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To Everything, is There a Season?

by Neena Louise

Snap_2011.03.15 23.10.18_001I often write a commentary on how a television season is going a few weeks into it. This year, however, there just doesn’t seem to be a “season”. Yes, there was the usual crop of new fall shows that started in September and October. But then new shows premiered in November. And December. Then January and February. Still more in the spring. Then comes the Summer Reality Season.

I am delighted.

It’s high time the networks got it through their big, fat, thick skulls: people watch TV all year long. With all the entertainment readily available at our fingertips, gone are the days that viewers will endure a TV season that consists of a handful of worthy TV shows that are in reruns for more than half the year. Viewers, though they may be loyal to their favorite shows and will watch reruns, often simply find something else to watch when the reruns start. Sure, the new shows that seem to premiere every week may not necessarily be quality television (some are downright stupid), but at least it’s something new to watch. Considering the breakout success of Harry’s Law (which premiered mid-January), hopefully networks will realize they can no longer count on a bunch of crap to fill the fall schedule and expect people to watch because “there’s nothing else on.” These days, there’s always something else to watch. Maybe on cable. Or on that new DVD you haven’t watched yet. Or a first- or second-run movie you order from Video on Demand. Or that entire TV series you PVR’d and haven’t watched yet. Or that streaming TV show or movie.

It’s high time networks got with the times! They’re not quite there yet, having not yet fully embraced new technologies, but at least it seems they’re finally figuring out that their stranglehold on what people watch in their living rooms in the evening is gone forever, and they have to work harder to hang onto their viewers. It has been this way for some years, now, and I can’t believe it took them this long to realize it. But that would, of course, mean paying attention to viewer trends, and their indifference to their annoying viewers has always been epic.

Does this mean network TV is “fixed”? No, not by a long shot. But offering new fare all year ’round is definitely a step in the right direction. How can they make it better? Hey, Network Suits, consider these:

• Stop obsessing over your 18-49 year-old key demographic. There are millions of younger and older viewers (both with probably more discretionary income than 18-49 year-olds) that like TV, too. Furthermore, has it ever occurred to you that younger and older people have influence on what your key demographic watches? Didn’t think so.

• Try giving a show more than one or two airings before you decide it’s a write-off and cancel it. Occasionally it’s absolutely warranted, of course, but some shows with potential get unceremoniously yanked, while other so-so (or downright bad) low-rated shows keep getting renewed. I don’t know how you decide what gets canceled and what doesn’t, since it doesn’t seem to depend on ratings. I’m guessing you flip a coin.

• Stop assuming Friday and Saturdays are “TV wastelands” and indifferently air crap and/or reruns. If you air something worth watching, there’s a good chance people will watch it. Air crap and you’ll, of course, get crap ratings. What else would you expect?? Have you even tried to air something good? Perhaps if you moved just one of your hit shows to Friday or Saturday, you’ll discover people will actually watch it. Perhaps not, but you’ll never know until you actually try it. Think of the viewers you could garner from bored young people, weary workers that just want to veg out, or maybe – and here’s a profound idea – people that actually want to watch TV on Fridays and Saturdays. Wow. What a concept.

• I’ve said it for years: listen to your viewers! In case you didn’t know it (and you don’t seem to), they’re your most valuable asset. I don’t know what kind of research you’re doing, but it just ain’t working. Have you even thought of embracing the Internet for more than ads and money-making schemes? Many young people watch a great deal of TV on their computers – young people that will become part of your coveted key demographic, if they aren’t already. Have you even thought of asking them what they think after they watch a show on the Internet? Simple “like” and “dislike” buttons that pop up when the show is over (or mid-way through) should give you ample, honest – and free – market research on what people watch and like and what they don’t.

I know the networks won’t pay attention to any of this – at least not for years until after it’s become obvious to everyone else. But, considering their baby step in the right direction by offering new shows all year long, they might at least be more receptive to thinking outside the box for a change. Or not. Time (and ratings) will tell.

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