Is it a big deal that NBC plans to drive the final nails into the coffin of the traditional September-to-May TV season? The New York Times seems to think so, moaning about the end of a scheduling practice that dates back to the days of radio. The strike gave the network an excuse to opt out of pilot season and upfronts this year. (In non-industry speak, that means they won’t be planning a whole season in the spring and asking advertisers to buy a year’s worth of commercial time in May based on a fall slate full of untried new shows, a longstanding practice that both networks and advertisers now regard as a bad gamble.) No doubt, TV viewers everywhere are wailing and gnashing their teeth over the end of this tradition…
Well, maybe not. For one thing, the networks have been trying to kill the nine-month season for years, going back to the early ’90s when they discovered they could have summer hits with first-run shows like Northern Exposure and Beverly Hills 90210. And of course, viewers with cable are already used to seasons that may start and end at any point during the year.
The one good thing about the old system, as the Times article obliquely mentions, is that it encouraged the networks to take creative risks. The article notes that Kidnapped (with Jeremy Sisto, pictured), a very good but bleak (and, as it turns out, little-watched) drama from a couple seasons ago, is the kind of show that would never get a greenlight under the new arrangement. Instead of buying completed pilots and selling the series to advertisers, the network will invite the sponsors to collaborate while the pilots are still in development, which will mean more product placement and fewer shows with dark or controversial elements that scare advertisers.
Other than that, however, viewers will hardly notice the difference, except that they may not have to worry so much about long stretches of reruns interrupting the story arcs of their favorite dramas. I’d bet most viewers have no emotional attachment to the old September-to-May schedule and won’t miss it once it’s gone. Am I right, PopWatchers, or is the Times right to be upset?