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With the ever-growing hype surrounding online streaming and off-network drama, you could be excused for thinking broadcast television was dead. The reality TV boom is long gone, time-shifting and on-demand viewing has hit overnight ratings and the explosion in drama production from Netflix, Amazon & Co. has sucked up much of the top TV talent from the traditional networks.
But then there’s This Is Us. NBC’s new drama, produced by 20th Century Fox TV, has dominated both critical discussions and old-school ratings (14-16 million viewers per episode) since its launch last fall. The show’s breakout performance brought to mind Lee Daniels’ Empire, which had an even more dramatic bow on Fox two years ago.
Broadcast “is still a healthy and vibrant business,” said Dana Walden, chair and CEO of Fox TV Group. “It’s still the only place where you can get 5, 10, 15 or 16 million people sharing the same experience.”
Walden defended the embattled network business in a wide-ranging discussion at the INTV media conference in Jerusalem on Monday. While acknowledging increasing competition “for talent and viewers” with the streaming giants, she argued that broadcast TV still has a lot of life left in it.
Fox’s strategy of locking in top showrunners —Empire‘s Lee Daniels, Don Fogelman of This Is Us or Ryan Murphy (The People vs. O.J. Simpson) — is key, Walden said, in a market where talent is selling at a huge premium. “There are 500 scripted shows out there now, that’s up 100 percent from three years ago,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “The talent market is a bit squeezed. Trying to find showrunners with a lot of experience is hard.”
But Walden argued that these days it’s only the top-end shows that sell globally, making talent all the more important. “It used to be with a mid-range show, solid but not spectacular, you could put that into an (international) output deal. That’s gone,” she said. “It puts pressure on all creators to raise their game, which is why we are so committed to our strategy of making deals with the best creators. That’s how we get access to great content and great content travels globally.”
For Fox, that content will soon, again, include reality. Rob Wade, Fox’s new president of alternative entertainment and specials, took over Monday, marking the first time since the 2013 departure of Mike Darnell that Fox has had a president in charge of reality programming.
“I like reality TV a lot,” said Walden, “There hasn’t been a great new reality show since The Voice, [but] I do think, like live sports, reality is an opportunity for a type of programming that works best on broadcast.”
Fox will test the reality waters this summer with Beat Shazam, a new interactive musical game show, produced by Mark Burnett and hosted by Jamie Foxx.
“It’s going to be a big party,” Walden said of the show, which is inspired by the Shazam song recognition app. “That sort of thing already exists in late night and if you can create it in primetime, it can be something really special.”
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