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.