TV Networks Need To Pursue Creativity, Not Endless Reboots

In a recent MediaPost column, "TV Advertising Has A Marketing Problem," Dave Morgan pointed out the TV industry’s inability to market itself in the face of new tech providers and programmers.  

As a 25+ year veteran in the business, I couldn’t agree more. But while external marketing is more of a PR effort, there’s an even more pressing internal concern. It’s the growing trend of “rebooting”  old shows, and more importantly. what it represents: network TV’s continued erosion of originality and creativity.

“Will and Grace” came back; “Roseanne” is coming. “Cagney and Lacey,” “Magnum P.I.,” "Charmed,” “Party of Five,” “Murphy Brown” and even “The Greatest American Hero” are just a few shows whose return to TV is being planned.  



It’s easy for producers and programmers to understand in today’s climate of change, people are nervous. Ratings points and profits can be had by preying on their longing for safety, for how things used to be. But while it’s understandable, this short-term gimmickry doesn’t help the industry solve its bigger, longer term problems.

In fact, it only perpetuates them.  

With the barbarians at the gate (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) spending billions on award-winning, original programming, does rehashing programming from the 1980s and 1990s seem sufficient? Are the networks really planning to compete with “The Handmaid’s Tale” with a reboot of “Dynasty”?  

Unfortunately, momentum around the “reboot de jour” is completely predictable. Consider the industry’s ongoing, 20+ year addiction to the “quick fix” spawned from prime-time game shows (“Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”), talent shows (“American Idol”) or reality shows (“Survivor”).  

These genres provided networks and producers “safe” economic environments, consistent ratings and limited production costs. As producers and networks scrambled to “get their fix” and create as much of this programming as possible, the result was an inevitable race to the lowest common denominator creatively for the sake of the quarterly earnings call.  

If networks want a sneak peek into how creative-aversion will play out, they need only look across the hall to their theatrical counterparts. Hollywood’s “reboot” equivalent being the never-ending succession of sequels and franchise building where the only creativity is selling the same characters and plot lines to the public over and over again.

Large studios have all but given up on a creativity, and by doing so, have abandoned their one time bread-and-butter, the mid-sized budget movie. They have abdicated any degree of creativity to the smaller, independent producers. 

Has it worked? Box-office receipts over the past several years would indicate it’s hasn’t. What’s left in the wake is the more troubling question. As the public eventually grows tired of sequels and reboots, what are the networks and studios left with? 

JFK famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”  The TV business is hard today, challenged by things that are known and future challenges that aren’t. For TV to endure and thrive, in this decade and beyond, creativity and originality must be at the core.  

While fostering creativity by no means guarantees success, what is guaranteed is the dependence on the newest “quick fix,” like rebooting shows from 20 years ago, isn’t the answer. It’s a symptom and a stopgap that kicks the can down the road while the barbarians continue their march.

Agree, disagree, let me know what you think.

1 comment about "TV Networks Need To Pursue Creativity, Not Endless Reboots".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 30, 2018 at 9:13 a.m.

    I agree in principle but I can also see the networks' problems. I assume that we are talking about primetime entertainment "scripted" shows---meaning sitcoms and dramas. Here, there are many factors that a network---a broadcast network ---must take into account. First, a majority of their "safe" bets---which pretested well----wil, nevertheless,l fail to attract high ratings and will be cancelled. Will daring, out-of-the-box shows developed by new "creative lights" do any better---and, usually at a higher cost? Perhaps----but probably not. Second, the networks are "partners" with many of their primetime program suppliers, sharing in the lucrative syndication aftermarket revenues---- which is where virtually all of the shows' profits are made. Will off-the-wall content---even if it survives a few seasons in primetime syndicate well? Not a given---especially if only a few seasons on episodes are "in the can". Finally, with the networks' garnering most of their profits from their daytime and late night entries, plus syndication profit sahring deals and retransmission fees, is it wise to try to "compete" with Netflix, et al. with high cost "edgy" primetime fare in the hopes of luring large numbers of younger, hipper folks---who are light viewers and notorious for their lack of loyalty? And what about the abundance of older, low brow viewers that the networks cater to? Isn't there a possible trade-off to worry about---like gaining a few million Netflix type viewers during an edgy new series' novelty stage, at the cost of losing twice that number of old/low income viewers?

    As I wrote in my recent book, "TV Now and Then", I would probably give new approaches and new suppliers a shot---as the current practice of using the same old crew of "established" suppliers who the network programming people are cozy with is long term counter productive. However, I don't see the networks making radical changes---at least with the "linear" part of their business. Their growing digital initiatives may be another matter and here is where we may see some progress as well as a new business plan emerging.

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