The Lessons Television Is Teaching Us In 2013

The first few weeks of 2013 are proving to be highly educational as far as broadcast television is concerned. One can’t help but learn something about the medium with each passing day.

For example, NBC’s consistent ratings decline makes it increasingly clear that people don’t watch television networks. Rather, they watch television shows! Take away “Sunday Night Football,” multiple weekly editions of “The Voice,” hot freshman adventure “Revolution” and the critically acclaimed “Parenthood” and the most exciting story of the 2012-13 season -- NBC’s meteoric rise from worst to first among the most desirable demographic groups -- is suddenly over. All at once there is very little to watch on NBC and even less to write about. Late March -- when “The Voice” and “Revolution” return -- can’t come soon enough.

The disastrous debut and quick cancellation of NBC’s “Do No Harm” -- arguably one of the most idiotic ideas ever for a drama series with amateurish execution to match -- didn’t help matters. Can we please stop with shows about men with multiple personalities/identities/lives? The collapse of the political family comedy “1600 Penn” came as no surprise, either, as it was brimming with the kind of humor writers write to entertain other writers in writers’ rooms, seemingly without any thought as to whether it will appeal to anybody outside those four walls.

Similarly, NBC’s glossy mystery soap “Deception” is also a disappointment, even if its concept did sound tantalizing. There is an audience for this genre when it’s done well, as we saw last season with ABC’s freshman sensation “Revenge” and even with the premiere of “Deception,” which garnered respectable ratings. But that audience bolts when such shows don’t live up to expectations, as we have seen this season with ABC’s sophomore stiff “Revenge” and subsequent episodes of “Deception,” which have been duller by the week.

On a related note, we’re seeing firsthand the difference that dedicated writers and producers who truly understand and appreciate soap operas can make in the deteriorating world of daytime drama. This was a genre that was broadcasters’ to lose, and in recent years they have done so with awe-inspiring aplomb, not to mention a profound lack of respect for what had been the last remaining program category that the networks could truly call their own. (Now, with Prospect Park finally getting around to producing new online episodes of former ABC Daytime foundation series “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” we will soon see if the broadcast networks have willingly sacrificed that distinction, as well.) With new and improved executive producers and head writers assigned to each, CBS’ “The Young and the Restless,” NBC”s “Days of Our Lives” and especially ABC’s “General Hospital” are suddenly better than they have been in years. That’s the difference smart leadership can make.

Lately we’re also being reminded of the dire condition of television news. Just consider the outsize focus by broadcast and cable news programs alike on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) taking a sip of water during his presentation of the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Yes, the water should have been placed within Rubio’s easy reach. And yes, it should have been a glass of water, rather than a bottle of Poland Spring, which this week has unexpectedly enjoyed massive publicity through happenstance product placement. (These gaffes are squarely the fault of Rubio’s support staff. Apparently good help is as hard to find in the nation’s capital as it is everywhere else.) But watching supposedly serious news programs play the clip over and over, and listening to cable news anchors and other personalities babble on about it as if it meant anything at all, has been somewhat sobering. When taking a sip of water makes that much news, we’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, even as its audience continues to erode, Fox’s “American Idol” remains far atop the ratings. So even at its weakest, “Idol” is stronger and more popular than almost everything else on television. What an amazing franchise. I wonder what would happen if Fox mixed things up a bit, perhaps starting “Idol” in the fall and letting it run from late September through early February?

Lastly, there is no more exciting a ratings story right now than the wild success of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” in this, its sixth season. Why does this reliably hilarious show continue to grow at an age when most shows have already begun to see their viewership decline? Give some credit to the new audience that has discovered “Big Bang” in syndication and now flocks to CBS for fresh episodes.  But let’s also acknowledge the way the producers have kept the show consistently fresh, specifically by adding new cast members and allowing the relationships of the five core characters to evolve and mature over time. This is the kind of smart comedy storytelling that made “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “M*A*S*H,” “Frasier” and “Friends” some of the funniest and most heartfelt sitcoms of all time. Twenty years from now I think people will speak of “The Big Bang Theory” with similar reverence.

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7 comments about "The Lessons Television Is Teaching Us In 2013".
  1. Stan Valinski from Multi-Media Solutions Group , February 15, 2013 at 1:08 p.m.
    Great take on the current situation. It is rare I agree with a synopsis like yours from start to finish but you nailed this one. The only thing you missed is NBC's suicidal fixation with Howie Mandel. I've yet to hear someone say he is funny and I've been following the comedy circuit for over 40 years.
  2. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales , February 15, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.
    I agree 100% Ed, tv ratings are dissappearing faster than bacon on a cruise ship.....I understand that TV still offers the largest reach (more like potential reach these days) but why would advertisers continue to pay more for less....more clutter, more ad skipping, higher cpms and lowe ratings....go figure.
  3. Robynne Wildman from Standing With Agnes Nixon , February 15, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.
    Very well stated. I myself and looking forward to seeing what happens with the shows Prospect Park is bringing online. Since the current television management regime seems to be slipping, maybe their success will spawn a resurgence of other cancelled shows getting a second chance. Glad to see some people are willing to take a chance and evolve with technology.
  4. Alex Lekas from PTI Security , February 15, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.
    Nothing screams "we are scared to death of this guy" quite like the fixation on Rubio and his water bottle. Even erstwhile administration figure Van Jones since the Florida Senator as an opponent to be reckoned with. The media's bottle meme is a reflection of who we are as a culture in terms of political discourse - all the emphasis on the quick joke or personal jibe, and none on the substance.
  5. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , February 15, 2013 at 7:16 p.m.
    I agree, a great overview of the state of TV. I'm surprised so many seem shocked at NBC's demise. Actually, I'm sure TV researchers at agencies (and at NBC) did the exercise of excising NBC's NFL ratings out of its 4th Quarter average to see how much of a drop could be expected in 1st Quarter. Oh, one more thing I might have added to this article is how "Modern Family" has become stale.
  6. Troy Turner from Fans United Against ABC , February 16, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.
    We are indeed seeing a rebirth in daytime soaps-and if PP is truly to be trusted-I'm hoping that network execs continue to regret their decision to give up on this genre
  7. Xanna Don't from Don't Label It , February 17, 2013 at 4 p.m.
    The worst mistake ABC ever made was to cancel AMC & OLTL. They've alienated 3 to 5 million decades-long viewers and the replacement reality shows have tanked. What were they thinking? Daft.