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Strange Days on the Airwaves

Neena Louise

What a strange television season 2009-2010 is turning out to be! All previous conventions have been thrown out the window: reruns are pretty much nonexistent; one reality cycle ends and the next one begins immediately (So You Think You Can Dance, Survivor and The Biggest Loser for example); new shows were introduced in January (Human Target, The Deep End); some returning shows aren't showing up until February (Lost); others air a few episodes, then vanish for months (Glee, FlashForward, V). Even President Obama allegedly moved his State of the Union address so as not to clash with Lost's season premiere!


There has never been a television season such as this, but is it working? To some extent, but not really, no. I'll give the networks props for at least trying something different, but it's more confusing than anything else. Returning shows are, for the most part, aging fast; new shows are fair, but not great; programs get moved around so much, it's getting nigh on impossible to find them; some days are crowded with gems while others have nothing; Friday has been added to Saturday as a TV wasteland...the list goes on. The networks seem more desperate than anything else, led by the circling-the-drain NBC. With Jay Leno's primetime stint a colossal and embarrassing failure (oh, didn't see that one coming!) and The Biggest Loser its only hit, NBC is going down fast. They are counting on the Olympics to save them, but given their abysmal coverage of past Olympics, this seems unlikely. The other networks smell blood and are rushing new programs to air.


It's encouraging that the networks are actually doing something other than the same-old, same-old, but how can they improve? Learning from what works without exploiting it would be a good start. We don't need another Lost clone (FlashForward anyone?...didn't think so). Or another dating show. Or yet another talent show. Or any more stupid reality crap, for that matter. The Mentalist and Lie to Me are hit procedurals - similar, but different enough that one can watch both without becoming bored. Modern Family and The Middle are hit sitcoms - similar in tone, yet very different. There's a lesson, here. If the networks would actually research and analyze what works instead of slapping together a pale clone and rushing it to air with dollar signs in their eyes, they might have quality programming people would actually want to watch. But that would mean exerting effort and paying attention to those pesky viewers. Networks seem to have a pathological aversion to such ridiculous practices.


It will be interesting to see what happens once the Olympics are over. Will NBC actually manage to cover the Games properly and be saved? Will Leno recoup the Tonight Show ratings of his glory days? Will the 3,000,284th version of Survivor garner big ratings? Will returning shows manage to hang onto their viewers?


Stay tuned.



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