Television

A Tradition Whose Time Has Passed

The networks need a new model

It’s time for network TV, and some of the cable-come-lately channels, to give up the ghost of seasons past. The fall premiere season is a dated concept that has outstayed its welcome.

It won’t disappear soon. The traditional networks – ABC, CBS and NBC (later joined by Fox) – still have enough up-front advertising income to bank on that they’ll keep trotting out this tired dog-and-pony show for a bit longer. Somehow, primetime advertisers are still buying into a concept born decades ago but quickly being overtaken by a new world.

Holding onto aged and tired traditions isn’t the baggage of just network TV.  Other media are still somehow duping traditional advertisers into thinking the old model will sustain. It won’t. And it isn’t. The world is moving on.

Viewers are flooded with more video entertainment options. We can access new (and old) TV programming over multiple platforms 24/7 and on devices where we can watch it anywhere. “Appointment TV,” a concept once meant to put you in your living room at a certain hour and certain night, is as dated as the TV guide listings in newspapers. Viewers guide their TV programming. They guide where and when they want to watch a show.

Sure, there are exceptions. If you want to be in on Monday’s office-cooler – do they still have those? – talk after “Breaking Bad” has its final episode, you better watch it Sunday night (not that you have to watch it at its appointed hour, though).

I’ve equated TV to the auto industry in the past, but a recap: Automobile manufacturers platformed new car and truck models – next year’s models – in the fall, too, once drumming up the same excitement network TV did with the fall TV season back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

But when that fall car premiere concept was born, like the TV industry of the time (dominated by ABC, CBS and NBC), the auto industry was led by its own Big Three: GM, Ford and Chrysler. There was little competition to challenge the norm, and part of the norm was the fall season, when the new models – in both industries – rolled out.

The world changed. Cable brought more competitors to TV. Foreign manufacturers began pummeling auto’s Big Three. The newbies at first fell in lock step in with the Big Three and joined the fall (and to a smaller extent, the spring) TV premiere season. Competition brought change to both industries, and it still is. New car models began debuting throughout the year. New TV series began debuting throughout the year. The auto industry shrank away from fall being the debut of everything new.

TV’s doing the same, though it’s still afraid to trade in the old model for a new one. Still led by the networks and cable’s premium channel giants, we still have our fall TV season.

But through my glasses, it’s been nothing short of “meh” the past few years. And the true quality programs in the past few years, from “The Wire,” to “Homeland” “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos,” rolled out whenever they felt like it – and were embraced.

The networks need a new model. The thrill is gone. And? They’re now broadcasting to a generation of millennials who mostly never bought into the excitement that once came with the fall TV season. Or, like Tony Soprano, relished picking up a freshly delivered morning newspaper from the driveway. It’s old news.

Freaking Good

Speaking of “The Sopranos,” let us now address a show I’ve come to see as written and acted as well that great HBO classic was: “Breaking Bad” wraps Sunday with its final episode. I spent a few hours recapping the handful of episodes leading to Sunday’s finale on AMC.

It’s some of the best series television I’ve watched. From spot-on acting by a stellar cast, led by the multitalented, Emmy Award-winning Bryan Cranston, to top-notch writing, directing and editing, this has been one mesmerizing, at times disturbing, but always brilliant, series.

I’m pleased series creator Vince Gilligan decided to take it out on a high note, packaging the series with a solid ending instead of milking it for one or two more.

If you’ve missed it, Netflix it. Borrow it from the library. Watch it on whatever platform you choose.

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