St. Joseph News-Press, Mo., Shea Conner column
Feb 15, 2013 (St. Joseph News-Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
I thought I'd be chatting about the Grammy Awards here this week, but frankly, the program just wasn't exciting enough to evoke any passionate writing.
I whole-heartedly enjoyed the tributes to Levon Helm and Bob Marley. I thought The Black Keys and Jack White put on some rousing performances, as well as Rihanna, who really changed things up with that elegant set. I also had a couple of good laughs when Jay-Z thanked "the swap meet" for The-Dream's retro hat, and Kelly Clarkson gave her nervous, rambling thank-you.
But, honestly, I wish I would have watched "The Walking Dead" instead. Out of the three-and-a-half-hour program, there was only about a half-hour of captivating programming -- certainly not enough to warrant a whole column.
So, I'm going to use this space to write about something else that has been bothering me: network television.
Maybe it's because I've been spoiled by streaming services. Maybe it's because I saw commercials for three separate "CSI" shows and two kinds of "NCIS" on the night of the Grammys (and, let's be honest, "Hawaii Five-O" and "Blue Bloods" aren't treading territory that's all that different than any of them). Maybe it's because NBC's doctor drama "Do No Harm" was canceled after two record-low episodes on the same week that "Smash" returned its lowest ratings ever and Christina Applegate left "Up All Night" because it was going to be turned into another generic single-camera sitcom. Maybe it's because I can't name a single show that's currently on ABC other than "Modern Family." Is "Grey's Anatomy" still at thing It shouldn't be.
So, I have a few ideas for the network execs out there. Maybe you'll actually regain young audiences -- you know, the ones who don't watch "NCIS," the ones who are your future -- if you take the following measures.
1. Challenge the FCC
The current FCC restrictions are pretty ridiculous, especially when kids can Google search all sorts of violent, pornographic and just plain disgusting stuff on their smart phones. Yes, the networks do use "public airwaves," but most viewers tune into their local network affiliates through cable or satellite, neither of which are subject to endless legal trouble for a "wardrobe malfunction" or Joe Flacco's accidental F-bomb (yet graphic murders, bloody corpses and discussions of rape on crime shows are totally fine).
Those who worry the networks would turn into entities like HBO if they weren't restricted clearly overlook the fact that basic cable shows don't have FCC restrictions. Because cable networks have advertisers, however, they self-restrict and keep most profanity and nudity under control.
Obviously, those same freedoms wouldn't immediately make for better network shows, but it would level the playing field. Could you imagine how much NBC's ratings would go up if they could air programs like "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" or "The Walking Dead" A lot of people would be canceling their Netflix subscriptions and dusting off their antennas.
2. Bring back the old favorites
Last month, Andrew Gaug, myself and many of our friends gathered 'round the television to watch a night of TGIF programming from 1993 (when the lineup consisted of "Family Matters," "Step By Step," "Boy Meets World" and "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper"). We loved reminiscing and watching the old commercials that aired in between. Don't you think the networks would get huge ratings if they did this every now and then
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Hey genius -- don't Nick at Nite and TV Land do this already " Yes, they re-air older programs, but the networks have the power and the money to do it right. NBC could have a 10-week run where it shows a countdown of the 10 greatest episodes of "Seinfeld" (voted on by the fans). The shows could be spliced with commercials of the era as well as interviews with Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld and the rest of the cast. The same thing could be done with "Friends," "The Simpsons," "Cheers," and lots of other shows for which 20- and 30-somethings share a childish nostalgia. This would work especially well for cult favorites like "Lost" and "Star Trek."
This is an idea that could bridge the generation gap, drum up big ratings, keep production costs small and develop tons of millions in merchandising when these packages eventually go to DVD.
3. Get rid of the 30-second commercial
Different sponsorship models will be needed now that we're in the DVR era. Advertisers realize this and that's why Subway became part of the plot on "Community." It's the same reason the folks on "Modern Family" always seem to be mentioning how much they love their Toyota.
However, the networks have been slow to move. Here's the deal -- I'd rather see a Subway sign in the background of one of those "Family Guy" cutaways than another one of those dreadful "Februany" commercials, and that's why I rarely watch anything live anymore. Adapt or continue to lose viewers.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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