What Broadcast can learn from Cable TV

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Dream, Oct 24, 2012.

  1. Dream

    Dream Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2001
    Location:
    Hotel Transylvania
    I thought this was a great article.

    For full article:
    http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/10/22/walking-dead-teach-broadcast/

    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.
     
  2. bullethead

    bullethead Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2008
    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.
     
  3. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland.
    Very solid article. I definitely agree with most of it, and would like to see more American networks do interesting serialized content.

    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.
     
  4. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Location:
    Tatoinne
    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.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.


    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.
     
  6. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Location:
    Tatoinne
    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.
     
  7. Vanyel

    Vanyel The Imperious Leader Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2001
    Location:
    San Antonio, Texas
    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.
     
  8. degra

    degra Fleet Captain Newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    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: Oct 25, 2012
  9. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland.
    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.

    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.
     
  10. bullethead

    bullethead Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2008
    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).
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    ^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.
     
  12. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland.
    Considering the article also argues for 10-13 episode length seasons, then, I'm not sure what your problem is.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2012
  13. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Location:
    Tatoinne
    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.
     
  14. degra

    degra Fleet Captain Newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    Well I just have heard some fans raving about it. Even as mindless entertainment I dont personally find it satisfying in the least.

    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.
     
  15. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland.
    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.

    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.

    Not that I give a crap for Dallas, but what do you think of TNT's new Dallas then?
     
  16. FreezeC77

    FreezeC77 Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    I prefer shorter seasons without hiatus, but then again I do watch a lot of foreign dramas which operate with shorter seasons.

    Hell most of the Korean or Japanese dramas I watch are 13-22 episodes and that's the entire show(not season, show). Korean drama scheduling would make network telelvision cry. Usually two one-hour long episodes a week(Mon/Tue, Wed/Thu, or Sat/Sun in the same time-slot) and that's 1 hour without commercials. Constantly every 3 months having to debut multiple new dramas. Of course there are exceptions with longer dramas that can run an entire year (usually more on the family drama or Historical fiction side). But pretty much 90% of prime-time dramas air for 3 months or less and then finish their run.
     
  17. degra

    degra Fleet Captain Newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2006
    I have a high opinion of it because it was highly entertaining--which I really can't say for what tv has churned out over the last decade or so. The last several years of tv have given us either stale procedurals(CSIs, Criminal Minds, Elementary etc) or unnecessarily complicated mythology shows that go nowhere(LOST, The Event, V, Flash Forward, Revolution etc) or stiff pretentious bores(Caprica etc).

    So yes I place a premium on being entertained after sitting through what seems like ages of uninteresting mediocrity. I appreciate the focus on a smaller cast, more straightforward serialized storytelling, decent pacing and consistency in quality--something tv shows these days can't maintain--if they are lucky enough to have one good year at the start they quickly implode nowadays and can't sustain several good years(Heroes, BSG , Veronica Mars) the way earlier shows did i.e. TNG, The X-Files and yes Dallas.

    I don't like it. Like most attempts to resurrect older tv shows, the new Dallas fails to capture what made the original endearing. Yes it has a few of the original cast members but the younger cast are dreadfully dull and the mere updating of the show strips of a large part of what made the original a product of its time.
     
  18. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA

    I don't know. I think it's a mistake to romanticize the past too much. Are we really going to argue that the likes of THE LOVE BOAT, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, THE BIONIC WOMAN, GOMER PYLE, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, and various other hits of the past were smarter and more sophisticated than than the stuff airing today?

    Sure, there are older shows that have stood the test of time--THE AVENGERS, COLUMBO, THE TWILIGHT ZONE--but I'll bet you'd find that a lot of nostalgic favorites haven't aged all that well . . . .
     
  19. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 1999
    Location:
    Tatoinne
    This thread has wandered rather far from the original point, which is a shame because I find the original point to be pretty interesting, namely:

    Broadcast is in deep doo-doo. How can it be saved? Can it be saved? Pretend you're the CEO of a broadcast network. What do you do to turn things around?

    And keep in mind the point the original article glossed over, namely, that cable shows can survive on lower ratings than broadcast because cable viewers are worth more per person. Subscriptions are more lucrative than advertising.

    Here's an example: American Horror Story was the best-rated cable show Wed night, with a mere 3M viewers. That might pass muster on the CW, but not on a real network. A show like that can be a hit on basic cable, but even if the FCC allowed it, it couldn't survive on broadcast because it simply is too much of a niche taste.

    (And judging by the drop from last week's premiere, maybe it's a small niche too - they took a big risk in dropping last season's characters in favor of a new plotline, and the drop may be due to people tuning in who didn't realize that it was an all-new story, and some of the major actors did not return. There's a good example of why risk-taking doesn't always pay off.)

    Here's one solution: as CEO, you declare the old ad-supported TV model to be dead. From now on, you're charging subscriptions to watch, even if it's only the subscriptions inherent in a basic cable or satellite subscription.

    I think that scenario is probably inevitable, with some rump free-TV industry left over, made up of reruns from all sources including cable (after their owners have wrung all value out of them via more lucrative distribution methods) and cheap reality TV.
     
  20. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland.
    No idea, but there are other areas beyond drama that American broadcast TV is no doubt successful for - news, sports, reality shows, etc.

    And broadcast is still very good at sitcoms, critically speaking (as, exceptions like the Walking Dead to one side, the critical gap between network and broadcast dramas is disporportonate to them still having the lion's share of actual viewers). While there were no American broadcast TV shows nominated for best drama this year, the nominees for comedy were actually evenly split between HBO and networks.

    Beyond that, the lessons of the article applies. Networks can make more serialized drama with shorter season runs. Hell, Sky Atlantic - the same British import channel over here which has pretty much defined itself as the place to watch Big Name American dramas like Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men and Game of Thrones - has been doing a full-series runthrough of NBC's Friday Night Lights all year, and while the subject matter is frankly alien to me (American football may as well be Futurama's blernsball as well as I grasp it) it's got surprisingly good character writing, acting and overall sense of direction.

    ...but it was also apparently obscenely lowly rated on NBC. It's a lot easier - or at least more entertaning - to ask what works for critics than it is for audiences. And it's really where cable has a documented advantage.

    Oh, so do I.

    I'd say it's more typical for cable shows to maintain relatively high standards of quality. It's pretty much a given that a series which dozens of seasons and episodes will hve many episodes - perhaps even entire seasons - which are significantly subpar, if not downright awful. TNG, which is one of my favourite TV shows, has both of these problems littered through its run. Dallas is pretty much best known either for 'the Dallas Effect' (its impact on perceptions of the United States in Europe as a land of opulent plenty) or the fact they literally retconned an entire season as a dream. It's something we just took for granted with TV shows - they'd run out of steam in their last years, and maybe they'd take a few years to get going.

    But I can honestly think of many completed serial cable dramas that I didn't feel had a single bad year - Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, Big Love, Rome etc. Even if you disagree with me on these examples, or find these all terrible TV shows, the fact remains that since they produce less episodes a year and since they go on for less years the issues with exhaustion and running out of steam and ideas are ones that affect them far less severely.

    Structurally, any kind of serialized drama - including, yes, soap operas like the original Dallas - could benefit from this kind of focus. It doesn't have to be depressing and edgy or gratuituously sexy or gratuituously foul-mouthed or violent, but less episodes and less seasons are a good thing.