Is Network TV Dead Yet?

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It’s commonly said now that we’re living in a golden age of television, but try telling that to executives at the Big Four networks. The buzzy shows you love to talk about are on cable, while CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox are all wrapping up one of their worst seasons on record. Many successful shows have lost steam, with no breakout hits to fill the void. The trickle of viewers that has been lost year over year became a sharp drop (nearly 20% of viewers in the 18-to-49 demographic, according to the Wall Street Journal). A media analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch was quoted in The New York Times saying “This year was the tipping point.”

“It was a really bad year, there’s no denying that,” says Joe Adalian, the West Coast editor for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture website. But he tells Kurt Andersen that it is still too early to ring the death knell. “The network’s response to that is, ‘Let’s make a lot more shows.’ They’re taking a lot more chances.”

This week in the upfronts, the networks unveiled ambitious fall lineups; according to Adelian, CBS, which typically launches two or three shows, has launched eight. Some have shorter runs than the typical 22-episode model, taking a page out of cable’s playbook.

“Networks have lost the war for buzz and their stranglehold on pop culture,” he tells Kurt, but when it comes to audience and advertising, “network TV is still the biggest game in town.” He cites FX’s The Americans, about Soviet spies undercover in the US. “It was a great show that launched this year, a lot of strong buzz, and in the overnight ratings it was losing to repeats of Big Bang Theory.”

→ What you think? Is network TV doomed sooner rather than later? Tell us in a comment below.