Broadcast TV’s reduced role made clear

May 22, 2022 8:30 am

This combination of photos shows Marcia Gay Harden, left, and Skylar Astin in a scene from the new CBS series "So Help Me Todd," from left, Niecy Nash-Betts who will star in the new ABC spinoff series "The Rookie: Feds," and Brice Gonzalez with George Lopez in the new NBC series "Lopez VS Lopez." [Source: AP News]

They never even made it onto the stage.

There were constant reminders of the diminished influence of broadcast television networks this past week, when entertainment companies Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC Universal and Fox hawked their upcoming wares to advertisers in flashy New York presentations.

None was more glaring than the fact that Craig Erwich and Kelly Kahl, chiefs of the ABC and CBS entertainment divisions, watched from the sidelines. Erwich was replaced by a boss with broader responsibilities, and NBC doesn’t even have an entertainment president; instead, there’s an executive who oversees several networks and streaming.

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Broadcasters once owned the week, revealing their fall schedules to much fanfare. They’re now almost afterthoughts in bloated presentations where the action is now in streaming, and in the coming shakeout over how advertising will invade that format.

Yet with their plans, ABC, CBS and NBC — Fox didn’t even bother to release a fall schedule — show they clearly know their new place in the entertainment world.

“How do you not recognize reality?” said Garth Ancier, former entertainment president at NBC and Fox. “All of the networks are basically recognizing reality with their schedules. They’re not saying, ‘we’re going to build the audience back.’”

Twenty years ago, the networks were coming off a season where three scripted programs — “Friends,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “ER” — all averaged more than 22 million viewers per episode. This season, “NCIS” and “FBI” are, barely, the only such shows to exceed 10 million, the Nielsen company said.

In April, a broadcast television network was being watched less than 25% of the time that an American household had a TV on, Nielsen said. The rest of the time was spent on cable networks, streaming, gaming, DVR use or videos.

With the premium cable in its salad days and streaming still a dream, the network programmers in 2002 spent freely and took chances. ABC, CBS and NBC introduced 19 new scripted programs, eight of them comedies, on their fall schedules that year.

This year, they plan just seven new scripted shows for the fall. NBC’s star vehicle for George Lopez and his daughter, “Lopez vs. Lopez,” is the only comedy.

“We have officially turned the page now. Everyone sees that we are not going back to the network era,” said Aaron Barnhart, a veteran critic and author of the book “Primetime Guide to Streaming TV.” “In some ways, it’s just the culmination of a culture shift that happened when everybody first start hooking up to cable TV.”

Even Ancier, a creature of network TV who also worked for the Walt Disney Studios and the WB, is now advising developers of an app to help people keep track of their favourite shows on streaming services.

Network TV is primarily becoming the home of franchises and reboots, unscripted and live events and sports.

NBC has its three Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” dramas filling its Wednesday nights and CBS does the same for its “FBI” shows on Tuesday, also produced by Wolf. NBC’s trio of “Law & Order” shows (yes, Wolf again) will fill Thursday nights, CBS has its “NCIS” franchise, Fox has two “911” shows and ABC is trying to create its own franchise with a spinoff of “The Rookie” in the fall.