The traditional broadcast television season is an outdated concept -- right up there with quarterly sweeps periods and upfront week -- but it continues nevertheless, formally marking the beginning in September and the end in May of a nine-month period when most network programming is supposed to be new. Typically, broadcast goes dead after that final day in May (this year the 22nd).
True to form, here we are two days after the “end” of the broadcast season and the networks have suddenly slipped into semi-slumber. But broadcast still has a pulse, and even if it is a weakened one it should become stronger than usual in the weeks to come as a record amount of new summer programming arrives on CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. (It might help the broadcasters’ case if they didn’t work so tirelessly in April and May to remind viewers that there are only so many new episodes of their favorite shows left before their seasons end and to have countdowns to season finales. It’s as if they’re telling their audience to start packing.)
Much of the credit for broadcast’s not flatlining after the end of this year’s May sweep goes to the hottest competition series of the moment, NBC’s “The Voice.” It still has a few weeks to run, with live shows scheduled at least twice a week until later in June. This was part of NBC’s grand plan to delay the start of last season’s second cycle (or this year’s first, depending on how you look at it) until late March, which ultimately contributed to the network’s historic crash in January and February but now makes NBC the biggest and brightest broadcaster during a time of year when terms like “big” and “bright” aren’t normally associated with the Big Four. Further, new editions of “The Voice” should help propel NBC’s already potent summer reality competition series “America’s Got Talent” to even greater success. It begins June 4.
NBC has other “things” set for its summer schedule, like “Save Me,” the perfectly awful sitcom starring Anne Heche that the network began burning off last night, and “The Winner Is,” yet another vocal competition, which begins July 11. But it’s “The Voice” in the near-term and “AGT” in the long run that will give the network whatever life it may have in the months ahead. I used to describe “AGT” as an enjoyable summer time-waster, or perfectly empty-headed warm-weather entertainment, or something to that effect. But with so much happening on cable, and so many DVRs full to busting with backed-up series waiting to be watched, and Netflix and HuluPlus spreading across the land, the notion of summer fluff seems as antiquated as the other television norms referenced at the top of this column. The debut this Sunday on Netflix of a fourth season of “Arrested Development” is just one of the many high-profile alternatives.
Fox has already started the tenth season of its lively summer staple “So You Think You Can Dance,” which many critics argue is still the best of all broadcast talent shows. New summer seasons of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “MasterChef” are also underway on Fox, for those who have an insatiable appetite for Gordon Ramsay, who now has five series on the network, including “Kitchen Nightmares” and the upcoming “Hotel Hell” and “Junior MasterChef.”
On the down side, Fox last night debuted “Does Someone Have to Go?” -- yet another detestable reality effort that seeks to have fun with the increasingly desperate employment situation in this country, which is almost as awful for the overstressed employed as it is for the many millions of people who cannot find jobs. It should disappear as quickly as CBS’ dazzlingly wrong-headed midseason flop “The Job.”
Speaking of CBS, it should do fine all summer long, in no small part because so many of its shows repeat so well (something no other network can claim). It will also get some kind of traction from the upcoming 15th season of “Big Brother,” which kicks off in late June. “Big Brother” isn’t for everyone, but it has a loyal fan base, and it keeps CBS in the game in the slots between its popular reruns. CBS is also trying something special this year with a new scripted summer series titled “Under the Dome,” a thriller debuting June 24 that is based on a novel by Stephen King. It’s about residents of a small town who are suddenly trapped beneath a mysterious barrier. The media is already referring to it as “highly” or “eagerly” anticipated, but the media has said that about countless scripted summer shows in the past that sounded interesting but proved to be dead on arrival. I haven’t seen “Dome,” but I like to think it will be worth the support.
Lastly, ABC’s summer schedule is off to a slow start with two unremarkable Canadian imports, the brand-new “Motive” and the returning “Rookie Blue.” ABC’s lowbrow crowd-pleaser “Wipeout” has already begun another cycle and season nine of “The Bachelorette” begins Memorial Day evening. If “The Bachelorette” can coast on the renewed popularity that “The Bachelor” enjoyed a few months ago, then ABC may have the second most buzzed-about broadcast series of the summer.