –

  • The West Wing (NBC)
  • C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
  • ER (NBC)
  • The Practice (ABC)
  • The Sopranos (HBO)

Comedy (2001) –

  • Sex and the City (HBO)
  • Ally McBeal (Fox)
  • Fraiser (NBC)
  • Malcolm in the Middle (Fox)
  • Will & Grace (NBC)

The only two nominations for a cable series went to the premium cable HBO. The rest? Network television.

Even as network ratings fall and cable ratings rise, is there a reason why network television is creatively inferior? Networks still has the ability to be a creative powerhouses without pushing the envelope as much as Weeds or Dexter might. Yet almost all of the pilots that networks invest in are “safe.” Of the three “non-traditional” shows this fall, Lone Star, My Generation and Outsourced, two tanked within the first two weeks. And Outsourced has proved to be far less controversial than it originally appeared.

What about next year? As FX, USA, AMC, Showtime, TNT, TBS, A&E, HBO and even now Starz continue to develop more inventive projects, networks remain stagnant. ABC is developing a drama about 911 operators and a reboot of Charlie’s Angels. CBS has a plethora of police, lawyer and medical procedurals to keep us on the edges of our seats. Fox is making a small-screen take on the movie Hitch. And the CW is shamelessly trying their hand at a musical television series.

If networks want to stop bleeding viewers, they need to stop being “content.” They need to start fighting for the more inventive pilots, developing the kinds of shows that win both the critics and the masses. I can assure you that it’s not going to be the next medical drama about an up and coming, idealistic female and her crotchety-yet-brilliant-and-gorgeous male partner.

I realize that CBS is the only network not on life support this year and they are considered to be the most egregious perpetrator of rehashing content. This is true, but they’re also the network that airs The Good Wife. Take what you can get.

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