New shows in trouble, or is cable at the gates?

by Paul William Tenny

Rick Porter thinks that the writers strike has driven away a large chunk of the television audience and that new shows from last year and this fall are getting an unfair shake because of it. I disagree, we've seen new records set for the political debates -- over 70 million people watched Senator Joe Biden "debate" Governor Sarah Palin across all of television, which is more than any other program other than the Super Bowl gets -- and football on cable, so we know people are still watching television and big numbers as much as at any time previously.

They just aren't watching the crap on network TV anymore.
The numbers speak for themselves and the VP debates illustrate the shift better than anything else has up until this point. Fox News nearly got as many viewers for the debates as did NBC, CBS, and ABC. ESPN's Sunday Night Football games have been setting records for virtually every game as far as cable programming goes. All we're seeing is the further diversification of viewers that began some time ago. People don't have to suffer through crap on network TV anymore when they can indulge themselves in things that appeal to them more directly -- things you can find 24/7 on cable.

That's just the reality we're living in now, and the networks have to face up to the fact that they aren't going to get 24-26 million people watching their shows anymore. Along with the rise in cable ratings you're going to see a corresponding decrease in network ratings. Advertisers will have more choices and fewer breakout hits to invest in and the ultimate result is that the networks are going to have to stop striving for and expecting big audiences, and they'll have to stop charging for them as well.

Unfortunately for us that means giving up certain types of shows that just cost too much to make. Fox's Terminator spin-off may have its fans, but just five million of them can't justify what it costs to produce that kind of quality -- we're talking production value here not story-wise -- and the networks will have to realize that 5-8 million viewers is probably as good as it's going to get for anything short of a tent-pole series like CSI. We're going to stop getting series like that on every network and the networks need to stop canceling old shows and creating new ones believing -- falsely -- that the promised land is still out there for them to win.

It's long gone baby.

So ultimately I think blaming the writers strike for the decline in shows like Pushing Daises -- which was cute but not really "sticky" -- is more than dishonest, it's really kind of obtuse. Cable has been coming for a long time and while one single network may not be competitive with any of the big four directly, none of them has to be in order for the cable collective to wipe out network television altogether.

I don't have the answers if the networks want to survive, it may not even be possible, but I do know that blaming a union strike isn't the answer. At worst, it only hastened audience the existing bleed-off.

This isn't a sophomore slump, it's reality finally sinking in.
in Television


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