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May 14, 2013

Sagging legacy networks seek a reversal of fortune


What can the networks do? Some expect broadcasters to borrow from basic cable’s playbook next season to help reverse their sagging fortunes.

Like cable, the broadcast networks may experiment more with shortened seasons, down to a number where creative quality is easier to maintain. Also, as with cable, the networks may turn more toward a format that they abandoned years ago — the miniseries, which has brought cable record-setting numbers with productions such as “Hatfields & McCoys” and “The Bible.”

The greater pressure, however, is to generate a breakout prime-time program on the new fall lineups — something the networks were unable to do this season despite dozens of attempts with dramas, comedies and reality shows. In the fall, NBC seemed to have a bona fide sensation going with the freshman post-apocalyptic drama “Revolution,” but after a four-month hiatus, ratings slid more than 40 percent from the premiere.

“It’s very simple,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst with the ad firm Horizon Media. “They need to get a hit show and schedule it right.”

The forces seem to be making the networks more conservative in their program development. The days of swinging for the fences are over. Executives seem more content to renew familiar shows, even ones with anemic ratings, rather than take a flier on risky new concepts.

Thus, modestly performing series such as NBC’s “Parenthood,” CBS’ “The Good Wife” and Fox’s “The Mindy Project” have already gotten nods for this fall.

Most of the new program announcements, including new shows, time slots and cancellations, will be made this week at individual presentations to ad buyers by the four legacy networks. But some details began coming out last week.

By Friday, Fox and NBC executives had already announced their selections for more than a dozen shows for next season. With few exceptions, the dramas and comedies were set on familiar territory — cops, lawyers and families. NBC will post the crime drama “The Blacklist” with James Spader at 10 p.m. EDT Mondays, while a remake of the 1970s detective show “Ironside” will run on Wednesdays. NBC’s Thursdays will be oriented around family-themed comedies with sitcom veterans Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes.

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