Opinions and Rants #33: Farewell Network TV. It Was Nice Knowing You.

Growing up, I had three networks plus PBS.  That was it.... every day.... for years.  No internet, no HBO, no DVD, no VHS, no cable channels, no Hulu, no Netflix... nada.  I was perfectly okay choosing between (A) Sonny & Cher, (B) The Brady Bunch, or (C) Sanford & Son every Friday night.  The three networks offered up stuff we liked and we were satisfied.

Fast forward to today, and I can honestly say (excluding certain sporting events) I haven't watched NBC, ABC or CBS in years.... and, quite frankly, I haven't missed them.  They were my three childhood "friends", offering me everything from The New Zoo Revue to The Powers of Matthew Star; however, I feel no loyalty to them, considering they have betrayed me.

That's right - betrayed me.  The networks all but killed off the situation comedy, and any drama I get into is cancelled without notice.  I understand reality shows are waaaaay cheaper to produce: no actors, no writers, no sets, no locations.... just dump a bunch of fat people in a room and see if they can lose weight.  It's the cheap and lazy route.  Keeping truly quality shows alive like Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development seems to be just too much to ask.  They're motto seems to be: "Let's just let HBO and AMC make good original stuff, while we make drivel on the cheap like Dancing with the Stars."

Considering there's so many options now besides the networks, I honestly don't see how this strategy can lead anywhere but bankruptcy - or, at the very least, total and complete insignificance.

To alter a famous quote by T.S. Eliot: "This is the way the networks end. Not with a bang, but a whimper."


  1. I am not only sad about the loss of quality (meaning actually funny) sitcoms but also family-related dramas. I found out not long ago that they cancelled "Brothers and Sisters" which to me was the last true drama that revolved around a family. Today it's not only all about reality TV, but CSI, cop, and hospital shows...enough already! Is it any wonder why an original concept such as Mad Men over on AMC is a huge hit???

  2. Another, less visible, loss that has concerned me for a while now is the loss of our shared pop culture. With only 3 networks, we all knew all the shows even if we didn't watch them. The next day at school you could be sure that a large number of your classmates had also seen last night's BATMAN or LAUGH-IN. Even as kids we all knew the news anchors for the various networks, we all watched the same news which, in spite of what they say, was a lot more unbiased than it is these days. With hundreds of channels, it's more than possible that no two students in any given classroom saw the same program last night. That isn't even taking into account all the television alternatives!

    What will be the collective nostalgia of tomorrow? Surely we won't see blogs extolling the virtues of THE APPRENTICE the way we see blogs about seventies sitcoms or sixties spy shows. It turns out that in the case of anyone growing up before the eighties, less really WAS more. It gave us common ground. I feel sorry for this generation.

  3. I don't know. They are different from when I was young, but they still have some things to offer. Modern Family is great. Raising Hope is a future classic, I think. As is Community and Parks & Recreation. And I have a few dramas I love, such as The Mentalist, Fringe and Supernatural. Still good stuff to be found, even if you have to push through to get to it.

  4. Yeah, those were the days – you'd flip through the 4 networks and a few UHF channels and if there was nothing on, you turned it off and accomplished something. Now, you surf 100 channels and WHEN there's nothing on, you turn it off and accomplish something.

  5. Apparently, NBC is making a conscious effort to add more scripted shows and move away from time-filler shows like Minute to Win it, but I suspect it's a matter of too little too late. The business model for networks just doesn't work anymore. They can't generate enough viewers, and thus enough ad revenue, to invest in quality programming anymore. The whole media landscape is miles wide, but only an inch deep.

  6. AnonymousMay 27, 2011

    It's Anna Banana; this blogger is not allowing me to sign in properly today...firstly let me say I like your posts better on here than on Facebook. something is lost on FB.
    With that out of the way we are a TV-less family. We got rid of cable TV two years ago and never looked back. TV is a HUGE disappointment, alol these shows on now are not worth the effort and time and on top of it it's expensive to have a box in the house that is always turned off. Anytime we want to watch something we rent free videos from the 75 interconnected libraries for free or Netfix or the internet. I just think it's a disgrace that we can't even get the network 'free' channels without having a monthly cable bill. When disconnecting our cable I called the company and this is what ocurred:
    Me: Hello I'd like to disconnect the cable and just keep the internet please.
    Rep: I don't understand you want to downgrade?
    Me: No I want to get rid of it. No TV.
    Rep: Well what about just basic at $12.99 a month otherwise you can't get any reception at all.
    Me: I don't want any reception. I want you to disconnect it please.
    Rep: But what about if you want to watch the news?
    Me: I read newspapers and read it on the internet. Can you please just disconnect it.
    Rep: Ok but what about if people come over?? What about then? What are you going to dowhen people come over??
    Me: Ma'am if people are coming over to my house just to watch TV they can stay home. Now PLEASE disconnect it NOW.

    I couldn't believe the audacity of this woman and the fact that she could not fathom a household without TV. I should've told her we were Amish.

  7. i have bitched and moaned about this in my blog many times. i miss old tv soooo sooo much.

    you make such valid points!


  8. There's been a few good shows, but it certainly isn't like it was with several to choose from. I remember the torture of having to choose between Miami Vice and Moonlighting.

    We watch a lot of old shows on Netflix, no cable or satellite at our house. A-Team, Mission Impossible, MacGyver, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Wonder Woman...

    You're so right about them canceling any drama worth watching. Numb3rs had a good run, but Life on NBC, and that show with Christian Slater as a nice family man who is programmed to be be a killer (or was it the other way around?) didn't even last a season. They just cut it off with no resolution or anything!

    The Mentalist and Chuck look like they would be good, but we just don't even turn on the TV, so we always forget about them.

  9. While I had to reluctantly agree with your eulogy on printed books, I feel that your obituary on network television is a bit premature.

    There is still a chance the networks will learn that it is content, and not physical presence, that is future of a network. Like "radio" you can post your show on the net, or a cable version, to be viewed by the consumer when THEY want. You see that now with cable offering "My Prime-time" and giving recent shows with commercials to pay for it.

    The network will become a brand and not a time slot. That will be the future of entertainment.

  10. 5 Years ago - I cancelled my Cable Connections, after years of having it, basic cable. I haven't watched regular TV in years, or cable, tired of the dumb sitcoms, and too many boring Sports channels, and dumb so called reality shows or the Orange county chopper father son arguing sitcom,, that amounts to to stupidity ! about the only thing worth watching is either discovery channel or history channel anymore, and anymore thats debatebul. The new Idiots at the Corporate level who run the Studio's in New York and California, are clueless and out of touch, soon there will be no TV id they keep that up !

  11. I agree and as a 34 year old, I cannot even get interested in the stuff on TV and it's turned me to classic shows on DVD and digital sub-channels that are carrying vintage classic TV/movies. Cable used to be good but now, it's passe and all the stations like TV Land, MTV, Game Show Network and others have taken a downward spiral. I am lucky to have enjoyed the networks while they had stuff that was good.

  12. Community, Parks and Recreation, and The Office are good. I watch those.

  13. AnonymousMay 28, 2011

    I have a slightly different take on this. The networks had a monopoly on TV choices long enough. They've served us plenty of crap through the years. I find more choices than ever between Netflix streaming, DVD purchases, and Dish. I'd still rather watch an old Bob Newhart than any sitcom today. But now, I can watch it when I want, as many times as I want. For me, I feel for the first time, I control the damn TV, not some programmer shoving one of three choices my way.

  14. I agree with network television becoming drivel. It very few and far between for a decent show to even hold my interest. And I also watch a lot of On-Demand type of programming on cable and Netflix, and also DVD and Blu-Ray. And another source of entertainment is You Tube. I also believe the future of video entertainment will be channels with programming that can watched at the viewers' convenience. I think the thing is choices and anytime viewing is why network television is dead as dead.

  15. I've blogged about this as well. I think the problem is along these lines: When everyone can get exactly what they want, everyone is easy to please. You can give Republicans a straight dose of R talking points, give Dems a straight dose of D talking points, give gays anything relating to gays, give men football, give women Oprah, etc. These specialized offerings don't need to have any quality, they just need to hit the right symbols often and hard.

    When you have to please most of the people most of the time to get ratings or circulation, you have to create something that takes a bit of thought, a program with some universal value.

  16. You've read my mind here...I have been thinking about this very topic all day, after fielding an incredulous phone call from my Mother, who had apparently spent a chunk of her day with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Did I watch this show, Mom inquired, and if so, what did I think of it all? I was truthful: while I did not watch that particular incarnation of the show, I have been known to watch the OC and NJ versions. And then I felt terribly ashamed upon my admission.

    Who needs that?

    Twenty years ago, thirty years ago, even forty years ago, we had shows that were all about the empowerment of women. Women were multi-faceted, multi-layered characters. Why, even Ellie Mae Clampett and Granny find Women's Lib at one point.

    Now it is all about caricatures of women, sad masturbatory caricatures, all psuedo-lesbian kisses and catfights. Grown women behaving like petulant little girls. I blame male suits at the television networks for this. They finally found a way to put The Little Woman back in the slot they want her to occupy. It's a sign of the times. If Sarah Palin can queef her way to a presidential run, why are we surprised that the NJ housewives beat the shit out of each other in their recent season premiere?

  17. I do miss the days when there were only a handful of channels, and you could show up the next day at work or school and everyone would have watched the same thing and you could talk about it during recess, or around the water cooler. These days, with so many entertainment choices, you don't really get that.

    But even though there are so many terrible reality shows, or cookie-cutter cop and legal shows, there are also lots of really great shows being made, even if most are not on the major networks.

    We've had so many amazing TV shows in the 21st century, stuff like The Sopranos, The Wire, Arrested Development, Deadwood, Veronica Mars, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc... There was never anything as good as that on TV before.

    At the end of the day, I don't really care where I get the shows from, whether it's on broadcast TV, cable, Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, DVD, or whatever, as long as I get to watch them. Even though I have a nostalgic fondness for the way things used to be, I wouldn't actually want to go back.

  18. AnonymousMay 31, 2011

    I was all ready to agree with your point about the
    loss of a shared culture when I thought about "American Idol". I've never watched it, and
    thus it seems to me that I am the only one who hasn't/doesn't. The day after A.I., the Yahoo! headlines are about what happened on the show the night before.

    The A.I. alumni apparently go on to further media careers, and even fill concert venues. I'm not sure that "American Idol" (and it's clones) aren't actually a *more* shared "shared culture" than any old-time tv series was...sadly, and I'm speaking as a bitter skeptic, but there it is.

  19. From the time I was born to age 5, I lived in Saskatoon SK, and we had only 1 channel. Imagine that. When we moved to Vancouver in 1970, we instantly had 9 channels on cable even if the PBS station was still in B&W.

    These days Dancing With The Stars, is the #1 show in Canada.