As the new season nears, networks grope for viewers ... now or later


This is the start of the TV-season preview that I'm sending to papers. I'll get to the shows in the stories that follow; first, let's take an overview of the changing TV world:

By Mike Hughes

Whether we're ready
or not, the new TV season is here.

It starts Sept. 10
(a little bit) and Sept. 25 (a lot). It's packed; it gives us too
much of a good thing ... and too much of a bad thing ... and way too
much of a mediocre thing.

“There's probably
still more great TV ... than the year before,” said John Landgraf,
head of the FX networks. But even that quality “doesn't seem quite
as special or as joyful (in) the glut of oversupply.”

He's seen the number
of scripted series go from 216 in 2010 to 455 last year, possibly
hitting 500 this year. Some of that, he implied, involves
loss-leaders – the strategy (copied from Silicon Valley companies)
of losing money to build a dominant company that will eventually make
a fortune.

But what does that
say for the old networks, the ones that splash their new seasons each
fall?

Fewer people watch
their shows when scheduled. Still, said NBC chief Bob Greenblatt,
“delayed viewing and digital are not only keeping us afloat, but
actually going pretty strong.”

NBC's “This is Us”
pilot was eventually seen by more people than the powerhouse “ER”
pilot, he said. The difference: “ER” did it in one splendid
night; “This is Us” needed 10 months to top it.

In five years, he
said, the “platforms on which you can watch our content” have
gone from one to 14. In two years, the number of people downloading
an NBC app has almost tripled.

Others follow that
pattern. ABC (or its parent company, Disney) owns most of its shows,
said network chief Channing Dungey, getting revenue at every step,
from streaming to international sales. “We make money in a lot of
different ways.”

That peaks with
shows that appeal to young people or fantasy fans. Still, older shows
also get around.

“'NCIS' was
recently named the most-watched show on the planet,” said Kelly
Kahl, the CBS chief. There's more, he said: “One series we know of
has all of its previous seasons airing on all three major streaming
services – Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. (That's) 'Blue Bloods.'”

When Tom Selleck
reached CBS in “Magnum, P.I.,” viewers had few alternatives at 9
p.m. Thursdays. They could watch “Barney Miller” on ABC, try a
movie on NBC or maybe go to PBS.

Now, 37 years later,
his “Blue Bloods” is in a crowded world of streaming, cable and
networks ... whose new shows are stretching for our attention.