TV is Dying

It’s no secret. TV channels are doing worse and worse each year. Primetime shows are very rarely renewed for a second season! What it used to be a 50%-60% rate of shows renewed each year, it’s now down to 10%. Many blame pirates for it, but in reality, there’s a whole lot of other facts to consider.

– The internet
People spend more time on the internet, rather than in front of a TV. In the olden days, one had no other form of entertainment, so ratings would be pretty high for all shows. Today, people prefer to turn on their laptop rather than their TV. Or, they use their smartphone.

– Hectic lifestyles
People have less free time than they used to have in the ’90s. Kids are overloaded with more homework, individuals have to work longer hours, usually farther away from home. Just not enough free time for TV.

– Bad shows.
There seems to be a major lack of innovative, risk-taking, and good scripts, good cinematography, and good editing. This was the difference between Flash Forward and LOST for example. The fact that the two teams involved with their respective shows were not of the same caliber. Basically, while both show ideas were stellar, not both finalized shows were as stellar. Plus, TV is full of cop shows, which is the bread and butter of older audiences, not that of younger audience (which is what advertisers care about).

Here are some ideas to fix the problem:

1. Fewer commercials, more show time

A 1-hour primetime TV show now lasts just 42 to 44 minutes. The rest of the time is filled with commercials. Back in the ’60s, there were only 4 minutes of commercials. In the ’70s, about 8 mins. In the ’80s, about 11 mins. In the ’90s, about 13 mins. Today, it’s between 16 and 18 mins of commercials! Enough with the so many commercials! People prefer to just skip the ads on their DVR, or pirate the show. Some don’t even bother at all, or wait for the DVD.

Of course, to be able to pay for a show, you need the money off of the commercials. Well, the problem with this is that the more time you cut off from a show, the less time the director has to enrich the plot and characters. And it’s the plot/characters that hook up people, not Ford ads. Adding just a few minutes of show time, can make the show much more interesting, because it would give the time needed to the script writers/director to realize their vision better. My suggestion: make shows 48 minutes minimum.

2. Modern shows

The vast majority of scripted shows are cop shows. Made for older people, who have nothing better to do than sit around all day and watch TV. To get a hold of that 18-49 age group that advertisers are salivating for, you need modern shows, not re-hashes, or recreations of old ideas.

Some examples: any character can die at any time, including the perceived main character. Show violence and sex as it really is (lobby FCC for more creative freedom that is). Where are brutal shows about soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan? Where are drama shows about junkies? Where is an exotic show about a doctor without borders? Where is a show about a team of an environmental organization that takes matters on its own hands and becomes a renegade? Where is a show about a Palestinian family in the strip? Where is a show about a lone Russian hacker in the midst of the Russian mob and human trafficking?

Talk about things that are important today among young people: stripping privacy, digital security, the internet, preserving nature, the disappointment of politics. Have long standing plots, of serialized nature. Episodic TV should die! Make situations feel real: if someone got shot in the arm, make this wound last for several episodes, and even have the character show uncomfortability on that arm years later! Characters should not ping-pong in situations as the writers see fit. They must feel real.

Instead, we’re fed with yet another episodic cop show, where the cops are winning on the end of each episode. Next week, it’s the same thing over again. TV channels & studios: take risks, or die.

3. No borders TV

The fact that there are fewer TV viewers these days is a wake up call. It means that channels must break free from their existing contracts with TV channels of other countries, and instead offer their live feed to ALL countries in the world, in real time, without IP restrictions.

4. Live TV on every device possible

And to achieve this, they must allow their *live* feed to stream via any device possible: PCs, cellphones, GoogleTV, AppleTV, Boxee, Roku, Hulu etc etc etc. As for their non-live TV, on-demand episodes should also be easily available, so new viewers can still hook up on serialized shows. Basically, make your content available to as many devices, and ways possible.

5. Core production crews only

$2-$3 million per episode is simply too high of a cost. Instead, use young crews, with innovative ideas about how things must be done. Use unknown actors that ask for less money. Use digital solutions instead of film. Basically, never go over $1 mil per episode, except for the pilot and season finales.

6. Start with a 2 hour pilot

To hook people up, start each new show with a 2 hour pilot, like LOST did.

7. Season scripts must be drafted ahead of time

Instead of having a script written, then shot, then broadcasted, all season’s scripts must be drafted before shooting (which means 6 months of work before principal photography starts). For serialized shows is very important that a logical plot is thought out from the very beginning. Otherwise, people just strive away from the show, feeling that “the writers are making it up as they go along”. This is the worst feeling ever for fans of serialized TV. The show must be not only script-drafted, but the writers must have a good idea where they want the show to go during its various seasons, how many seasons they need, and the TV network should give them exactly as many seasons and no more than that, even if the show becomes successful. Of course, the network retains the right to cancel the show if it it’s not successful, but if it is successful, it’s important that there’s a well thought-out beginning, middle, and end on the overall show.

If all else fails, then make all new TV series, a mini-series, up to 13 episodes each. It is more likely to have people invest for 13 hours, rather than years of uncertainty. This also has the added value of having a tight plot, with a real ending, which makes DVD sales/streams stronger — another way to make your money back.


33_hertz wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 2:51 AM PST:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on current TV production.

I have done some work on television shows in the past ( in a very small way ). It’s astounding how much money is spent per episode. For example, an all night shoot with tons of equipment and many, many people might result in a few seconds of screen time six weeks or so later.

“No.2 Modern Shows”
Agree completely here. My TV is only used as a second monitor now and I rarely, if ever, watch television shows. The worldview presented is extremely limiting and blinkered.

You are one of the world’s good guys and believe innovation and new ideas are needed. Unfortunately, I tend to think that TV programming is designed to be the way it is, dull and stupifying.

Here in the UK we pay for our telly with an annual tax. Many more are not paying this tax, although they try to keep this fact quiet. I believe that in the future, British TV will be internet-based and the tax will be collected via your internet provider.



memsom wrote on October 8th, 2010 at 2:07 AM PST:

I think it depends on geographic location. We have the BBC in the UK and the BBC runs absolutely no commercials during broadcast shows. We pay for that through a license. Swings and roundabouts.

Michael C. wrote on October 9th, 2010 at 11:34 AM PST:

I do not watch “shows” anymore. They are crap. They have no relation to reality. They are escapistic. They make you part of the herd, sitting in front of a TV and not caring about real problems. I would watch show about Afghanistan or about BP spill or about hydraulic fracturing, but real ones, not staged. That is, documentary, not some fucking mocumentary.

Sure, even hardcore docu-watchers need to relax from time to time. For that I have several slapstick shows and some favorite movies on DVD that I can watch if I needed something bright in this dirty life.

Oh, there is another reason for avoiding broadcast TV. Have you watched, say, Travel Channel? Have you seen their “bug”, the channel logo? It is, like, a quarter of the screen! And it is in color sometimes, and they stick ads for other shows in the show that I watch! And you pay for this channel! Huh? Why should I pay for a channel that shows ads? Either ads, or pay. I refuse to pay for any programming that includes ads and offensive “bugs”. But I hate ads too. Hence, I do not watch TV anymore.

PBS is still watchable. Some BBC shows too.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on October 9th, 2010 at 2:23 PM PST:

I watch *a lot* of real documentaries via Netflix, but the actual scripted shows I want to watch MUST be escapist. This is why I like sci-fi, and never watch reality TV or cop shows.

But the thing is, the current shows on TV are NOT escapist. They are just bad. The only show that it was indeed escapist was LOST. When watching it, I was transporting myself to the island. Many of my dreams were on that island too. But none of the current shows can do this for me. So I can’t call them escapist. I just call them “badly done”.

Vic wrote on October 10th, 2010 at 12:25 PM PST:

Eugenia, I love what you wrote. If you’re really into films and sounds like you are, then you MUST and will love this.

Pikky wrote on October 10th, 2010 at 1:18 PM PST:

Couldn’t agree with you more. These days I rarely (ever) watch television. The only times I watch television are to see a couple of shows that I’m interested in (The Mentalist, Medium, Mythbusters), but any other shows that I’d REALLY like to watch are no longer on the air and are nearly impossible to find on cable, so I use the internet for those. Except for using my television as an external monitor and playing video games on it, there’s really not much use in paying for cable that I won’t even watch.

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