Networks made gaffe after gaffe during a year that offered a glimpse of what TV’s future might look like.
When future generations look back at the 2012-13 TV season, they’ll most likely wax nostalgic about survivalists whacking zombies, ad executives drinking away their sorrows and a spoiled young woman in New York who’s into topless table tennis. They may also raise a glass to an extinct dinosaur called network television.
Not that it’s time to throw out your antennas, but what’s clear is that the folks behind CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox have plenty to worry about — and some boneheaded decisions over the past 12 months could only quicken their demise.
Here are the 10 events that did the most to change the TV landscape this past year.
Ann Curry’s pity party. The “Today” show co-anchor had plenty to bawl about when she said her forced goodbyes last summer, but that was nothing compared to the tears NBC executives must have shed when they watched their cold, clumsy game plan fall apart and their former morning juggernaut tumble from its long-held No. 1 position. The worst of this public-relations nightmare seems to be over, but “Today” is still trailing an energetic “Good Morning, America” with no obvious plan to regain the top spot.
No drama. When Emmy nominations were announced last July, there was a glaring omission, and no, we’re not talking about the snubbing of Honey Boo Boo. For the first time, not a single broadcast network show got a nod for outstanding drama. Network heads pooh-poohed the significance of it, but if that happens again this summer — and there’s every reason to believe it will — broadcast TV will have to wonder if it should quit developing top-quality dramas altogether.
This is (the new) CNN. In November, it was announced that former NBC head Jeff Zucker would be steering CNN Worldwide. Just where it’s headed is still a bit of a mystery. The hiring of hipsters such as Jake Tapper and Anthony Bourdain, along with the announcement that “Crossfire” would return, suggests the new boss wants to take some starch out of the operation’s collar. That’s a sound strategy unless he goes overboard and winds up hiring Dane Cook as a weekend anchor.
A tale of two Jimmys. ABC’s decision in January to move “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to an earlier time slot not only gave the host greater exposure, but it also triggered a series of decisions that led NBC’s bosses to trade in Jay Leno for their own Jimmy. “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” doesn’t debut until the Winter Olympics, but with Seth Meyers recently named as Fallon’s replacement, it should lead to a younger, hipper late-night landscape. Now if only minorities and women could snag an invite.
Netflix plays politics. “House of Cards” was not only savvy TV. It was savvy business. The Kevin Spacey-led drama, which was only available through streaming online or on mobile devices, lured in 3 million new Netflix subscribers, more than making up for the project’s $100 million price tag. If “Arrested Development” meets high expectations when it bows on Netflix later this month, we may be looking at the future of television.
The Good Book does great. God must be looking out for the History Channel — and vice versa. “The Bible,” a 10-hour miniseries that ran in March, was seen by nearly 100 million viewers, making it one of the biggest stories in cable history. Since TV is a copycat business, don’t be surprised if you hear that CBS is developing “Two and a Half Disciples.”
Zombieland. You’d think that in a year marred by senseless violence, U.S. audiences would crave feel-good TV. But then you’d be underestimating our bloodthirsty nature. Fox’s “The Following,” perhaps the most violent series in network history, developed a strong following of its own, and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which never met a beheading it didn’t like, continued to soar. But the real champ was AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which drew an eye-popping 12.4 million viewers for its season finale in March, making it the most watched drama in cable history.
Aereo’s day in court. You may not have heard of Aereo, but every network executive is all too aware of its existence — and how it could vanquish theirs. The Barry Diller-backed digital TV service streams broadcast signals online without paying fees to the stations, which has major players fuming. The four major networks lost a lawsuit in April and at least a couple are threatening to move to cable. This battle is just beginning.
Rushing to judgment. Network suits weren’t the only ones who made some bad calls this year. CNN tripped over itself in its coverage of last month’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, passing along erroneous information on more than one occasion. In this age of social media and the need for speed, these kinds of mistakes are easier to make — which means it’s more important than ever to ensure they don’t.
Family ties. Last week NBC announced it would retool its once-lauded Thursday night lineup. In what appears to be a trade-in of critical accolades for potential viewers, the network will rely on family comedies (a k a super-safe, and often dull, sitcoms). The promising news: One of the three new laughers is headlined by Michael J. Fox, who just might end up being one of the game changers of 2013-14.
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