Morpheus on… True Series: The Future Of Television?

Well, not exactly. But before we examine TV’s future, let us take a look at its past…

When broadcast television started, thanks to “co-channel interference” the technology only supported a maximum of FOUR national networks.

Thus America had CBS, NBC and ABC (which were spun off from its radio networks) plus a few local sub-networks, serving sections of that country. Then Fox came along.

While Britain had BBC1, BBC2 and ITV – later adding Channel Four.

And so these networks began to fill the role that had previously been serviced by the film industry, which had provided an evening’s entertainment of around four hours duration, consisting of news, shorts, a cartoon, a serial, assorted ads and trails and two movies.

This was fine for TV, which could add UP-TO-DATE news – plus variety shows, game shows, panel shows, chat shows, etc.

Except it could not afford to make MOVIES (and understandably, Hollywood was not going to allow them to run THEIRS) so it made SERIES – “mini-movies” that used the same sets, actors and crew – and ran them, one episode a week.

And thus it was: through the Thirties, Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

But then along came cable and satellite…

And thanks to THAT technology, suddenly fifty to a hundred channels became available.

But what to FILL them with? None of these channels could AFFORD to lay on thirty hours of new, expensive SERIES per week. In any case, that role was still filled by the big terrestrial networks.

So they began filling niches, by NARROWcasting – they SPECIALISED.

Thus you had several sports channels, a couple of news channels, shopping channels, cartoon channels, documentary channels, porn channels, music video channels, catwalk channels, reality channels, movie channels, financial channels – and channels that defied description.

But they all had one thing in common – they were CHEAP.

Channels with a live feed – like news, sport, financial, reality and shopping – were INHERENTLY cheap. While those with recorded programmes – like cartoons, music videos, movies, documentaries, porn and so on – were REPEATED. Usually on a carousel – and often, MANY times.

This last was essential anyway, since with so many channels, it was inevitable that programmes would CLASH. But it also helped to SELL the platforms: new punters would be impressed by the content – although less so, once they realised how few NEW programmes were added each month – but by then, they were COMMITTED to the new system.

But what of SERIES? Well, these were still network TV’s ace-in-the-hole. Cable and satellite could not compete with their COST – at first.

However, once the new channels started raking in the money, they WERE eventually able to start producing their own series – at which point, the major networks began to FREAK.

The slow drift AWAY from the majors was caused by a number of factors…

One: being on subscription, cable and satellite networks were effectively “invited” into people’s homes – thus they could undo a few buttons.

Two: they could run classic shows that had been obtained cheaply.

And more recently – three: the Interweb and its social networking now offers a more interactive form of entertainment.

Then along came the Global Financial Meltdown.

At this point, network execs had their OWN meltdown. They had just had to settle a writers’ strike and now their budgets would be FURTHER cut.

Which is why, during the last few years, series that might previously have run for years have been time-switched, fiddled about with and finally CANCELLED before they had a chance to show their potential.

And why those old studio backlots have been featured far more of late – filming on real streets costs MONEY.

Plus it is the reason you get ever MORE cheap, talent-free reality, lifestyle and chat shows these days.

But network television now RELIES on high-quality drama series and sitcoms, for its very SURVIVAL. A couple of years ago, NBC tried to replace some of it with the Jay Leno Show – variety and chat – with DISASTROUS results.

However, it has to be remembered that while TV began filling the role previously occupied by the movie business in the FIFTIES, cinema PROGRAMMES continued well into the SEVENTIES – before the multiplexes and “event” movies finally took over.

And similarly, while the major networks are currently feeling the pinch, for the MOMENT they too are STILL WITH US – and they still have SOME quality series.

But what is the FUTURE of series? Well, here is the NUB of this piece…

Undoubtedly, series are the HEART of television – a fact the cable and satellite companies are well aware of.

Thus they are quick to include a “series” channel in all of their packages.

These include those run by Digger, who learned in Britain in the Eighties, that by syndicating NEW shows as loss leaders – and padding out the rest of his schedules with cheaper, OLDER shows – he could make plenty wonga.

And here in Thailand, Digger has TWO channels which continue to use that principle today.

But the local platform – True – has its OWN series channel. It is called True Series – and does what it says on the tin. It runs mainly NEW prime series, most of which are syndicated from the USA – with a few from Britain and a couple from elsewhere.

Some programmes it “strips” (Monday to Friday, at the same time) but most are shown weekly. And when one series reaches the end of its season, it is generally replaced by one with a similar style – thus ensuring continuity for its audience demographic.

And this just COULD be The Future Of Television.

Think about it: despite the existence of the new TVs fitted for Interweb connection, the International Data Highway is not yet READY for television programmes to be sold directly to people for download.

And posting programmes to people on DISK, while possible, would be a NIGHTMARE of logistics – and it would be impossible to stop piracy.

In any case, such programmes are supposed to be watched weekly – or at least nightly – not run in a “marathon”.

Thus having cable and satellite channels DEVOTED to series would SEEM to be the way FORWARD, but there is ONE BIG PROBLEM for them – the major networks.

Because any series channel relies on those series being PRODUCED in the first place and while most of them are made by independent production companies – they still currently have to be FINANCED by the majors.

Furthermore, they rarely put up their panel shows or chat shows for syndication.

Thus the major networks would still appear to be in control. However, they too have One Big Problem – they are CONTROLLED. While cable and satellite companies can screen pretty much what they like, their terrestrial Big Brothers have LIMITATIONS imposed upon them.

This goes back to the beginnings of broadcast TV. In those days, network execs would have liked nothing MORE than to have been able to broadcast nothing but series and other entertainment shows. Those are the ones that get the RATINGS.

But governments would not allow that – and insisted broadcasters both entertain and INFORM.

Thus ALL networks (except Fox, who deliberately restrict their hours to avoid being CLASSED as a network) were forced to run news, documentary and sports, even though their cost-versus-ratings figures STUNK.

In America, the regulatory body was the FCC – in England, the ITA – and the BBC had their Royal Charter. Then inevitably, most other countries followed suit.

And this is the situation that exists today – but it is OUTDATED.

So here (finally) is the POINT of this monograph.

The Fact Is, we need BOTH the cable/satellite services AND those provided by the majors. But if this is to happen, CHANGE is needed…

These days, news, documentaries, sport and so on are MORE than adequately catered for on the cable and satellite channels which by now MOST PEOPLE HAVE (or very soon WILL have, as the terrestrial services are switched OFF).

Thus the time has now arrived to ALLOW the major networks to do what they are BEST at: provide high-quality, EXPENSIVE drama shows and sitcoms – plus panel shows and high-end, late-night chat shows.

And ONLY those – before said majors DIE and get REPLACED by those cable and satellite series channels.

Things change: so if television’s traditional high-quality programming is to survive, the major networks need to be FREED from the restrictions put on them by the respective authorities that govern their output.

Certainly the cable and satellite companies could make those programmes as well, but they lack the EXPERIENCE and RESOURCES to do panel shows and high-end chat shows – and their sheer NUMBER means they will ALWAYS have to restrict their drama and sitcom BUDGETS.

ONLY the likes of CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox TV (series) ITV and the BBC have the experience, resources and at the moment – the MONEY to give us the high-quality programmes we are used to.

But they need to be given the CHANCE to do so – EXCLUSIVE of other output. If NOT, they WILL die – and quality TV may become a thing of the past.

You have been warned…

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One response to this post.

  1. Brilliant comments and suggestions. Now they are blanking ciggie packets like I suggested in 1981, I hold out more hope for suggestions made by folk not actually in any given biz. Some of the satellite news channels are already half way there to your needs.

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