We've been having a great round of meetings lately (new representation is awesome). Not only do you talk about the specific show in a meeting, but you also talk about television in general. We've had meetings where we've discussed independent business models, and meetings where we talked about network branding. This is particularly interesting in light of how well networks like USA are doing. Y'all know what constitutes a USA show. Characters Welcome and all that. And all of their shows seem to be working, partly because they have an extremely narrow focus on what type of show works for them. Because now, networks are branded by genre. But they didn't used to be, and the broadcast networks still aren't. There are two different types of branding, and only one of them is working right now.
I think it has to do with audience fragmentation. TeeVee is like the Internet now. You go to Huffington Post for progressive politics, or Free Republic for the other kind. But what if Huffington Post had Progressive Monday and then Conservative Tuesday? How do you brand that? The broadcast networks have a much more difficult job in today's fragmented market. NBC used to be Must-See TV. You could count on NBC for ten o'clock dramas and that great Thursday comedy block. Saying "That's not an NBC show" is really hard to say right now. But NBC's not the only network having trouble with this. Probably the only network that's somewhat easy to brand is the CW and again, that's because the focus is so narrow.
CBS is the Crime Network, for the most part. But it's also the Older Drama Network. It's a little easier to figure CBS. Obviously, The Good Wife was going to work there. Whenever CBS tries to go even a little outside their box, the shows don't work. CBS has a consistency that the other networks lack. However, their inability to go even one step outside that comfort zone has always been a problem for them.
Over at ABC, they don't seem to be successfully building on their Lost/Desperate Housewives success. They're clearly trying to find a Lost replacement, what with V and FlashForward. But beyond that, are they really taking chances the way they did when they put Lost on to begin with? Should they be trying to emulate Lost? Because that could hurt their shows.
And Fox, with the American Idol juggernaut that takes up about 75% of their programming, is finding it hard to build any kind of scripted consistency. What are they, aside from the AI network? House works great for them but they're more notorious for canceling fan favorite shows than for any innovation. What I do like about Fox is that they do keep some shows on. Bones, for instance. But that show exists in isolation, doesn't it? Ditto Fringe, which is going on cancellation hiatus. It hasn't been canceled yet but taking it off for so long may not do it any good, especially when Fox has shown so little confidence in its winter replacement, Past Life, which was shortened to a seven episode order. Genre audiences know better than to invest themselves in Fox shows.
Funnily enough, it's NBC that seems to understand how important network branding is. They're using the "More Colorful" tagline for the network. I think it's an attempt to lighten up the network. They gave six additional episodes to Chuck, and they were the top bidder for the new JJ Abrams pilot, which is a spy show. NBC needs a high-profile tentpole show and this is likely to be it. I hope they stay in the drama game, that they can abort the Leno experiment and get back to business. While branding a network is tough these days, it needs to be done. There can't just be crappy reality shows and then cable. There's an entire middle ground that isn't being served. And if you look back at hit shows of the past -- back when networks were king -- you see the diversity: Family comedies and dramas, shows for teens, shows for grown-ups. Cable fills the need for shows like Breaking Bad and True Blood, but where does everything else go?
I'm pulling for you, networks. Make the right moves.
Now, some long-awaited comments!
What's your take on the Sony announcement that they're not buying anything for the foreseeable future?
Well, they're not alone. None of the studios has any money. But the feature film biz goes dark from now until after Sundance, and that's about when the producers get their development funds. So we'll see what happens. Obviously, studios are in more dire situations than they've ever been. I sure wish they would make smarter decisions about what they produce but just as with networks, the studios tend to get more conservative when times are tough. The perfect storm that allows networks and studios to take risks just doesn't happen very often.
Here's hoping, BTW, that AMC's perfect storm hasn't ended. Did anyone manage to get through The Prisoner?
Mr. Burnett said this in the midst of a great comment:
Much as I love Stross, his rant sounded like many I've heard in convention hotel hallways at 4:00 in the morning. Usually at Worldcon.
And it just totally made me laugh. Because it's completely the truth.
Stross's rant is a bit off, true. Star Trek's annoying "tech the tech" dialogue is mostly gone these days. For all the flaws of Babylon 5 or Firefly or Battlestar, they didn't have it. I can see a more valid criticism there, though. It's that SF TV isn't putting enough effort into the SF part. Let's use Battlestar Galactica as an example here. There are plenty of questions that the writers obviously didn't put much thought into, including what a Cylon is in a physical sense, what language the human characters are speaking, and why it makes sense to launch fighter spacecraft from a carrier. It's still a well-written, well acted show, but I'm not sure you can describe it as good science fiction. And you could easily give those questions answers consistent with a TV show, and make it good SF.
But see, I don't have a problem with any of that. I need the characters to make sense, and the world to be sufficiently developed. And I think they did, and it was. I don't think Charles Stross has a suspension of disbelief gene. But for me, if the writing's good enough, my own suspension of disbelief kicks in. It's only when the writing isn't good that I start to nitpick.
Charlie Stross speaks only for himself on this one. The fact that Doctor Who has renewed itself and played to successive generations means that it's always had special meaning for all levels of the audience. Even through the long years when the BBC's own management looked upon the show with disdain. Maybe they found it hard to feel respect for viewers who loved a show with shaky sets and low production values.
That's good to know. Because God DAMN, that show is good. It should be a national treasure. And without Doctor Who, I wouldn't know how to pronounce Raxcoricofallapatorius.
Lynn on Zenyatta:
Yay for a Zenyatta post! As someone who first started reading this blog for the posts on TV writing, it was a pleasant surprise to find you were also a horse racing fan, and I was hoping you'd write about Zenyatta. Last Saturday was my first Breeder's Cup in person and seeing her make history was something I know I will remember for the rest of my life. Perfection.
Man, you couldn't have picked a better first experience!!! Incidentally, she's going to parade at Hollywood Park on Sunday. And Oak Tree has renamed the Lady's Secret Stakes (a race Zenyatta won the past two years) the Zenyatta Stakes. I wanted to do a compilation video of all of her stretch runs and when she won the Breeder's Cup still perfect, it seemed like the right time. Link here.
And that's today's blog post, gentle readers. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, enjoy! And if not, don't worry. Kwanzaa's coming.