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.

David-Ramsey

Does anyone ever ask the Blue Bloods Mayor if he has failed their city?

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:

ABC

  • Agents of SHIELD
  • Fresh Off the Boat

CBS

  • Big Bang Theory
  • Limitless (though it’s been unofficially canceled)

CW

  • Arrow
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Flash
  • iZombie
  • Legends of Tomorrow
  • Supernatural

NBC

  • Superstore

Fox

  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  • The Last Man on Earth
  • Lucifer
  • 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!

Downward Dog

Imaginary Mary

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.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

7 Comments

  1. I don’t watch any of those shows, not even torrent them.

    I have not used my TV set at home to watch “free-to-air” TV for the last 7 years except to watch Eurovision for the LOLs.

    Reply

  2. I have nearly stopped watching TV shows at all…I used to like most of what USA Network put out, but then they changed direction, cancelled White Collar, and I haven’t looked back since then. Instead I keep watching White Collar on Netflix and wait till the day I can revisit Leverage.

    Other than the Marvel shows (which I all watch), I can count on one hand the shows I am still watching. Sherlock and Outlander. Maybe I’ll catch up with Vikings at one point, but the third season ruined the show for me, and I have stopped being afraid of dropping shows when they go for the cheap drama over carefully planned storytelling. Once a while I watch an episode of Major Crime, but it’s not a regular thing. Maybe I’ll revisit Orphan Black one day, but I am not in a hurry.

    It’s just not worth it. I have realized I don’t want shows which require from me to be invested over multiple seasons, I want shows with shorts seasons which have a definitive end and don’t yank me around. I don’t want yet another Crime procedural or lawyer show or a poorly concealed soap opera. I don’t want shows which tell me how terrible the world is, I want some nice escapisms, but not the dumb kind, the kind which doesn’t insult my intelligence.

    But hey, there are a lot of shows which I can rewatch, or I have never watched at all. There is no need to chase the newest “trend” in Television.

    Reply

  3. The only show I regularly watch from the top three networks is Brk 99. Everything else is on CW, cable or streaming. CW is at least willing to try different things, show loyalty to a dedicated fan base by keeping a show until it’s natural end, or wait for a show to find an audience before canceling. It’s just come to my attention that Beauty and the Beast is still on TV. I thought it had been canceled long ago, but it has a loyal fan base who grew up with the show, so CW kept it.

    Cable is also willing to aim shows squarely at women. I heard the new Nancy Drew got dumped because it skewed too female in its demographics? Wtf? It’s decisions like that that have people leaving broadcast TV, in droves, now.

    I’ve been burned too many times by broadcast TV to even care anymore. I’m too wary of getting close to a show, only for it to be canceled. Hannibal had a dedicated, loyal fan base, but got canceled. I was a huge fan of that show. Had it been on cable, it would now be in its fourth season.

    And cable shows are just more daring, more edgy, they’re willing to take the risk on things like The Walking Dead, and Preacher, and Penny Dreadful. Broadcast networks idea of risky is a talking dog. Or a pillow? C’mon.

    Watching Network shows is like being forced to visit your grandmas house with the smell of old soup, bowl of old hard candy on the coffee table, old 80s detective shows on the TV, while sitting on plastic covered furniture. You love grandma but it’s not your preferred weekend place.

    Watching Cable is like visiting you new cousin’s house, with the big screen TV, surround sound, great food, and endless beer, during the Super Bowl.

    The two don’t compare.

    Reply

    1. “Watching Network shows is like being forced to visit your grandmas house with the smell of old soup, bowl of old hard candy on the coffee table, old 80s detective shows on the TV, while sitting on plastic covered furniture. You love grandma but it’s not your preferred weekend place.

      Watching Cable is like visiting you new cousin’s house, with the big screen TV, surround sound, great food, and endless beer, during the Super Bowl.”

      With the caveat that I do think there are some actually good broadcast TV shows, I must say you just completely nailed it. Drop the mic. Walk away. You summed this up beautifully, and made me laugh more than the average broadcast sitcom.

      Reply

  4. With broadcast shows, tuning in every week isn’t really satisfying because the content is so bland. I do watch Once Upon a Time, but it’s mostly just become a reason for my friends and I to laugh about the terrible writing every week. People who do watch broadcast shows do so because they’re non-threatening and comfortable. A few of my friends who are obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy are obsessed with the aesthetic of the show, not the riveting storytelling.

    That’s not to say that broadcast TV couldn’t be amazing. Aside from a tiny handful of moments, Mad Men could have aired on broadcast TV (glad it didn’t) and House seemed like it was toeing the line into wanting to be a cable show, but it behaved. I feel like broadcast TV is getting more broad and safe while cable is continuing to build things around fascinating characters and great writing.

    Reply

    1. “I do watch Once Upon a Time, but it’s mostly just become a reason for my friends and I to laugh about the terrible writing every week”

      That’s pretty much the same way I watch Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow now.

      “People who do watch broadcast shows do so because they’re non-threatening and comfortable.”

      That does sum up CBS’ entire schedule, and explains why a gutsy procedural like Limitless is gone and the very un-CBS-like Person of Interest is having its final season burnt off in May and June.

      ” I feel like broadcast TV is getting more broad and safe while cable is continuing to build things around fascinating characters and great writing.”

      Agreed.

      Reply

  5. […] Upfronts 2016: Do You Still Watch Broadcast TV Shows? […]

    Reply

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