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With 400-plus shows, free-falling ratings and a media landscape rocked by an unorthodox presidential election, 2016 was not lacking for compelling narratives.
But rather than look backward, THR’s TV editors are looking ahead, selecting 12 of the most compelling narratives of the forthcoming year. Some are bigger in scope, focused on the impact of mergers and increased competition; others are more granular, shining a light on a specific network, franchise or even a show.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. How will a Trump administration deal with the media?
The president-elect’s chief of staff has hinted that they will ditch the daily press briefings that have been a staple of the White House for more than 100 years (Woodrow Wilson began holding regular press conferences in 1913). To date, the media has been a convenient prop in Donald Trump’s successful stoking of populist outrage — and both Trump and the press are enduring decidedly low approval ratings from the public. But the strategy could backfire as the media becomes inured to Trump’s distraction tactics. All networks are more forcefully challenging the scourge of blatant untruths and the fake news epidemic (ABC News has been partnering with Facebook on an initiative to debunk fake news stories on the social media site). A silver lining for the media? Trump’s attacks may be having a buying effect on the beleaguered media: paid subscriptions at the “failing” New York Times are up.
2. Can FX’s O.J. follow-up deliver?
The industry went gaga for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story — the reviews were stellar as were the ratings and the show’s Emmy haul, with the anthology series snagging nine statues in September. Now, Ryan Murphy and his coterie of producers will have to do it all over again, this time with sky-high expectations. We hear he’s going to try to film the next two seasons this calendar year: one will be focused on Hurricane Katrina, and starring several from the O.J. season, and the other on the murder of Gianni Versace. (Lady Gaga is rumored to star as Donatella Versace in the latter, which could explain the expedited production timeline.)
3. Will Netflix finally start to cannibalize itself?
While it will be hard to tell since Netflix fiercely guards its viewership, there are some concerns that too much is, in fact, too much. The streaming service has 30 original scripted series today, and chief content officer Ted Sarandos has said he plans to double that in 2017. And on the unscripted side, the service has ramped up its employee count, with Netflix execs having said they intend to debut another 20 new series next year.
4. Can CBS All Access become a real player?
You’ve got to hand it to Leslie Moonves — the man sure knows how to make a splash. But will a high-profile Star Trek reboot (which recently lost showrunner Bryan Fuller) and a Diane-fronted Good Wife spinoff be enough to put CBS All Access on the map the way House of Cards or Transparent did Netflix and Amazon, respectively? Such is the goal for CBS’ brass, but convincing viewers to shell out for yet another streaming service is no easy task.
5. Will Megyn Kelly stay or go?
Fox News has not missed a beat since the ouster of Roger Ailes this summer amid rampant sexual harassment allegations; the network will finish the year as the most-watched basic cable network in primetime (up 36 percent compared with 2015) and fifth overall on TV behind only the broadcast big four. But Kelly’s hesitancy to accept a reported $20 million offer, which has been on the table for months as her agent takes meetings with other suitors, means there is a big question mark hanging over the network’s vaunted primetime lineup. Multiple networks are interested — for the right (read: less than $20 million) price. But there is also hesitancy about importing big-ticket talent a la the CBS News-Katie Couric deal. Meanwhile, sources say there are multiple contingency plans to move current Fox News personalities into Kelly’s 9 p.m. slot if she decides to leave.
6. Can Viacom be turned around?
With Philippe Dauman a distant memory, the question becomes: Will new CEO Bob Bakish be able to re-energize the largely limp Viacom networks? He has his work cut out for him, and all eyes will be on him as he assesses troubled assets including once-dominant MTV. Of late, the cable group has been mired by ratings turmoil and executive turnover, with insiders suggesting the latter is far from over.
7. How intense will the morning show wars get?
NBC’s Today is within 97,000 viewers of ABC’s Good Morning America for the season, and is the clear winner where it counts: among viewers in the 25-54 demographic. But perennial CBS This Morning has also inched up, gaining 6 percent in viewers and 10 percent among women 25-54. If these trend lines continue, the race could get uncomfortably tight. Of course, the jury is still out on whether ABC News is on the right track to fixing GMA — by putting Michael Strahan in the mix full time and adding a live studio audience and more feature content during the last half hour of the show.
8. A ratings tipping point for the NFL?
The NFL, once considered immune to the downward ratings trend plaguing linear TV this year, got a big reality check. As we headed into Election Day in early November, and the NFL entered week nine, cumulative viewership was down 13 percent year-over-year. Many blamed the election. The Thanksgiving weekend offered reason to hope; the Dallas-Washington game on Fox pulled in more than 35 million viewers, a record and the second most-watched telecast this year behind only Game 7 of the Cubs-Indians World Series, which pulled in 40 million for Fox. With the Thursday Night Football package shared by CBS and NBC this season, executives at the networks and the NFL are beginning to wonder if oversaturation is the culprit. (NBC and CBS both have another season left on their current two-year TNF deals.) Ratings for the continuing post season will be closely watched; and if the downward trend continues, the sustainability of the TNF broadcast package could come in for evaluation.
9. Is America ready for the next wave of reboots?
The executives at Fox certainly hope so as they’ve not only pumped big money into promoting their latest iteration of 24, but also have granted the series, now fronted by African-American star Corey Hawkins, the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot. Whether viewers were clamoring for an update, however, remains an open question — though given Fox’s meager ratings, execs there need that answer to be yes. NBC isn’t suffering from the same soft ratings, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less hopeful that its Apprentice reboot — fronted by Arnold Schwarzenegger rather than the president-elect — hits big. Ditto for Showtime’s long-awaited Twin Peaks update, which is key to boosting the network’s comparatively light schedule and garner the kind of buzz Westworld has delivered for rival HBO.
10. Can all of these late-night stars survive?
The president-elect should provide the current crop of late-night stars plenty of fodder, but is there enough room on the dial for all of their voices to be heard? There are the Jimmys plus James, Stephen, Trevor, Sam Bee, Seth, Chelsea and Conan, and that’s just the highest profile of the bunch. The landscape already lost Larry Wilmore this summer, and one can’t help but wonder: who’s next?
11. What will result of merger mania?
Just how different will Starz look in the Lionsgate era? Will Lionsgate TV, long an independent, start funneling the bulk of its shows to its new premium cable network? And will doing so make the latter a critical player? Starz has quietly made headway among critics (Survivor’s Remorse) and viewers (Outlander), but it’s dramatically behind in the all-important game of buzz that Netflix and, to a slightly lesser extent, FX and HBO seem to be winning. Speaking of HBO, will the AT&T/Time Warner deal go through? And if so, what kind of impact will it have on Warner Bros. TV and HBO, both of which have suffered growing pains of late?
12. What will Andy Lack do?
This spring, Lack will mark two years in his current post as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, and many observers — along with staffers inside 30 Rock headquarters — are anticipating some changes. Savannah Guthrie (currently on maternity leave) and Matt Lauer both re-upped in 2016, but Noah Oppenheim, the executive in charge of Today, remains a question mark. Many insiders expected Oppenheim to return to Los Angeles, and the positive critical reception for Oppenheim’s screenplay for the indie film Jackie may have ratcheted up the intrigue. But several now anticipate he’ll to stick around, at least a little longer. Conversely, change is a given at MSNBC. Earlier this month, the network quietly moved Thomas Roberts off the two-hour daytime block he began anchoring in early 2015, and more primetime could come in for some re-tooling, too.
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