They didn’t even make it to the stage.
This past week was a reminder of the declining influence of broadcast TV networks, as entertainment companies Paramount and Disney, Warner Bros., and Warner Bros. kept reminding us of this. In flashy New York presentations, Discovery, NBC Universal, and Fox hawked the upcoming wares of their companies to advertisers.
The fact that Kelly Kahl and Craig Erwich, the chiefs of CBS and ABC entertainment divisions respectively, watched from the sidelines was the most striking. Erwich was replaced with a boss with broader responsibilities. NBC does not even have an entertainment president. Instead, an executive oversees multiple networks and streaming.
The week was once controlled by broadcasters, who revealed their fall schedules to great fanfare. They are now almost forgotten in overblown presentations, where the action is now streaming and in the soon shakeout about how advertising will invade this format.
Despite their plans, ABC and CBS — Fox didn’t bother to release a Fall Schedule. This shows they know where they belong in the entertainment industry.
Garth Ancier, an ex-entertainment president at NBC/Fox, said “How can you not recognize reality?” “All the networks are basically recognizing reality with their schedules. They aren’t saying, “We’re going back to building the audience.”
Twenty years ago, networks were just coming off a season in which three scripted shows — “Friends”, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” or “ER” — averaged more than 22 million viewers each episode. The Nielsen company stated that “NCIS” (and “FBI”) are the only shows with more than 10 million viewers this season.
Nielsen reported that broadcast television networks were only being viewed by less than 25% of all American households with a TV. The remainder of the time was spent streaming, streaming, gaming and DVR use.
In 2002, premium cable was still in its salad days. Streaming was still a dream. The network programmers took risks and spent freely. ABC, CBS, and NBC added 19 scripted programs to their fall schedules, eight of which were comedies.
They have only seven scripted new shows planned for fall this year. The only comedy NBC offers is “Lopez vs. Lopez,” the star vehicle of George Lopez and his daughter.
“We have officially turned a new page.” Everyone recognizes that we don’t want to go back to the network era,” Aaron Barnhart, a veteran critic who wrote the book “Primetime guide to streaming TV” said. “In some ways, it’s the culmination of a cultural shift that occurred when everyone first started to connect to cable TV.”
Ancier, who was a TV personality and worked at the Walt Disney Studios as well as the WB, now advises developers of an app that will help users keep track of their favorite shows on streaming services.
Network TV is becoming the home for franchises and reboots and unscripted live events and sports.
NBC’s three Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” dramas fill its Wednesday nights, while CBS has the same for its Tuesday “FBI” shows. Also produced by Wolf, CBS also does the same on Tuesday. NBC’s “Law & Order”, Fox’s “NCIS” and Fox’s “911” shows will fill Thursday nights. ABC is creating its own franchise in the fall with a spinoff from “The Rookie”.
Steve Sternberg, a veteran TV analyst, stated that they have built-in audiences and are easier to promote and get stronger viewer sampling.
Stephen Colbert, CBS comedian, couldn’t resist making fun of his Paramount program’s formula. He said it specializes in “sexy people solving murders of sexy bodies.”
NBC gave up on the tried-and-true idea to resurrect old shows, with the drama “Quantum Leap,” and, midseason, the comedy “Night Court.”
“That’s not a fall schedule,” Jimmy Kimmel of ABC said. His mocking monologues are an annual ritual at the scheduled presentations. “Those are the types that you find in the VCR of your deceased uncle.”
Erwich stated that ABC has “really leaned into live events”, such as “American Idol,” in an interview. also introducing a celebrity version to “Jeopardy!,” in recognition that the syndicated game show draws more viewers than any prime time show. CBS will schedule an unscripted evening program for the first time this autumn.
ABC and NBC will both have more unscripted hours than scripted on their prime-time schedules this fall. The scripted hours will account for 34 of the 66 prime-time hours broadcast by the top networks. This compares to 42 hours and a quarter of 20 years ago, which does not include nine hours of scheduled movies.
Broadcasters are trying to save money. Barnhart stated that CBS’ cancellation of Chuck Lorre’s comedies this spring was another example of tightening.
CBS’ Kahl pointed out that 17 of the top-30 shows on Paramount+, its streaming service for corporate entertainment, are CBS shows.
He said, “When it works well, it’s kinda a virtuous cycle.” “We can expose younger people to our shows, even if they don’t watch it on the network. They might also see it on Paramount+, and then return to us.”
Broadcast networks may be in trouble due to low viewership, lack of attention, and the loss of creativity. Barnhart stated that they are in better condition and have a clearer path to the future than many cable networks.
He said, “Before they served the masses audience.” “The 25% of people who still watch broadcast TV are difficult to see as a niche audience, but it is.