10 Burning Questions for the TV Industry in 2018

What's to become of Fox? Do people still care about 'American Idol'? And how do we move forward after "#MeToo?"
Courtesy of Netflix (Wright), Photofest (Simpsons, Seacrest)
From left: 'House of Cards,' 'The Simpsons,' 'American Idol'

Hollywood may be churning out more TV than ever, but those making it have some heady quandaries to weigh in 2018. The coming year will largely be a reaction to the events of the one just ending — with the ongoing weeding out of sexual harassers, the shock of mega-mergers and a seemingly unstoppable content boom (500-plus shows!) barely the half of it.

So how will TV move ahead through these uncertain waters? This rundown of the 10 biggest narratives likely to emerge over the coming 12 months serves as something of a course — though unpredictably has clearly become the status quo.

Here they are, arranged only for dramatic effect:

1. What's the next step for the harassment problem?

Hollywood's immediate reckoning with its systemic sexual harassment and abuse is far from over. Before the dust settles, however, comes the matter of how to move forward. The conversations of the last three months will impact the entertainment industry at almost every level. What that impact is is still anybody's guess — including who will replace Roy Price as Amazon's top programmer and how House of Cards' final season will look with Robin Wright as its star.

2. How will talent ousters affect the morning show wars?

Speaking of sexual harassment...the aftermath of the Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose ousters have put their respective daytime efforts, NBC's Today and CBS This Morning, in need of new talent. CBS isn't likely to spend as much as its top competition, morning's highest-rated news show, but NBC has new reason to rethink its follow-up. Ratings have risen since Lauer's exit. In fact, Today has beaten Good Morning America among total viewers every week since he abruptly went off air.

3. Is the big time difference going to derail the PyeongChang Olympics?

NBC is looking at three potentially problematic Olympic Games, with a string of unfavorably time-zoned locales in PyeongChang (2018), Tokyo (2020) and Beijing (2022). The Winter Games in South Korea, which start Feb. 9, will be the first test of whether viewers can tolerate a 10-hour time difference in the age of streaming. Sochi, in 2014, saw many switch to streaming. And even the more optimally situated Rio de Janeiro brought losses. The question now is how many more traditional viewers can NBC lose and still make good on the company's $12 billion commitment to airing the Games through 2032.

4. Can Netflix maintain its originals momentum?

Netflix is a snake getting dangerously close to taking a bite out of its own tail. At the forefront of TV's metastasizing content yield, the streamer did finally show signs of streamlining some scripted originals in 2017 with a few rare cancellations — but it also announced a planned $8 billion spend for 2018. What Netflix does next will largely determine the course of scripted entertainment's current surge.

5. Does Jimmy Fallon stand any chance or reclaiming his late-night momentum?

The year 2017 belonged to Stephen Colbert. After a rocky ratings start as the host of CBS' The Late Show, his lean into politics crowned him broadcast's new after-hours monarch. Yes, his show is still No. 2 in the advertiser-favored adults 18-49, but Fallon's Tonight Show (oft-criticized for his lighter NBC telecast, which skirts current events for drinking games) is losing its advantage. And the tide unquestionably is in Colbert's favor in terms of gross viewers, ending the year with a 800,000-strong lead. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! has also earned praise for its own more serious turns, but remains firmly at No. 3.

6. Where will Apple originals land?

It still seems unlikely that Apple will actually unveil any big-swing originals, like the upcoming Reese Witherspoon/Jennifer Aniston vehicle, by the end of the coming calendar year. Hopefully the tech giant will at least inform consumers how they'll see it. No one, even Apple's new entertainment executives, seems to know how and where its originals will run when the new scripted efforts finally see the light of day. Those two variables will have a lot to do with their success.

7. How will the cable news networks cover an increasingly critical Donald Trump?

The cable news outlets topped an incredible 2016 with more record audiences this year. And the fevered pace at which Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are each covering the Trump administration likely means sustained interest in 2018. But as the president continues to throw accusations of "fake news," Robert Mueller tries to carry on with his investigation and a midterm election approaches, the scant remaining civility between cable TV and Washington is seriously in doubt.

8. Can the NFL shift its awful narrative?

No one can truly diagnose what's gone wrong with the NFL. That's probably because its problems are many. Amidst another year of mediocre primetime match-ups, increased concern for player safety and partisan criticism over some players choosing to kneel during the national anthem (a protest of police brutality against black men and women in America), ratings are down another 8 percent after 2016's middling season. Yes, it is still the most bankable broadcast on TV, but its fallibility is now undeniable. And if its trajectory doesn't shift course, advertisers and networks will soon rethink their handsome financial commitments.

9. Are viewers going to be there for American Idol's return?

Is Katy Perry worth $25 million? Is Ryan Seacrest going to be OK flying between New York and Los Angeles every week? Does America even want a revival of its once-favorite show only two years after Fox sent it to reality hospice? ABC thinks the answer to all these questions is "yes," but we won't really know until American Idol returns on March 11. The revamped TV icon could be the surprise of the season — or its biggest disaster. 

10. What's to become of Fox?

Rupert Murdoch made it clear that his interest in TV, excluding Fox News and Fox Sports, was waning when he sold off most of 21st Century Fox's entertainment properties to Disney for $54 billion. What's not clear is where that leaves his broadcast network, the former No. 1 that no longer has a sister studio to supply it with profitable programming. The transition will be long, but don't expect the network to much resemble itself in two years' time, when much of its high-profile scripted programming — perhaps even legacy shows such as The Simpsons — will have probably gone to that great Empire in the sky.

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