Surely, there will be a lot of the “do you watch” conversations during holiday gatherings. It’s worth marveling at how the dynamic of those has changed in a relatively short period of time.
Enthusiastic “do you watch (insert favorite show here)” questions are increasingly likely to be met with some version of “no, but.” A cycle then ensues.
As in: “Do you watch ‘Walking Dead’?”
“No, but can you believe how awesome ‘Homeland’ has gotten?”
“I don’t watch it, but what about ‘American Horror Story’?”
And on and on it goes …
The catalyst is the boom in original programming at the basic cable channels – the AMCs and FXs -- as well as the HBOs and Showtimes. But, even PBS is having an influence.
“This was a year where there was a real abundance of quality TV that people talked about from ‘Downton Abbey’ (PBS) to the ‘Walking Dead,’” said Todd Gold, executive editor of Comcast’s Xfinity TV site.
Gold added there was also plenty of “provocative” content, so “from ‘Homeland’ to ‘Honey Boo Boo,’ there was something for everyone.”
Yet, the legacy of TV in 2012 might be more reality content – real reality, not the quasi-scripted stuff – with the election, Superstorm Sandy and recent Connecticut horror.
Gold said it was “the year people tuned in to watch history unfold.” And TV historian Tim Brooks said “some of those pictures from (Superstorm) Sandy -- whole sections of New York and New Jersey being washed away … will last a long time.”
Hopefully, of course, a year from now, there will be less tragedy to discuss. It will be interesting whether the Connecticut violence has any lasting impact on violence in programming.
Discussion about real world events affecting content, however, has flowed and ebbed before. Brooks said he expects marked changes “only in the short term.”
“Something else will come along and push that out of the headlines,” he said.
What's in store for TV in 2013? Much of the early focus will be on Fox’s “The Following,” starring Kevin Bacon and premiering in late January. It’s hard to avoid violence in a show with an ex-FBI agent (Bacon) going after a serial killer. There have been suggestions the show smacks of a hold-onto-your-chair cable drama.
Drama at Fox will also percolate next month with the question whether “American Idol” can regain some of its prominence with help from three new judges in Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. Unless one of them proves able to carry the show from behind the judging desk, much will be contingent on the contestants.
“Idol” could use some early momentum in order to ward off a challenge from NBC’s “The Voice” when it returns later. “The Voice” offers an entrée to several questions about NBC.
After a successful run this fall, will "The Voice" lose some pop? And, how much of NBC’s comeback this season can be attributed to the singing competition and “Sunday Night Football”? Telling could be the Feb. 5 premiere of the second season of “Smash,” where there will be guest stars from a few generations in Jennifer Hudson and Liza Minnelli.
At ABC, Jimmy Kimmel is moving to a time slot where he’ll face off against Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS. He probably won’t overtake either for a good while, but ABC will set itself up nicely for when either or both retire. Kimmel should offer more broad-based appeal than Conan O’Brien, who didn’t have much success during a short run on “The Tonight Show.”
Beyond programming, viewing behavior will continue to be a huge story next year. Much of it will spin around four letters: iPad. A consensus is building that tablets offer a superb viewing platform: they’re mobile, yet the screen sizes aren’t too small and the picture is pristine.
“The tablets seem to be the sweet spot,” Brooks said.
The iPad should help ramp up the TV Everywhere movement. At the same time, it could help Netflix and other video-on-demand platforms grab more viewership from networks.
The iPad should also help boost interest in the growing second-screen movement, where networks are looking to engage viewers more and more on tablets and smartphones while they watch their shows. The implications for building engagement and ad dollars are significant.
Then, there are DVRs, where suggestions are they may finally be having the impact on viewing predicted for so long. Networks are now pushing to get more credit through better measurement for delayed viewing.
At times, though, they have tried to spin DVR-enabled viewing as a benefit – an example of a show’s maybe unappreciated popularity.
But Brooks said the most popular shows are the ones that tend to generate the most time-shifted viewing, so the devices "can’t make a flop into a hit.”