The Upfronts Post-Game Show

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Meet your new boss, Greg Berlanti, who is showrunning six shows next season.

What we learned:

– The sitcom is almost dead

– Too much drama

– Greg Berlanti is now the most powerful person on TV

Now that the parties have been held, the red carpet has been rolled up, and the song and dance routines have been performed, it’s time to get to serious business: sell suckers… er… I mean advertisers on the 44 new television shows scheduled to debut in the 2015-16 season. Yours truly’s thoughts on the overall health of network prime-time TV:

Yes, we’ve seen the eulogy for the sitcoms before (on and off for the last 30 years), but this time the threat is real. When The Big Bang Theory moves back to Thursday in November,  there will be no sitcoms scheduled for Monday on any of the broadcast networks – CBS will not broadcast any sitcoms in the first hour on prime time on a Monday since 1986 and on Mondays entirely since 1949. In fact, with Big Bang bumped to Mondays, you won’t see any sitcoms on Thursdays the first few weeks of the season, either…a first in television history.

Remember, this is a night where Lucille Ball thrived for 23 years. At one point, CBS’ Monday was entirely filled with comedies, during the 1989-90 season. It is truly an end of an era.

This fall, just seventeen comedies are on the Big Four broadcast networks. Thirty years ago – when sitcoms were almost declared dead, there were more than 20 – spread over three broadcast networks.

This is a huge red flag as the networks are disinvesting in comedies, despite NBC and others holding some of them for midseason. Top-tier cable networks and local stations have lost interest in airing off-network sitcoms, where as in the local stations’ case, preferring to run cheaper first-run game, talk, and magazines shows and news instead, and facing competition from video-on-demand services. Will half-hour sitcoms go the way of the Western? Likely not, but the diagnosis isn’t encouraging.

It’ll be interesting to see how former Fox sitcom The Mindy Project fares on Hulu. But you wonder if these kinds of services would end up becoming a dumping ground for programming that couldn’t cut it on network TV – similar to what first-run syndication was in the 1980’s and cable in the 1990’s.

Here’s how much “counter-programming” the networks are doing: on Thursday nights this fall, NBC, ABC, CW, and Fox all will have dramas competing against one another (CBS has football and sitcoms.)

There are a lot of dramatic series on network TV: more than 25 in all. Call it a glut, but these shows are easier to sell internationally and an off-net cable money maker for the studio domestically when the series hits 90 episodes or so. Too much drama? Well, too bad.

Move over Shonda Rhimes, there’s a new power broker in network television: Greg Berlanti has not one, not two, but SIX programs he is identified as the showrunner of next season, including Supergirl, Blindspot, and Legends Of Tomorrow.  The difference between Rhimes and Berlanti? The latter prefers to be low-profile – which isn’t such a bad thing.

The hottest show of 1990 is now the hottest show of 2016!

The hottest show of 1990 is also the hottest show of 2016!

Remember when yours truly said the major networks were not innovative? The proof came in February 2014 when NBC announced it was rebooting Heroes Into Heroes: Reborn, a completely stupid and useless idea. Just as bad is a revival of former ABC sitcom Coach, which hasn’t aired an original episode in eighteen years. Of course, articles on Friday after the upfronts wrapped refuted claims on how “linear” TV is dead and broadcast is still the best way to reach audiences.

Yes, that’s true, given the enormous reach of over-the-air broadcast TV, and the powerful draw of live events, such as sports, the Super Bowl, the Grammys, and musicals on NBC.

But these events are basically carrying the business right now. It certainly isn’t the sludge of scripted offerings for next season. Your hottest new stars of the 2016 season are…the hottest stars of 1982: Craig T. Nelson and Jack Coleman. I’ll say it again: If NBC is really excited about the return of uninnovative junk like Heroes and Coach, then they should hold the premiere party for the show at a place where there’s even less innovation: Wal-Mart.

Who knows? You might find a Chicago radio executive or two at the party. Or several, jockeying in position to give their Heroes: Reborn spec scripts to Tim Kring.

 

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