The broadcast networks collectively will earn more than $8 billion in advertising this year, so it’s hard to think of them as underdogs.
But they’re often unloved in terms of media coverage, and the big question remains how they will fare with Emmys. These networks must overcome the fact that they’re successful and popular, when awards voters often like to “discover” series and to vote for hip offerings rather than crowd-pleasers.
If the broadcasters — ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW — are shortchanged this year, it would be a shame, because they’ve done interesting work.
A small sampling begins with NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” and the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” plus one-offs like Adele’s concert spec and the live broadcasts of “The Wiz” (NBC) and “Grease” (Fox). They join continuing shows like Fox’s “Empire” and “The Last Man on Earth” and ABC’s “Black-ish” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” which have gotten some (but not enough) Emmy attention.
For many decades, actors, writers, directors and producers considered TV as the place to earn a living while working on their film careers (which were either growing or declining). In recent years, TV has become respectable within the industry, but mostly due to cable, at least in terms of media attention and awards.
As cable and streaming services continue to flourish creatively, the networks are getting more competitive. Consider Jennifer Lopez. She’s a big star with a lot of options. But she took her series “Shades of Blue” to NBC; she joins other biggies who’ve come to broadcast (Viola Davis, John Ridley, Bradley Cooper) or opted to remain there (Tina Fey, Matt LeBlanc, Joel McHale).
Broadcasters are emulating cable in measuring success: Now, they’re augmenting the old Nielsen tally with added data, using a long-tail approach.
The nets have also learned from cable creatively.
NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke says: “Networks were considered old-fashioned hacks. But now there’s a flexibility, to allow more creative freedom. There’s always been an industry awareness that if you have a network hit, you can get up to 10 [million]-20 million people to see your show. But there’s also awareness that you can feel supported at a network, that you can make the show you want to make.”
When she was at Fox, the studio took a chance with shows like “Glee” and “Modern Family.” Salke says NBC’s shift started with the 2013 bow of “The Blacklist”: “It’s not a ‘safe’ show and it felt like departure; its success has kind of set the tone for us.”
George Bernard Shaw said, “Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who looks at it when it has been in the house three days?”
In other words, it’s easy to take things for granted. If you’re looking for TV examples, think about Chuck Lorre, who has been a major force in TV for decades, but hasn’t won a single Emmy. Mark Harmon is another person who’s been mysteriously bypassed, even though his performance is the glue that holds CBS’ ratings winner “NCIS” together.
But maybe that’s the problem with Emmys: Broadcast shows are too popular, too successful.
Series on streaming services only draw a fraction of the viewers earned each week by CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” ABC’s “The Middle” or NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” for example. But those shows, like many others, are overshadowed in media coverage by series on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Every good story needs conflict, so journalists prefer to report on the growing strength of upstarts, rather than to say that broadcasters were doing well 60 years ago and are still doing well.
Sometimes it’s hard to shake an old image — some people still refer to Lopez as Jenny From the Block, even though that song is 14 years old by now. So the networks will have to continue working hard to overcome the fusty-and-micromanaging reputation.
And to remind people that “widest possible appeal” isn’t the same thing as lowest common denominator.