Monday, January 04, 2016
Once upon a time...
All the big shows were on one of the three networks.
The independent channels had local newscasts with limited resources, old movies, syndicated series originally aired on the networks, maybe some local sports team coverage, and sporadic original programming, which usually meant kids shows and dance party shows.
For real news you went to the networks. They had the foreign bureaus, the footage, the anchors you revered and trusted. If a major news story broke they broke into normal programming. Yes, commercial revenue was lost, but these were the NETWORKS. Their chief responsibility was to inform the public – accurately and objectively.
For major sporting events you went to the networks. The World Series, All-Star Game, NFL games, major college bowls. You knew where to turn.
The Fall TV season debut was a major event. You waited all summer, salivating over the promos for the new fare. Then there was the Mid-Season, right after the first of the year. You studied those promos to know exactly what time slots these new shows would occupy.
Families had actual allegiances to these networks. You were a “CBS family” or an “NBC family.” If you were a “CBS family” you watched the CBS Evening News, you checked the TV Guide to see what CBS had on that night before seeing what the competition offered. And if all things were equal you stuck with your network. Many nights you wouldn’t change the channel once.
There were some original syndicated series that the independent stations ran, but by and large, they were second-class fodder. There was a HUGE difference status-wise between network shows and indie shows.
There was also a difference in reception. The networks had the stations with the three strongest signals. They were always on the VHF dial (2-13). In some markets the independents were on the UHF dial so would appear on channel 34 or 61. Lots of people couldn’t access UHF signals very well. So the network picture was strong and clear, and the indies sometimes were snowy or had ghosts.
A new show on ABC, NBC, or ABC got your attention. You would be watching along with thirty million people. NBC even sent out collectible yearbooks heralding “NBC WEEK” (their Fall rollout week). I sent away for it every year. Me and millions of other nerds.
Compare that to today.
There is no difference in signal strength or content between channel 2 and channel 789. The three big networks have been reduced to just three channels. But for viewers who grew up with cable, it is a completely equal playing field. ABC, TBS, Spike, ION, TCM, AMC, CBS, FS1, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC – to Millennials it’s all the same. A show on A&E has the same stature as one on ABC. In fact, it’s almost a detriment to be on one of the networks. Yes, they still have more reach, but popular perception is that the more interesting, nuanced, and mature programming can be found on any channel beyond 13. The Emmys certainly bear that out.
“Where have you gone, NBC?”
“Say it ain’t so, ABC?”
“CBS, we hardly knew ya.”
TOMORROW: ADVICE TO THE NETWORKS THAT THEY WON'T TAKE