I actually don’t argue with the facts of the first (shrinking ad revenue and increasing challenges from new media certainly are a problem) or the suggestions of the second (certainly it’s time for the networks to reconsider their devotion to single-camera sitcoms and investing in new production tech has to be a good idea).
However, I have some thoughts I’d like to add to the discussion. Here are 10 suggestions which, if taken, I truly believe would save the broadcast network model.
1. LESS MAY BE MORE
While the broadcast networks face increasing competition from cable, much of that
competition comes from themselves. NBC-Universal, for example, owns USA, Syfy, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and the Weather Channel.
Wouldn’t it be better if these networks were consolidated and arranged so that they worked with each other. Why, for example, are the hits "Royal Pains" and "Burn Notice" running on USA and not NBC?
My suggestion would be to make NBC (broadcast) the base network running new shows 24/7 52 weeks a year, making it a destination for viewers seeking premiere programming. USA would be converted into NBC Encore which would rerun fresh NBC shows on a continual wheel, thereby multiplying ad revenue for shows that debuted on the broadcast side. Syfy would go away (replaced by a Sci-Fi Sunday block of original programming when football ends). Bravo would be where classic movies and TV shows run. I’d also merge MSNBC with CNBC.
Let’s face it. All these channels are stretched too thin programming wise. Consolidating and focusing them would make them easier to market and would cut layers of repetitive management costs.
2. PROTECT THE BRAND
NBC, and the other networks, should bow out of Hulu and other attempts to find multiple online platforms for their shows. NBC shows should be found on NBC.com exclusively, where they should be presented in an orderly way that makes it easy for viewers to find them.
3. SELL SPACE AS WELL AS TIME
By now viewers are accustomed to network logo bugs and (annoying) pop-up advertising for their shows in the bottom portion of the screen. Why not use that space to run more discreet messages on behalf of paying advertisers? That would be a great value to advertisers (who, perhaps, could display website destinations as a follow-up to their previously-run commercial) and would provide a new revenue stream for the network.
4. BRING BACK THE MINI-SERIES
There’s a place for inexpensive reality shows (if they’re good), but broadcast networks should not shy away from big, lush dramas that people talk about. A Roots for this generation would go a long way toward restoring a sense of excitement about network programming.
5. DON’T REFRAIN FROM THEME SONGS
It’s currently chic to omit traditional opening sequences from shows — or to run one so brief that it’s barely there. This is supposed to stop channel surfing but, in reality, when they’re well done, viewers actually look forward to these calling cards. And let’s not forget, when these songs play on the radio, they’re like free advertising for the show. The same is true when they play in your head.
6. BE BROADCASTERS
The strength of broadcast TV has always been in the word broadcast. The niche mentality has not served the networks well. Buy shows that are good, some will appeal to younger people, some older. In the end they’ll have a large and loyal viewing base.
7. RETREAT FROM THE EDGE
Truly, real life (especially in this economic climate) can be edgy enough for the average viewer. While there’s a place for some edgy programming, a constant diet of it is not what people want to come home to after a long day in the rat race.
8. SHOW MORE WARMTH
Treacly sentimentality is bad drama, bad comedy and bad television. But honest depictions of love, faith, kindness, forgiveness and hope are more cool that the networks seem to realize.
9. AMERICA NEEDS A HUG
This suggestion may, itself, seem treacly but have you ever noticed how prime time characters rarely hug anymore. You’re probably more likely to see a digitized middle finger than you are a hug. That’s not the way it used to be (you know, when TV was popular). From "Eight Is Enough" to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to "Friends," it was a regular occurrence for the characters to hug.
Now, who are you more likely to want to see when you come home from a hard day’s work? Someone who greets you with a hug or a middle finger?
10. RESPECT TRADITIONAL VALUES
This is not a call to go back to the 1950s. TV’s diversity is a good thing and one of the best developments of recent years. But that diversity should be expanded to include people who take their faiths seriously.
Once a reliable and large part of the viewing audience, they’ve been turning away from broadcast network programming for years now because of a general sense that the powers that be don’t respect or like them.
Including shows that appeal to traditionalists doesn’t require disrespecting anyone else. It just means bringing them back under broadcast’s big tent by adding characters and shows that speak to them as well.