I have just had my annual month in the United States. And whenever I’m there I become acutely aware that I’m seeing what is going to be happening next season back in the good old RSA. I’m looking at next season’s fashion and new products. Next season’s promotions, books, and very importantly, its television shows. And being a media guy at heart, I want to know what will be pushing the viewers’ buttons in a couple of months’ time. This may give us the edge when the battery of new shows hits our shores. I want to be able to predict the type of show on to which the United States audience is latching. What are the new hot and coming genres? Well, I’ve decided to share with you the answer up-front.
Nothing new. Nada. Sweet F-all!
Traditional television platforms seem to be treading water. Under attack from web TV options that are multiplying weekly, offering subscriptions where you choose exactly what you want – by show even, not by channel. They are also delivered whenever, wherever, and on whatever device or screen you chose. They offer cheaper, tailored viewing solutions. So the big free-to-air networks are not only getting their bums bitten by the more flexible cable competition, but are being threatened by web TV big time.
So their resulting strategy is? Do nothing that will rock the boat. And there are countless examples of this wildly innovative (sic) solution…
Here’s an example: Let’s look at ABC, playing the ’we try harder‘ role as it chases CBS. They spearhead their new shows with guess what? ‘S.H.I.E.L.D’, a Marvel Comics fictional espionage and law enforcement agency. Yet another superhero offering… Then it brings you ‘Betrayal’, a drama series which combines infidelity, murder and lawyers. That sounds a whole lot like ‘Revenge’, doesn’t it? And what of the anchor comedy shows? The sitcom ‘The Middle’(which has been on air since 2009) and ‘Modern Family’ (also from back in 2009). Ho-hum. And the plots of their new comedies? Boring. The are also offering their audience ‘The Goldbergs’, which is set in the 1980s (like the ‘Wonder Years’, but two decades later) and ‘Trophy Wife’, a plot about a third wife, step-children and two ex-wives. Sound familiar? Sure does!
Two more examples: Finally ‘The Office’ has run its course after nine seasons. This when audiences for it peaked in season five? They waited until audiences fell from 9.3 million to 4.9 million? Was there really nothing else in the pipeline? And thank God ‘Vegas’ lasted only a season. It halved its viewership during its run from
14 million to some seven million. Not surprising. Here is a predictable plot, two aging ‘stars’, a stereotypical gangster versus a stereotypical good ol’ boy sheriff. C’mon are we morons? Who could believe this garbage would have any staying power?
As for examples four, five and six: Top network shows in mid-May have not a newcomer in sight: ‘NCIS’, ‘Big Bang’, ‘NCIS LA’, ‘Person of Interest’, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’. And the cable offering does no better. The top six most popular shows are basketball games, then ‘Game of Thrones’, more basketball and WWE wrestling shows! Hell, how predictable and boring can you get? And ‘Survivor’ has just celebrated (if that’s the right word) the end of season 26. And there’s no end in sight…
And what is the most anticipated new show? Michael J Fox’s sitcom about a guy with Parkinsons. So Michael J Fox plays himself. I can see the Yanks finding it engaging. Not sure how it will go down in a country like ours where red meat is still cool, most men still have body hair and engine emissions are seen as pretty boring.
So stagnation would not be a bad adjective to use for television in the United States. But I think one has to read between the lines. USA Today already has a ‘TV on the Web’ section. You find big and really big names migrating to web TV. For instance, Ricky Gervais, the brains behind The Office, has revived his ‘Office UK’ character in a web series called ‘Learn Guitar with David Brent’. Jennifer Aniston has also moved online. Unfortunately she has a mindless, but I’m sure very relevant, offering to some sectors of the viewing public. It is called Good Hair Day, in which she shares her secrets about good hair. It’s obviously sponsored, and nonsense, but should attract the attention of every kugel north of Linksfield. (Clearly, from my pic you will understand why I, for one, will not be enticed by this particular series.)
Plus now Amazon has commissioned programming of its own, five series in fact. These include a comedy series with John Goodman in the lead role. And unlike Netflix, they have not ruled out the possibility of taking ads. So another new platform and another threat to TV as we know it.
So here’s a prediction. Give it five years, and we’ll look back at today in wonder at how television used to be….