Some predictions for next year's TV trends
If you like trashy reality shows, British accents and backstage drama on “The View,” then you’ll love 2008.While forecasting TV trends is a notoriously risky proposition — Ben Silverman running a network? Who’d a- thunk it? — some predictions aren’t as tough to make. Here are eight of Variety‘s best guesses as to how ’08 will unfold: An abundance of reality shows will hurt the format — but also produce a big hit. With the prospect of a long WGA strike likely to boost production of primetime reality skeins to record levels, you’d think producers of unscripted fare would be doing a happy dance right about now. Hardly. Just as a glut of sitcoms in the late 1990s led to a near collapse of the format, reality insiders worry that viewers will quickly grow weary of the genre if it’s all the networks are feeding them. That’s already started to happen in cable, where nets like Bravo, E! and VH1 have begun to realize that even with lots of marketing, not every reality show will work. Still, at least in the short-term, a strike could mean the nets will be willing to try a few more radical ideas. That, combined with weaker scripted competition, makes it more likely that 2008 will yield a monster hit along the lines of “Dancing With the Stars.” The Olympics are a Nielsen — and pop culture — bust. China sounds like a grand setting for an Olympiad, but don’t expect NBC to clean up in the ratings this August. For one thing, a 12-hour time lag means many events will take place outside primetime. In the age of the Internet, that means viewers won’t be in suspense over the big showdowns. The Peacock is trying to get around that problem by promising exhaustive live coverage of events via streaming video. While that will open up some other revenue streams for the network — not to mention all sorts of new ways for NBC PR to spin the success of the Games — it won’t do much to help primetime ratings. Biggest problem facing the Games, however, is the fact that viewers just don’t seem to care as much about the Olympics. And athletes of all sports have been hurt by the doping charges that have impacted the baseball and cycling worlds. “Lost” fans demand storyline answers from ABC. “Lost” exec producer Damon Lindelof is already warning the rabid fans of his thriller drama: Prepare to bang your head in frustration after the show’s episodes prematurely run out. The original plan this season was to air 16 original episodes of “Lost” consecutively from midwinter through the end of the season in May. The Writers Guild strike threw a wrench in that scenario, however, and now (unless somehow a resolution is found soon) only eight segs will be ready. ABC has already started promoting the return of the critically acclaimed megahit, and those early promos promise to deliver plenty of suspense. What they aren’t expected to do is answer many of the show’s burning questions — long a pet peeve of viewers. Those answers, the producers have said, were set to start popping up in the second half of the season. Now … viewers are going to have to wait a little longer. An angry mob outside ABC’s front door the day after the final available episode airs? It’s possible. The morning show wars heat up again. NBC’s “Today” survived the loss of Katie Couric with nary a hiccup. But ABC’s “Good Morning America” — despite having failed to capitalize on past momentum — seems to be inching ever closer to scoring a breakthrough, and 2008 could be the year it finally happens. “GMA” is unlikely to completely unseat “Today” as the ayem leader. But even scoring one or two weekly wins vs. the Peacock would be an important psychological victory for ABC’s breakfastcast — and a sign that NBC’s once impenetrable morning fortress is finally vulnerable. A variety of factors are working in “GMA’s” favor. The evening news race is once again a contest, with former “GMA” anchor Charlie Gibson now often beating Brian Williams at night. ABC’s primetime lineup also trounces NBC, particularly with the young female viewers who are among the core of the ayem aud. As it is, NBC has had to resort to some Nielsen trickery to keep its morning lead, often foregoing commercials during certain portions of its broadcast in order to exclude lower-rated segs from bringing down its average. Meanwhile, CBS this week will revamp longtime also-ran “The Early Show” (again). Nobody expects miracles, but even the slightest disruption could impact the war between “GMA” and “Today.” Another hosting change will shake up “The View.” Most series would collapse under the kind of instability “The View” has experienced over the past few years. But the Barbara Walters-led talker has thrived on it. A tumultuous year with Rosie O’Donnell at the helm garnered more attention than “The View” has ever received — particularly upon her stormy departure. That came on the heels of Star Jones’ dramatic firing in 2006. By fall, things had calmed down, as a much more mellow Whoopi Goldberg took the reins, while Sherri Shepherd sat in Jones’ long-vacant spot. But that’s not to say the attention went away. Shepherd’s sometimes inane comments had bloggers buzzing; while the show’s political debates remained fierce — at least until vocal conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck went on maternity leave. Given the show’s recent track record, it’s almost too easy to predict another host shuffle. Perhaps Oscar winner Goldberg, who doesn’t need the gig at all, will decide one year’s enough and move on to something else. Maybe comedian Joy Behar, who these days rarely hides her exasperation on the show, will decide she’s had enough. Perhaps even Hasselbeck is ready for her own solo showcase. On-demand will be in demand as broadcast networks finally agree to put their shows on the service. Whether it’s on iTunes or via streaming video, viewers of big network hits already have virtually on-demand access to most shows on their computers. But if they want to catch up on their TV sets, it’s a lot harder. That could change in 2008 as networks finally relent and agree to let their shows be seen, for free, via cable’s video on demand platform. While several nets have experimented with on demand, the broadcasters are way behind their cable peers when it comes to offering the option. And even when they do, nets have expected viewers to pay $1 per viewing. But now that most of the TV business has accepted streaming video of shows on the Internet as routine, it no longer makes sense to keep network shows off of the on-demand platform. Cablers, meanwhile, are desperate to get the big broadcasters to make their shows available since they’re pushing on-demand as their big advantage over DirecTV (which can’t offer the service). International co-prods get hot. NBC will lead the charge, but look for other nets to try the model in order to reduce risks. In features, international co-productions are fairly common. In TV, they’re virtually unheard of (save the occasional HBO project, like Ricky Gervais’ “Extras”). That may finally be changing. For starters, Universal Media Studios is producing the upcoming Peacock drama “Robinson Crusoe” along with U.K. shingle Power. Such a move is saving Universal a substantial chunk of cash. Until recently, U.S. companies haven’t been keen on such arrangements for a variety of reasons, including the fear that American auds won’t accept characters with British (or other) accents in lead roles. And possibly more key, such co-prods haven’t been necessary. But with costs continuing to rise, international co-prods may be one way to save coin without sacrificing the look and feel of modern primetime series. One of the network entertainment presidents will ankle. Few industry jobs boast less security than network entertainment president — so it’s probably a safe bet that at some point this year one of the Big Five boardrooms will be rocked. Some of the entertainment toppers are more vulnerable than others: NBC’s co-chairman Silverman, for example, has made aggressive, big-headline moves — and his unconventional management style has the town buzzing. Because NBC is the fourth-place network, he would be a hero if it works; but if it doesn’t, patience among the Peacock brass may soon erode. Over at CBS, entertainment president Nina Tassler’s attempt to reinvent the Eye has so far seen mixed results. “Viva Laughlin” quickly tanked; the net’s “Swingtown” hasn’t surfaced yet. The CW hasn’t yet conjured up a defining moment, so topper Dawn Ostroff could be on the list. Given the Alphabet’s decent perf, ABC’s Steve McPherson is a less likely candidate, as is new Fox entertainment topper Kevin Reilly. But in this business, anything could — and usually does — happen.
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