The 2016 broadcast network upfronts are over. Over the five-day event, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and The CW combined to formally announce over 40 new shows for the 2016/2017 schedule. Beyond that, over 20 returning shows have new time slots (most notable, for me, is the criminally underwatched, but consistently amazing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend moving from Monday to Friday; check out the full schedule at THR). How many of these new and returning shows will you watch next next fall and spring?
Here’s a different angle on that question: How many people who actually work in the TV industry will choose to watch them if they don’t actually have to for their jobs?
“I’m not watching any of the broadcast shows. Everything I watch is on cable,” is what TV writers kept telling Dina Hillier, Paramount Television’s Vice President of Comedy Development, last year. She works with both broadcast and cable networks as well as streaming outlets, and the talent she targets to create or adapt shows for Paramount increasingly want nothing to do with broadcast, as she explained during an ATX Festival panel appearance:
I’ve sat down with a lot of writers this year. People will say, “Oh, you can do the next big multi-cam[era sitcom], that’s what we want you to do.” But then they’ll tell me, “I’m not watching any of the broadcast shows. Everything I watch is on cable.” They’re watching Veep. They’re watching Broad City. They’re watching all of these great shows, and they say, “That’s what I want to make.”
The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and Containment co-creator Julie Plec quickly chimed in, “I don’t watch most broadcast anymore, either. I watch my own shows. I watch Scandal. Everything else I watch is on cable.”
This viewpoint is not unique. The Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, on which Ben Blacker has interviewed well over 100 film, TV and comic book writers, usually ends with the guest naming the movie, TV show or comic book they’re excited about at the moment. Anecdotally, of the many episodes I’ve listened to very few of the guests have ever named a broadcast TV show as their obsession of the moment. When they have, it’s usually been something obvious (Scandal, Empire), something too niche to last beyond a single season (The Grinder) or something which improbably lives on despite anemic viewing figures (Last Man on Earth).
Instead, most of them are just like any other TV nerd, raving about HBO’s Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, FX’s The Americans and Fargo, USA’s Mr. Robot, Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, Netflix’s latest original (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Love, Dude Ranch) or some older show they’re just getting around to binge-watching. It’s no surprise, then, that in recent years Best Drama/Comedy nominees at the Emmys have been overwhelmingly dominated by cable shows.
If the people who actually work in the TV industry don’t give two shits about broadcast shows anymore (especially with the insane money and creative freedom available in cable and streaming, as extensively broken down by Vulture yesterday), why should we?
That’s certainly not the attitude the networks want us to have. There are literally billions of dollar in potential ad sales at stake for the broadcast networks at the upfronts, and that’s because the Nielsen ratings system says the most-watched shows on TV still come from broadcast. The Walking Dead is the only-cable show to regularly crack a year-end top 10 filled out by Big Bang Theory, NCIS (and its spin-offs), Empire, Blue Bloods, Dancing With the Stars and The Voice.
So, just because no one you know watches or talks about Blue Bloods that doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of people watching it every week. Heck, the average Arrow fan probably has no idea David Ramsay pulls double duty every year, playing John Diggle full-time on Arrow while also putting in part-time appearances as the Mayor on Blue Bloods. Arrow is watched by one-tenth as many viewers as Blue Bloods, yet it becomes one of the leading trends on Twitter during the airing of each new episode.
Of course, by now we know full well that the Nielsen system is beyond broken (as Kyle Killen brilliantly explained two years ago). If you go by social media, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Pretty Little Liars and Orange is the New Black are four of the 10 most popular shows on TV right now even though Game of Thrones is barely top 50 in Nielsen and Orange doesn’t even rank since Netflix refuses to release viewership totals.
But what do you, as the individual reading this article, actually watch? I don’t want to get lost in yet another trip down the Nielsen/social media ratings rabbit hole, which is where I fear I am heading with this if I don’t stop. I can tell you that among all the shows on American broadcast TV right now, not counting those which were just canceled, I regularly (or binge) watch:
- Agents of SHIELD
- Fresh Off the Boat
- Big Bang Theory
- Limitless (though it’s been unofficially canceled)
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
- Legends of Tomorrow
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- The Last Man on Earth
- New Girl
That seems like a lot.
And yet I haven’t really been paying close attention to this year’s upfronts. Although I watch a fair amount of broadcast TV (or at least a lot of the CW’s programming), I’m struggling to care about any of the new shows which have been announced.
As Pajiba admitted, “Upfronts used be a huge cause for celebration around these parts, and we would devote thousands of words to them each season, breaking down the new series and the fall schedules. We mostly let it slide these days because there’s so little reason to get excited about anything on network television because most of it will die a quick death [as I broke down a couple of years ago]. Most of it deserves to die a quick death.”
On top of that, this whole process is just so strange. It’s like the networks are a parent whose spouse just died (the spouse in this analogy being all of the canceled shows) yet they’ve already married and moved in with a new guy (i.e., all of the new shows). The new guy might turn out to be the best step-dad ever, but all we can see when we look at him right now is, “Screw you. You’re not as good as what I just lost.”
Perfect example: Is ABC’s borderline-terrible-looking new Hayley Atwell show Conviction truly a worthy replacement for Agent Carter?
To be fair, though, I am simply not good at judging these new shows based on their trailers, even if they are more or less just condensed versions of each shows’ pilot. A couple of years ago I aggressively mocked the Sleepy Hollow trailer just like everyone else, and then the show arrived and for at least that first season it was so much better than we ever expected. Last year, I failed to recognize the potential greatness of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Limitless based solely on their trailers, and they became two of my favorite new shows of the season.
That being said, these next two new shows look more like SNL parodies of TV shows, right? ABC is throwing a talking dog AND talking imaginary pillow show at us next season? WTF!
Honestly, I don’t think I can truly follow up that much crazy. Maybe now is a good time to simply call it good. There are plenty of other new show trailers, most of which probably look much better than Conviction, Downward Dog and Imaginary Mary (all courtesy of ABC’s new boss). But at the moment I’m remember I have 5 episodes of SyFy’s amazing 12 Monkeys show saved up to binge, and that sounds more enticing than trying to work up any excitement for a bunch of broadcast shows which will probably just get canceled before next November or fail to make it to a second season.
What about you? Which broadcast shows do you watch? And are there any new shows you’re excited about? It’s okay if you say Conviction, Downward Dog or Imaginary Mary.