Is Network Television Dying?

What is the future of television?  If you are a commentator or recap, you dread the answer.  Casual viewers (general public) probably do not even know that the writers associated with the WGA is striking.  What may have an even worse impact is if the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) decide to walk also?  That’s a strong possibility and could happen sooner than people realize.

But let’s step back.  What impact has it had in the few weeks that it has happened?  The 2022-2023 season is all but over.  The American audience is used to hit and miss programming and sports during the summer.  The real effect will come in September and October when all eyes will turn to watch Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Law and Order, and other favorites.  As we wait (impatiently) for the shows to air, we get crickets.  Well, not crickets but in the case of ABC, it will be reality, game shows, news, Disney, and sports. CW claims to have two new shows but also plans reality and their News Max programming (shudder).  Fox, NBC, and CBS have revealed no contingency plans. 

So, I decided to dive back into the previous Writer’s Strike.  That one hit hard as it happened in 2007 and 2008.  A new season of shows had hit the airwaves and we were enjoying our routine of 24, LOST, Heroes (among others). Suddenly, in many cases, halfway through the season, they disappeared or went to repeats.

I must admit.  I like the mini-season breaks of our favorite shows.  If they end on a cliff hanger for their break, it definitely makes me tune back in.  But, when the break is sudden and the action is no where near a cliff-hanger planned break, you are (no pun intended) lost.  We were coming up on major developments in 2007-2008.  What did we get?  For me, the most forgettable (and annoying) was Big Brother 9 (or the season we don’t mention). 

But let me mention that what gets hit the hardest is soap operas (or as they prefer, daytime dramas).  Back in 2007, I had ended my soap opera period of research and just started prime time recapping.  I still had contacts that were or had been in the soap industry.  To the soap opera industry, it was dire.  They had, at the most, three or four weeks of episodes shot.  Once they were gone, so was the new stories to keep people tuned in. 

Soap operas had no where to turn except old episodes that had been fan favorites.  The scary thing is that fan favorites of old had actors that may no longer be with the show (or who have actually died).  That meant all sorts of problems due to the fact that new viewers might not know the history of the people in the story.  I personally saw that with One Life to Live.  During the 1990s, the show had focused on issues that were “real” in the world – AIDS, breast cancer, lupus.  Suddenly, they had to fill a period of months with episodes that had people no one knew.  Plus, the soaps had returned to being just that – stories dealing with money, affairs, and missing children.  How could the new casual viewer relate to the “real issue” stories. 

They didn’t.  Soap opera viewing was on the decline.  The 2007-2008 saw viewership decline even more.  Those who had been unhappy with the stories now knew why they were unhappy.  New viewers couldn’t identify with what they were seeing.  Sure, the networks brought them back but they eventually faded.  I remember the 1990s having at least nine soap operas on three networks.  Now we are down (basically) to three soap operas on two networks.  I really don’t see how soaps can continue.

Let’s now move on to prime time.  I was beginning to recap for such shows as LOST and the break was surprising.  Where was my Sunday dose of Desperate Housewives?  LOST had taken us into the jungle to solve a mystery.  24 was showing us the mid-day level of  the recent security breach.  Suddenly, they were gone.  Instead, we saw networks scrambling for shows.  They could show repeats but that wasn’t what viewers wanted.  Movie nights didn’t seem to work.  CBS decided to run a second season of Big Brother (winter version) which was quickly pulled together.  It showed.  Season 9 of Big Brother was the season many of us wanted to forget.

We were promised that our shows would return.  They did but by the time they did, the damage had been done.  For comedies, they had begun to fade after 9-11.  I thought that it was because our hearts were still hurting.  The only one who seemed to “get it” was Chuck Lorre.  He tried to keep comedy on an even track while others tried to reinvent the genre.  The dramas had not maintained the interest due to where they had broken off.  LOST and Desperate Housewives tried to treat it as normal but 24 and Heroes couldn’t.  They had lost their momentum.  They had lost viewers.  Soon these shows would disappear from the airwaves only to be replaced with cop shows or remakes of 1960s/70s shows.  The cop shows spawned more with the same titles.  The jury, for me, is still out about the remakes.  While I can watch Hawaii 5-O, it isn’t the same as the original.

This year’s strike happens as the networks are going to summer programming.  Yet, television does not live on summer programming alone.  They must use the summer to set the scripts for new shows.  With what I term the dumbing down of network shows, I fear what will happen in the future.  Yes, I have watched reality (Masked Singer which is getting boring) but I also know that reality music and game only last as long as they entertain and are interesting.  The dramas and comedies are all but gone.  Dramas on network television are really cop shows.  The shows that are really intriguing are on streaming now as networks do not feel the need to program them.

Oh, and one more thing.  If you think streaming is safe and will continue to be new and amazing, don’t count on it.  If it was filmed prior to the beginning of the writer’s strike then you may have new shows.  If it was in the process of being filmed, there lies the question.

I don’t blame the writers for striking.  Residuals, writer’s room, and their other demands are valid.  I blame the ones who see cash as being more important than imagination.  With the state that our world is in, I fear we are heading to network programming that features reality, made-up news, and fake people.  Gone will be the shows you want to see because of story.  Instead, networks will go for cheap angles and “court” shows.  That has already started on the cable networks.  At least the 2007-2008 strike brought us such gems as Once Upon a Time and Riverdale where you must forget reality and live in the story being told.

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