7:54pm PT by Tim Goodman
TCA Journal No. 4: Welcome, Broadcast Networks! Now Show Us You're Alive
Chief television critic Tim Goodman will be writing these journals throughout the Television Critics Association summer press tour, offering insight, analysis, counterspin and some snark from the nearly three-week industry presentation.
Welcome, broadcast networks, to summer TCA! Woo! Man, you guys have missed a lot. Like, for starters: We've been talking about everything except you.
Well, you've been mentioned, but let's not mention what was said. Were your ears burning? At least this time, 99 percent of it had nothing to do with me.
OK, quick show of hands: Anybody sick of reading about Ted Sarandos? Those guys at Amazon? True Detective? Kidding, you probably loved all that talk. But for the most part, you've had your faces slapped like a tambourine. And I'm here to help.
I love the underdog. (Stop looking around — that's you.) As you folks roll into TCA, you probably know that cable, along with PBS and Netflix and Amazon, have all been here. Basically, that means that the conversation about what's on television and what's great about television has taken place with nary a word about broadcast networks, unless some snarky streaming exec made fun of you. They can be really mean, those younger kids.
Anyway, as a quick reminder, the seven Emmy nominees for best drama come from cable, PBS and Netflix. So, you weren't needed in that discussion. But of the seven nominees for best comedy, only three come from cable and only two come from Amazon and Netflix, which means the last two — let's give it up for you guys — are broadcast network comedies!
Well, one of them — NBC's Parks and Recreation — doesn't exist anymore. That's true. But ABC's Modern Family is still alive and kicking, so I hope you drag it with you. What? It's been on the air since 2009 and doesn't get trotted out anymore? OK, right. It's still a thing though. It's still a thing. Oh, and NBC developed Emmy nominee Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt before giving it away to Netflix, so that's kind of a thing, right?
I apologize for this little exercise. But you see what you're giving me to work with, right? You're giving me Modern Family and some actor categories. That's not enough. It's 2015. Listen very carefully — you are not in the conversation. So you need to change that.
That is my best and most sage advice to you right this minute: Change the conversation.
OK, now: how to do that? I have no idea. I'm not paid for that. But my next piece of advice is that you come in here with your own answer to the question of whether you're still relevant. I guarantee that you will get that question a lot. If you don't, I'll ask it. But trust me, you will get that in variously worded iterations.
Don't be a dinosaur. It's a bad look.
This is your moment. Be prepared. Set your own agenda at TCA — one that speaks to why people should be talking about you, about why you have value, about why you should be in the zeitgeist at the very least and the Emmy nominations for best series at the very most.
Go on the offensive. Sell network television!
For example, Fox Television Group co-chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman should just walk out on stage and say, "Empire," then drop the mic and leave. Or, like, Dana could say it first, drop the mic, then Gary could pick it up and say it again, and drop the mic again. Whatever it takes to hammer home that millions of people are watching your show and the gods only know how many are watching on Netflix and Amazon. Go on the attack!
But ABC is here first, so Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, should absolutely come out in a Muppet costume if he isn't planning that already. He should then just interview Shonda Rhimes, in costume. Play to your strengths!
Here's the cold truth: There's only a small amount of "buzz" for network shows in the fall (for all of you). I don't know what you'll need to say during your panels to manufacture some excitement, but you need to find out in a hurry. ABC, Fox, CBS, The CW and NBC — in that order — this is your moment.
Unfortunately, your arrivals are interspersed with competition — sometimes from within the corporate family — that will make it harder for you to stay on message. Here's the problem: After ABC, Crackle comes in with its first scripted drama — yes, yet another scripted player. After Fox comes cable sister and critical favorite FX. After that comes DirecTV (another scripted player) and Hulu (same), with the added benefit of Hulu having picked up The Mindy Project, which, fair or not, will lead to more questions about streaming services saving the day.
Again, nobody said it was fair.
The arrival of CBS brings along stablemates Showtime and The CW — and at least there's buzz to go around here with CBS' Supergirl, Stephen Colbert, Showtime undoubtedly talking about Billions and future projects (like when HBO generated buzz with its Westworld and Vinyl trailers), plus CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
But before NBC arrives, its cable offerings get the first chance, and it's likely that Syfy, USA and Bravo will squeeze out some sparks (and if nothing else, USA can bask in the Mr. Robot love). That will leave NBC proper, which isn't generating much discussion for its fall shows, to appear on the very last day to a room full of cranks.
You all have your work cut out. But as before, the obvious applies:
• Be honest in your executive sessions. Vague or deflective gets a negative reaction (see HBO about True Detective and Amazon about Woody Allen and the Top Gear guys).
• Tout your stars: Still plenty of them getting nominated, especially that new blood.
• Talk about ratings whenever they're good. Remind us again about Netflix and Amazon not releasing ratings. Make fun of their use of "it did really well" and "it was our most watched show." Raise doubt. Light a fire of doubt. (Just avoid talking about their business models.)
• Even though we've heard it for years, it's fine to use the "big tent" analogy about broadcast getting more viewers. I mean, at this point all of you should be talking about Empire and NCIS and stuff. Just share the successful ones — because to everybody outside of that ballroom in the real world, you're not rivals, you're the same scoop of parent-approved vanilla. And I say "parent-approved vanilla" with the same sneer that Jerry Seinfeld said, "Hello, Newman." Remember when Seinfeld was a huge hit? Yeah, nobody else does either.
• Make sure your talent knows the TCA basics. Remember how we play that TCA bingo when you say stuff like "organic" or your actors say it's a "tough crowd" etc.? No? Some of us do. It happens. Like when you're boring us about year-to-year time slot increases. Anyway, National Geographic made up actual bingo cards so it's more real this time. I know, right? Even Nat Geo is causing problems. Did you hear they have scripted?
Lastly, let's return to the main point here: All five of you need to do something about addressing not just the sea change in viewing habits — the time shifting, increased interest in fewer episodes, watching on devices other than a TV, etc. No, you need to dream up some proclamation, some visionary idea about how you're still relevant in the age of streaming, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crackle, Acorn — hell, the list just keeps growing. You're under attack. All kinds of niche cable channels keep making scripted stuff and so much of it is so very, very good.
You need an answer to all of this. Probably a lot of them. You need to address Netflix and Amazon head-on. You need to change the discourse. You need to be relevant, and if that means lighting an Emmy ballot on fire or something (NBC, you should really think about doing this for the final day), then so be it.
Mostly, you need to change the fact that not only is there very minimal buzz for your shows, there's no buzz at all for you.