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Old October 24 2012, 10:36 PM   #1
Dream
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What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

I thought this was a great article.

For full article:
http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/10/22/wa...ach-broadcast/

Shorter: This is an idea that broadcast is actually starting to adopt. Big networks are experimenting with cable-style 13-episode seasons, like NBC's upcoming "Hannibal." Broadcasters vastly prefer the standard 22-episode season because it creates more stability across a schedule and it helps shows hit that standard 100-episode goal for flipping into syndication. But a short season gives a creative team more time to craft great episodes. Any honest showrunner will tell you: If jamming out 22, there's going to be a few dogs in that kennel. With all the growing competition for viewers, many TV fans rather commit to 13 amazing hours than 22 pretty good ones.

Serialized: Broadcasters love shows with close-ended episodes — "The Mentalists" and "Law & Orders" of this world. They perform better in repeats and are easy to sell into syndication. But TV fans, particularly younger fans, love a great serialized story that has a cliffhanger every week. Network executives still have some wariness of serialized shows, pointing to dramas in recent years that tried to be the next Lost and failed. But what was last fall's biggest new drama? Once Upon a Time (serialized). This fall? Revolution (serialized). "I think success is less about serialized vs. non serialized and more about whether a show is novel," countered one broadcast executive. "Zombies were something new." Perhaps, but it's tough to imagine a show being successful featuring a different zombie crime each week.

Patience: SOA's first season ratings weren't high enough to survive on broadcast. They are now. While "Walking Dead" more than doubled its premiere rating from two years ago. So what does that tell you about broadcast's tendency to cancel a show a few weeks after it debuts? Now, I want to be careful here. As much as we all moan about broadcast axing shows, networks nearly always make the right call. If a series opens poorly and keeps going down, that's a clear sign an audience is dumping a show. And sometimes, broadcasters admirably stick with quality struggling titles — NBC renewed The Office after its poorly rated first season and it became a hit. Fox stuck with Fringe, though that hasn't paid off in the numbers. "If we see positive momentum in the ratings, or if we see creatively a show is hitting it out of the park, most of us will give it the benefit of the doubt," one broadcaster said.

Braver: This point is huge, but complex. The Big Four rejected "The Walking Dead" partly because a gory cannibalism drama seemed too extreme for a primetime audience. But it's apparently not. Cable keeps pushing the content envelope, while broadcast tentatively follows several footsteps behind. With the Supreme Court letting broadcasters slide this summer for alleged content violations from years past, the reins may be loosening on what networks can get away with.
These are all such great ideas. My thoughts are that broadcast tv needs to try to be more like cable very soon or the whole system is going to fail big time. Cable is becoming more and more known as quality tv while broadcast has become the dumping ground for cop shows and reality tv.
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Old October 24 2012, 10:53 PM   #2
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Eh... I'm not a big fan of the "we must have a cliffhanger every week" model of serialization, because it leads to a constant lack of resolution that eventually turns people off (and it's a really shitty gimmick). I think the better way of approaching serialization is making each story build off of what happened in previous ones, developing the plot and subplots as you go, like what DS9 did.

I totally agree with the fact that the networks need to be braver than they are now, but they need to execute their ideas better, otherwise we get stuff like Last Resort, where we can't care about anyone because we barely got to know them before shit went down and the stuff they're doing only matters if we care about characters.
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Old October 25 2012, 02:26 AM   #3
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Very solid article. I definitely agree with most of it, and would like to see more American networks do interesting serialized content.

bullethead wrote: View Post
Eh... I'm not a big fan of the "we must have a cliffhanger every week" model of serialization, because it leads to a constant lack of resolution that eventually turns people off (and it's a really shitty gimmick).
Homeland's easily the best TV show I'm currently watching and it's also by far the most shameless when it comes to laying on cliffhangers (but also the best at it). I think there's something to be said for the more slower based, absorbing, novelistic serialization that other cable dramas do too, but either way it's just a great way to get lost in a TV series.
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Old October 25 2012, 03:28 AM   #4
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Well I've almost entirely switched to watching cable vs broadcast but it's crucial to keep in mind that cable and broadcast are different businesses. Broadcast pays the bills via advertising, which means that each broadcast viewer is worth a lot less than one cable viewer, especially a premium cable viewer.

But even basic cable viewers garner some % of subscription revenue, plus they also pay their way by watching ads. Subscriptions are more lucrative than ads, as something to base your business on. If you go the ad-based route, you have to make it up in volume.

It's hard to get a large volume of viewers unless you appeal to the lowest common denominator by such things as simplistic plotting, cliched characterization, and episodic structure. There are plenty of viewers who don't want the bother of having to follow an ongoing plotline. They want to be able to skip a week or two and not be lost. And of course there's the budget issue, which makes cheap reality TV so attractive to broadcast.

The moral of the story is, people will cater to your specific tastes if you make them worth their while to do so. Subscribing to premium cable gets you what you want; watching broadcast ads, not so much.
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Old October 25 2012, 03:38 AM   #5
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

bullethead wrote: View Post
Eh... I'm not a big fan of the "we must have a cliffhanger every week" model of serialization, because it leads to a constant lack of resolution that eventually turns people off (and it's a really shitty gimmick).
But that's an advantage of doing short 13-episode seasons. Heck, even with 22-episode seasons, if you give each year its own distinct arc that you pay off in the finale, then it does have a resolution within a reasonable amount of time -- and then you do a new arc the next season.


I think the better way of approaching serialization is making each story build off of what happened in previous ones, developing the plot and subplots as you go, like what DS9 did.
That's good too. I definitely don't want to see broadcasters fall into the trap of thinking there's only one right approach. The right approach overall is diversity. And there's definitely value in balancing episodic and serial aspects within a single show.
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Old October 25 2012, 04:29 AM   #6
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

And I wouldn't be so quick to say that the moral of the story this season is, Revolution was a big success because it's a serialized show that's different from the usual cop/doctor/lawyer stuff on broadcast. If that's all it takes, why isn't The Last Resort a big hit too? Instead, it's cancellation bait.

The other big success for new fall shows is Elementary - squarely a CBS type of show, in the ever-popular quirky detective genre. So isn't that evidence that broadcast should stick to what's worked in the past, just do a better job of it with a good quality presentation? I remember when that show was announced, the howls of derision at the crass CBS-ness of it all, complete with making Watson a female so you could have gender balance, if not sexual tension (heterosexual of course).

Report card for the season so far.

The other winners so far include a couple of pretty traditional looking sitcoms and Vegas, which is a risk only by CBS standards - it's a cop show set in the 60s rather than modern day. And even though it's way down the list, CW's Arrow is a hit - a youth-skewing superhero show, not exactly a big departure for them. It's a risk by CW standards only by moving more towards the young-male market.

So it looks to me like the moral of the story is, Do What Works for You, Just Do It a Little Better. Unless you're NBC, then you need to find out what works in the first place.
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Old October 25 2012, 05:06 AM   #7
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

I thought the FCC not the Supreme Court watch dogged TV, both cable and broadcast. In any event whenever there is a change in leadership in Congress there will be a change in how the FCC goes after the Networks. The more conservative the more of a crackdown, the more liberal, the more freedom a network has. The Supreme Court is also affected by a change in the Federal Government.

Cable Networks are pushing bounds but only slightly. The Networks that really have freedom are the ones you pay for independently of the others, channels like HBO and Showtime. The reason being is that you don't have to have them, they are an option. You don't want your kids watch Game of Thrones, don't get HBO.
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Old October 25 2012, 07:21 AM   #8
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

First off I think The walking dead is vastly overrated--yet another post-apocalyptic pretentious drama. That said I personally think tv--broadcast, cable, whatever--has jumped the shark.

I've noticed over the last 12 yeasr or so my interest waning in tv programs. At first I thought it was just me but I've come to the conclusion they just aren't worth a crap these days--weak writing, recycled storylines, formulaic storytelling, poor casting, bland characters that 9/10 are merely plot devices and convoluted arc based storytelling that just implodes.

These new writers just don't have the knack that previous generation(s) of earlier writers had--dialog, plotlines, character development etc. It is either cookie cutter procedurals, cookie cutter hospital/legal dramas, reality dreck, resurrected tv shows where the new writers miss what made the original endearing or in the sff genre we get this mythology messes every year since LOST debuted in 2004 and ultimately give the genre a bad name.

I gave up my cable service since I couldn't find a thing to watch. So I realized I was just wasting money. I have been using Netflix and rewatching older tv series that I've seen before but I actually enjoy them now more than I ever did any of the new programs over the last several years.

What tv in general needs so desperately is quality--which is noticeably absent. Writers that are mature enough and creative enough to tell entertaining stories with compelling characters. Flashy effects, explosions, tons of action, frenetic pacing, flashbacks, massive casts, bloated interconnected epic mysteries just don't cut it for me.

Also the critically acclaimed shows to me are nearly unwatchable as well--they are too slow and glacial in their pacing, they come off as highly pretentious, the characters are mostly unlikeable and a lot of them share similiar themes regarding "how far will humanity go". Or like True Blood and Game of Thrones they try to service too many characters and relies too much on "in your face" violence/gory and soft porn. And for some reason that has become equated with brave storytelling or bold television.

Simple is best--modest ensemble not a sprawling cast, linear season arcs not a million questions tied into a limited premise--something akin to DS9's Final Chapter or the original Dallas or Hill Street Blues.

Last edited by degra; October 25 2012 at 07:33 AM.
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Old October 25 2012, 09:41 AM   #9
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

degra wrote: View Post
First off I think The walking dead is vastly overrated--yet another post-apocalyptic pretentious drama.
The funny thing is I don't know many people who actually rate it that highly. It's very entertaining at its best and has been consistently good with starting each season off with a bang, but it can be a frustrating, oddly written show populated by underdeveloped characters acting arbitrarily.

Dallas
On the other hand I don't know anyone who'd peg Dallas as part of a lost age of quality TV writing. A great soap opera is probably as far as they'd go.
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Old October 25 2012, 01:43 PM   #10
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Christopher wrote: View Post
bullethead wrote: View Post
Eh... I'm not a big fan of the "we must have a cliffhanger every week" model of serialization, because it leads to a constant lack of resolution that eventually turns people off (and it's a really shitty gimmick).
But that's an advantage of doing short 13-episode seasons. Heck, even with 22-episode seasons, if you give each year its own distinct arc that you pay off in the finale, then it does have a resolution within a reasonable amount of time -- and then you do a new arc the next season.
I do think it's a lot more plausible to pull that kind of thing off with a 13 episode season, but if you're doing a 20+ episode season, it's probably better to do two arcs per season, especially if the channel subscribes to that stupid "let's air the two halves of the season at different times" thing (which is more of a cable thing IIRC).
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Old October 25 2012, 02:33 PM   #11
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

^I don't see what's stupid about it. I mean, the year is 52 weeks long. If a season is only 13-20 episodes, then airing it all in one block means you then have to wait a very long time for more new episodes. If you split it in two, then the gaps between new episodes are half as long. I think that's preferable. And as you say, it lets you do more, tighter arcs. Viewers can get two complete, compact story arcs in the course of a year rather than a single, more diffuse one.
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Old October 25 2012, 02:37 PM   #12
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

bullethead wrote: View Post
I do think it's a lot more plausible to pull that kind of thing off with a 13 episode season,
Considering the article also argues for 10-13 episode length seasons, then, I'm not sure what your problem is.
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Last edited by Kegg; October 25 2012 at 06:23 PM.
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Old October 25 2012, 05:07 PM   #13
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

It's not the FCC that makes broadcast risk-averse, it's the need to appeal to a mass market because they can't get by on smaller cable audiences. Probably there's some self-censorship too, since advertisers might complain if their ads run adjacent to some really disturbing or controversial show.

You can't ask broadcast to compete with cable because they lack the advantage that cable has, of being able to get by with smaller audiences.

Shortening the season length isn't going to change the need to appeal to mass audiences. Awake for instance was 13 episodes, and although it was a good show, it just didn't have mass audience appeal and failed in the ratings. And despite being 13 episodes, they did use some cop-show filler material to pad it out, so a shorter season doesn't guarantee no filler either.
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Old October 26 2012, 05:28 AM   #14
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Kegg wrote: View Post
degra wrote: View Post
First off I think The walking dead is vastly overrated--yet another post-apocalyptic pretentious drama.
The funny thing is I don't know many people who actually rate it that highly. It's very entertaining at its best and has been consistently good with starting each season off with a bang, but it can be a frustrating, oddly written show populated by underdeveloped characters acting arbitrarily.
Well I just have heard some fans raving about it. Even as mindless entertainment I dont personally find it satisfying in the least.

Dallas
On the other hand I don't know anyone who'd peg Dallas as part of a lost age of quality TV writing. A great soap opera is probably as far as they'd go.
I wasn't suggesting it was Shakespearean--I was mentioning it as a solidly entertaining show that demonstrates you can have a show with an open premise, a nice roster of actors, enjoyable characters and linear season long arcs that payoff as opposed to the contemporary model of storytelling for a lot of tv shows i.e. massive cast of characters, limited premise drug out for years in order to keep the show going, a ton of interconnected questions, ADHD pacing and lots of brief scenes that don't allow time for the scene to breathe before manically jumping to another(Surface, Invasion, Heroes, LOST, BSG, The Nine, Kidnapped, Vanished, The Event, Alcatraz, Revolution, Flash Forward, Persons Unknown, Once Upon a Time, America's Life on Mars, Caprica, True Blood, Game of Thrones, Terminator:The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe etc.)

TV now is just so wretched I'd settle for just mindless entertainment if it was as satisfying as the original Dallas--that was all I was suggesting--but I honestly don't see that happening anytime soon. Boring or awright awful crap seems to be all the rage these days.
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Old October 26 2012, 12:30 PM   #15
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Re: What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

degra wrote: View Post
Dallas
On the other hand I don't know anyone who'd peg Dallas as part of a lost age of quality TV writing. A great soap opera is probably as far as they'd go.
I wasn't suggesting it was Shakespearean--I was mentioning it as a solidly entertaining show that demonstrates you can have a show with an open premise, a nice roster of actors, enjoyable characters and linear season long arcs that payoff
I didn't say you said it was Shakespearan, but you definitely seem to have a high opinion of the show, which I've literally never seen. It's basically a soap oepra most people seem to remember for its 80s hair or being the kind of show Twin Peaks was partly doing a sendup of or for writing off an entire year of the show as a dream.

as opposed to the contemporary model of storytelling for a lot of tv shows i.e. massive cast of characters, limited premise drug out for years in order to keep the show going,
I'm not really sure I'd agree that point two is the cable situation. For one thing, most cable dramas end in a relatively timely manner - none of HBO's dramas have anywhere near the massive amount of episodes that say Dallas accrued, most of them have ended after around five seasons. It's also true other cable series have dragged out their premise past its sell-by date (Dexter has certainly become this), but mostly smaller numbers of episodes and more limited approaches to season runs means that less cable dramas feel 'dragged out', while that's practically the norm for a lot of network TV.

Whether or not the shows have limited premises or even enormous casts of characters also vary, to be honest. Some series actually broaden the scope of their premise on a yearly basis (The Wire) and others have so few characters that matter I can almost feel like I can name them on one hand (Breaking Bad); although it's true most of these shows beffiting their serialized nature can have a sprawling cast of recurring characters.

TV now is just so wretched I'd settle for just mindless entertainment if it was as satisfying as the original Dallas--that was all I was suggesting--but I honestly don't see that happening anytime soon.
Not that I give a crap for Dallas, but what do you think of TNT's new Dallas then?
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