Before “Idol”’s long reign that started around 2003, you might have looked at the likes of NBC’s “Seinfeld,” “ER” or Friends,” ABC’s “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?,” and CBS’ “Survivor” or “CSI” as the top-rated shows that stood far and apart from other shows -- broadcast, cable or otherwise -- in particular seasons.
In syndication, you had shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” far outdistancing their competitors. These shows seemed to carry the syndicated TV platform’s mantle.
Now, what do we have? A more even playing field -- with a bunch of good-, but not great-rated, shows. For the second year in a row, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” will take the crown. But football isn’t a new idea. It has been around and televised for decades.
NBC’s “The Voice” surely has gained attention. But even ratings on that big reality show have dropped in recent weeks. Wasn’t it not that long ago that almost all reality competition shows grew steadily as they headed into their big conclusions?
The question is: “Who carries TV’s mantle these days?” AMC’s “Walking Dead”? Yes, it has grabbed attention as the highest 18-49-rated scripted show of the year, with an extra special note because it is on cable. But does it stand apart from everything else -- broadcast, cable, or otherwise? Numbers-wise, it garnered top honors at some 8 million 18-49 viewers, though not in total viewers.
Still, for many, this is good news. The fractionalization of viewership is great for consumers, but less so for advertisers looking to offer those consumers their precious and insightful messaging.
At the same time, we continue to hear that wonderful refrain: “This is the golden age of scripted shows -- especially dramas.”
Comedies? Many are devoted to the likes of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and “New Girl.” The two former shows still do strong ratings -- good news for their networks.
Perhaps we are looking at the wrong metrics: Overall, TV viewership is still climbing -- despite plenty of other media choices. This comes as individual broadcast shows continue trending down in viewership, with cable shows climbing -- but not widespread to the big levels of recent, or even current, broadcast shows.
So, does TV need one high-rated show to carry the heavyweight belt about how well TV works -- that is, one big shows that pulls together all sorts of audiences under one roof, at one time, during the week? (Super Bowl aside).
No, this is the new age. And water coolers are nowhere to be found. But you can find people in cubicles with tablets watching the most recent, less recent (time-shifted), or last year’s TV series.