Why Television is Failing and How to Fix it

Unless you are under a rock, Television has been going through some hard times. Lackluster ratings, odd shows, and rapid cancellations. More people are cutting the cord and turning to online only sources. A lot of this isn’t going to change, but I think that much of Television has brought it on itself. I will present some flaws in Television, and my ideas of how they can be resolved.

1. Cancelling a Series too soon.

This is one of biggest problems that I see lately. This particularly happens in broadcast networks. A Series is cancelled in a handful of episodes, ratings drop off and they wonder what happened and no one liked their good idea. Sometimes shows are just bad, however there are plenty of good ones that get cut too. Seinfield, which some argue is one of the best sitcoms of all time, had terrible ratings its first couple seasons before anyone caught on that it was so good. A show needs to be giving time to catch their stride. At the very least, I propose that more shows should be able to finish an entire season. I know there is added cost of making more episodes, but their is quite a bit of cost in developing and starting new shows as well.

2. Changing Schedules Constantly.

This problem can come two fold.

First is when a network juggles it’s programs, usually around a new series to “find an audience.” The problem is that your audience will never be found if they never know when the next episode is going to air! They may have found it once, but because the schedule is juggled all the time, its impossible to find it again unless there is a ton of marketing and commercials. Even then it may not work.

The second issue seems to happen more on cable networks. They have so much content from their own things, to syndicated programs that they create a similar problem. They have terrible stability in their programming that what you might watch for a week might be different the next, or they will have a mini marathon of several episodes together and then do the same the next day. (Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Syfy and others do this A LOT)

I will say this a few times throughout this article, but marketing is key to fixing many of these problems. Market a show at a particular time, even if it’s everyday. Test out the time slot but don’t change it too much. You shouldn’t need a DVR with a smart programming feature to be able to watch all the episodes of a series.

3. No Destination Programming.

This one is related to #2 in that blocks of shows that compliment each other should be created or continued. Give us a reason to stay with a channel for an entire night. In the past we had, Must See TV, TGIF, Toonami, and other blocks of shows that you would make sure you watched. Shows had similar themes and you stayed around to watch all of them. Some were corny but most were fun. But more importantly, you looked forward to them, and even planned your week around them. Have fun commercials or branding between shows and you can make something that will be much more DVR proof. And most of all this creates Brand Loyalty to both the block itself and the shows within it.

4. Half Seasons and Endless Repeats.

This is a new trend that frankly I’m already sick of and it needs to stop. It’s really a terrible idea. Lately many networks have been airing shows with a handful of episodes for a premiere then wait for up to six months or more to sure the rest of the season. Eureka on Syfy delivers it’s seasons in .5 increments. Flash Forward and V failed because of it. Walking Dead took a 3 month hiatus. Young Justice on Cartoon Network repeated the same first 7 episodes for nearly 9 months before new episodes were aired. Worse is Mad Men which takes a year between new seasons.

It is terrible. Instead of building an audience, these shows are forgotten and have to recover some of that audience when it returns and they might have lost interest by that time. Some argue that this helps to keep up interest in the show for longer in the year, but I think you expend more money and effort doing it twice then marketing it well once.

This doesn’t mean that shows can’t have repeats, but not every episode before new ones come on. You need to have a couple weeks reruns before going to new episodes, no less. Cartoon Network has taken this to an art, so you never know when new episodes or seasons actually take place.

The flip side of this, is just showing endless repeats at odd times. Don’t show a mini-marathon at odd times in the day just to fill up your schedule. I’m not saying never show reruns, but three hours of Eureka or Looney Tunes in the middle of the day and no one knows isn’t going to help anyone. Networks should have enough content to at least have a consistent schedule with only some current reruns. Use older shows if you need to.

5. Reality Shows as Replacement for Actual Content.

I will begin by saying right off the bat, I’m not a fan of Reality Shows. There are a few that can be entertaining or interesting, but they also don’t need to last forever. However, when they become a replacement for better shows just because they are cheap, that’s when you get a problem. Every television station doesn’t need a Real Housewives or competition show. And if you have 3 or 4 of the same type of show, then maybe you need to a new creative department. They are boring to watch and add little to the human race. Some competition shows can be fun, but they can get old really fast, and they make drama when there is none. (Or in worse cases, be even dangerous. I’m looking at you Biggest Loser.) 

I would rather have Game Shows like Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple or others that you could watch with the whole family (Adult versions of these could be great). But new gimmicks or spins on things just to be more extreme is terrible.

Lastly, don’t have reality shows on networks where they don’t belong and if they are, don’t have them be bad copies of other networks. These are shows on Cartoon Network like Destory, Build, Destroy; Dude, What Would Happen? and others which are just bad copies of Junkyard Wars  and Mythbusters (Which by the way Dude, What Would Happen?  contains little to no science and has no point but to look stupid.)

Please bring back Family Game Shows, or just create programming that is good. Don’t be super cheap. The audience can tell.

6. No”Made for TV” Movies/Miniseries.

“Made for TV” movies are usually cheesy but a guilty pleasure. We’ve had some great ones over the years that have even changed television, such as Roots and others. Most of these can be fun. Some of my favorite Stephen King movies were miniseries on television. Hallmark brought many different fantasy tales to life through films on television. Many of these movies were events that you would have to see, and would be promoted for weeks.

The movies were fun movies to watch. Some of the this still happens on Cable networks. Syfy channel has a history (and legacy) of making both terrible and great TV Movies. But they are all but gone from Broadcast networks. (So are regular movie rebroadcasts for that matter)

The closest that we have now are time slots specifically bought by Walmart and P&G to have a family movie and then advertise all their products during the commercials (Which I happen to think works really well). But the problem is that there is no advertising really to lead up to them so you never know when they will be on.

Bring back some of these cheesy TV Movies, but for sure release them on DVD afterwards.

7. Copying Ideas from Other Networks.

I’ve already mentioned a bit of this with Cartoon Network, but this happens with many different networks. If ABC starts to work on a Fairy Tale series, NBC does too. (In this case they did turn out quite differently and are both good.) If there is a new scifi series, then another will pop up some where. Everyone wants to make something like Lost. There were a bunch of CSI clones for a while. Just be creative and make your products and then let the audience travel.

8. Everything being Gritty/Edgy/Dark/Vulgar.

This happens with movies as well, but there have been shows that just want to constantly push things to the edge. Programs are trying to get as close to swearing as they can. Some have been putting it directly in the title or having symbols in their place. Luckily a lot of the the ones with the titles like that haven’t done very well. (My guess is that it’s because people can’t actually say the titles in conversation with others, so word of mouth is down the drain.)

Since Lost (Which didn’t do that great at first) all the networks, have tried to do something like it. However, it always keeps getting dark, less family friendly, less politically correct, and more outrageous. It’s fine if you have some shows that are like that, it can even be welcomed. However, if you can’t even watch things with your family without being embarrassed or labeled as a bad parent, television has taken a very wrong turn.

If everything is Gritty/Edgy/Dark/Vulgar, then nothing is. The programs will all be the same, and blend in together. If you want to know why TV viewing has gone down, it’s because TV has gotten too fragmented and can’t appeal to everyone.

9. Demeaning Your Audience, Constantly Creating Bad Programs.

Adult Swim is probably the biggest offender of this one. They were interesting to start off with, but lately have gone off the deep end. (Though I believe that they are pulling back a tiny bit.) Adult Swim was really built off of Anime and Comedy shows. They had shows that were too violent for the rest of the network, or too adult in comedy (hence Adult Swim) with InuYasha, Bleach, Space Ghost, and SeaLab 2021. These were great mixes and brought in a decent amount of viewers.

But several years ago, especially after the introduction of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, shows went from being smart to being complete stoner comedies and reruns. The comedy reruns are usually good (since they had money for their funding and it shows) if a little overplayed with Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, and formerly Futurama. But their original programs quickly took a noise dive and for the most part are almost unwatchable. They can have moments, but most are strange and far from memorable.

Now one thing that Adult Swim does is show its ratings during its bumpers. They show that Anime consistently gets some of the better ratings on the network. But what do they do? They poke fun and demean their Anime fans, show it now only on Saturdays, and put it as the last thing in their schedule so they can force their own shows first. Adult Swim tries to forget it exists and alienates its base, instead of playing it as a strength and getting new shows or putting it in a better time slot.

If they programmed to their strengths instead of trying to be the even more juvenile version of Spike TV, imagine what they would be like.

10. ONLY Releasing full seasons of shows on iTunes/Xbox Live Marketplace/PlayStation Store.

This last one is a huge pet peeve of mine. Again this happens more with children’s networks, but does happen often with Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, the Hub and others. Even some regular networks are guilty of doing this. They release their shows on iTunes (or the other digital storefronts) and sell episodes individually or in season sets. This is fine and wonderful, and if you want the show right away, one of the best ways of doing so legally.

However, many of them then never sell any physical media or if they do they are collections and not actually season sets, with only a handful of episodes. Then they wonder why on earth they aren’t selling very well. Because the fans want REAL releases of their shows and not just one part and then nothing ever. Not only does buying it digitally make it so you can’t watch it freely (which I venture to guess adds to piracy) it can tie you specific devices and you never can leave.

The other mistake with this type of release, is that they often will have it be the only official release of the episodes for years until they finally put out season sets, long after the series has ended or interest has waned. So they missed the opportunity of top sales when they had the chance and lost another form of revenue.

Please Television, please learn these things. Improve on them. Television can make good quality product, but its shooting itself in the foot by making these dumb mistakes. Learn so we can help television thrive and make good quality series that we will love for years to come.

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