As Scripted TV Shows Return, a Question Nags: Is This Enough to Save the Industry?
Nobody's happier than this TV critic to see scripted shows returning to network television. Especially Samantha Who, which returns tonight; the one successful new series I inexplicably predicted well, thanks to my crush on Christina Applegate (now it can be told...)
But as the deluge of returning shows hits high gear this week, I'm left to wonder whether this spate of new episodes -- lasting about six or seven weeks at most-- will be enough to energize viewers just before the doldrums of summer reruns set in.
Truth is, the network TV industry is increasingly swamped by unscripted, so-called reality shows, a trend the writers strike only accelerated. And whereas promising new shows such as ABC’s Miss Guided and Eli Stone have languished, reality hits such as American Idol, Celebrity Apprentice, American Gladiators and Moment of Truth have commanded huge audiences.
NBC entertainment head Ben Silverman, who first made his showbiz bones selling American TV networks reality concepts such as The Biggest Loser and Big Brother, wouldn't let my musing dim his enthusiasm for the network's new scripted wares -- announced last week in an ambitious schedule covering more than 52 weeks with stars such as Christian Slater, Molly Shannon and Ian McShane (is it me, or could Slater play Silverman in the TV movie about NBC's rise and fall? Just asking...).
“There’s an appetite for specific shows, and those shows will probably have even bigger audiences (when they return),” Silverman said. “But there’s no question, to break through, you need to be smart. That’s why we’re trying to find these big themes and these big concepts to build our shows around, so we can break through that clutter and demand the audience’s attention.”
But TV is increasingly divided; on one side, broadcast networks chase big audiences, often with broad reality shows, and on the other side, some cable channels target wealthy, more intellectual viewers with expensive, complex dramas. Fortunately, advertisers like scripted dramas more, because they draw wealthier viewers and less fickle audiences.
Still, producers of scripted network television better bring some serious game over the next few weeks, or we’re all going back to the YouTube videos and iTunes downloads that got us through the strike in the first place. And the Hollywood writers will have won their battle, only to lose the war to keep scripted shows at the center of the network TV universe.