Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fall of Fall TV

Considering how few channels there were when I was a kid, I watched an unhealthy amount of television. When Batman switched from black-and-white to color, the kids in my neighborhood worked out a whole rotation so we could go to houses with color TVs.

And when Fall rolled around, I didn't care about falling leaves or back to school, but the new TV shows. I waited for TV Guide's Fall Preview with the same avidity guys now pine for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. For a few years, I even compiled my own scrapbook of daily ads from the New York Times, organized by network, with a hand-drawn grid of what my favorites were.

I was thinking about that era this fall, because,
after a brief post-strike flirtation with trying to change the annual pilot/premiere cycle, the major networks have all reverted to premiering a ton of shows in September.

Which, in most other businesses, would be obviously nuts: imagine if all books were published during one week, or if all magazines hit the newsstand the same day.

And, as someone who used to find romance in all this new product, (and someone who has written for several shows), I now find myself waiting for most of them to die off before I even go on a first date.
That's because of Tivo, Hulu, iTunes and DVDs. Not only is there hardly any remaining "appointment television" -- but there's now a way for you to store up episodes of a show before you even have to commit to watching the first one. I didn't watch an episode of Lost until it was in its fourth season; finally so many people recommended it that I cracked the season one boxed set and ended up catching up in a few months. Same with the terrific shows The Wire and Friday Night Lights.

Of course, if I catch something new that's as addictive as Mad Men or Modern Family, I have to watch every week. But there are only so many hours in the day. And nowadays, even addicts find it hard to commit up front.

Last year, I made the mistake of getting involved with the intermittently intriguing and frustrating sci-fi show Flash Forward, only to have it be cancelled.

Now, even though all the critics agree that Lone Star is the best of the premiering shows, before I was able to catch up to it on my DVR, I read that it tanked. So I am stockpiling them, playing chicken with Fox (sorry) to see if they'll let it stay on the air.

HBO just announced it was renewing Boardwalk Empire for a second season after only one episode aired. They, of course, have seen all the finished episodes, but also, they realized the need to tell people RIGHT AWAY that they should stick around, before the second week's ratings come out (which will inevitably dip, all the promotions do is get eyeballs for the first one, so people know what it's about.) Networks can't do this, because they need, you know, ratings.

I can't help wondering how this will all shake out. Showrunners of successful shows are complaining that putting shows online is hurting their ratings (as well as long term profits). On the other hand, they allow people to catch up with series they missed.

Still, I doubt there are any kids who find it important to know what network a show is on, or even what night it airs. I doubt there are many crazy scrapbookers like my younger self. They probably don't even own TVs. Guess I can just go over to their house to watch their iPad.


Maria Grasso said...

I remember the extravagant on-air promo campaigns each network produced announcing the fall line up. As a kid, I anticipated the launch of the new season with anticipation and excitement. Unfortunately, the industry is holding onto a tradition that no longer makes sense. I really enjoyed LONE STAR and hope FOX has the guts to stick with it.

JanDev said...

Reminds me of what the French call La Rentree -- everything culturally important is queued up to launch in September, when the tastemakers return from their vacations. There's a palpable energy in the in Paris in the fall that compensates for the loss of daylight and having to be back at work or in school. The ability to time shift TV is a huge -- how did we live without this? That said, I plan to watch the season premier of Modern Family live tonight.