The first few weeks of 2013 are proving to be highly educational as far as broadcast television is concerned. One can't help but learn something about the medium with each passing day.
For example, NBC's consistent ratings decline in this New Year makes it increasingly clear that people don't watch television networks. Rather, they watch television shows! Take away Sunday Night Football, multiple weekly editions of The Voice, hot freshman adventure Revolution and the critically acclaimed Parenthood and the most exciting story of the 2012-13 season -- NBC's meteoric rise from worst to first among the most desirable demographic groups -- is suddenly over. All at once there is very little to watch on NBC and even less to write about. Late March -- when The Voice and Revolution return -- can't come soon enough.
The disastrous debut and quick cancellation of NBC's Do No Harm -- arguably one of the most idiotic ideas ever for a drama series with amateurish execution to match -- didn't help matters. Can we please stop with shows about men with multiple personalities/identities/lives? The collapse of the political family comedy 1600 Penn came as no surprise, either, as it was brimming with the kind of humor writers write to entertain other writers in writers' rooms, seemingly without any thought as to whether it will appeal to anybody outside those four walls.
Similarly, NBC's glossy mystery soap Deception is also a disappointment, even if its concept did sound tantalizing. There is an audience for this genre when it's done well, as we saw last season with ABC's freshman sensation Revenge and even with the premiere of Deception, which garnered respectable ratings. But that audience bolts when such shows don't live up to expectations, as we have seen this season with ABC's sophomore stiff Revenge and subsequent episodes of Deception, which have been duller by the week.
On a related note, we're seeing firsthand the difference that dedicated writers and producers who truly understand and appreciate soap operas can make in the deteriorating world of daytime drama. This was a genre that was the broadcasters' to lose, and in recent years they have done so with awe-inspiring aplomb, not to mention a profound lack of respect for what had been the last remaining program category that the networks could truly call their own. (Now, with Prospect Park finally getting around to producing new online episodes of former ABC Daytime foundation series All My Children and One Life to Live, we will soon see if the broadcast networks have willingly sacrificed that distinction, as well.) With new and improved executive producers and head writers assigned to each, CBS' The Young and the Restless, NBC"s Days of Our Lives and especially ABC's General Hospital are suddenly better than they have been in years. That's the difference smart leadership can make.
Lately we're also being reminded of the dire condition of television news. Just consider the outsize focus by broadcast and cable news programs alike last week on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) taking a sip of water during his presentation of the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Yes, the water should have been placed within Rubio's easy reach. And yes, it should have been a glass of water, rather than a bottle of Poland Spring, which last week unexpectedly enjoyed massive publicity through happenstance product placement. (These gaffs are squarely the fault of Rubio's support staff. Apparently good help is as hard to find in the nation's capital as it is everywhere else.) But watching supposedly serious news programs play the clip over and over, and listening to cable news anchors and other personalities babble on about it as if it meant anything at all, were somewhat sobering. When taking a sip of water makes that much news we're all in trouble.
Read the full version of this column, which includes lessons learned about American Idol and The Big Bang Theory, on the MediaPost TV Board.
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