Networks, Then and Now

“In 1997, NBC canceled the sitcom ‘The Single Guy’ after two seasons; it had an audience of 20.1 million people. This month, NBC is on the verge of renewing ‘Parks and Recreation,’ which has an audience of 2.5 million, which tells you everything you need to know about the dwindling viewership for network TV….”

Paskin, Willa. “Network TV Is Broken. So How Does Shonda Rhimes Keep Making Hits?” New York Times 9 May 2013. Web. 9 May 2013.

First off, I feel I should mention there are many interesting parts to this piece that are specifically about Rhimes; I don’t mean to slight her. But I’m often pulling these kinds of quotes since they’re such a consistent trope in the stories we tell ourselves about the state of network television today, contrasts in the numbers of middling old shows to contemporary “quality” shows.

In the process of pulling the quote, I also started to think about how we talk about network television in general today. Effectively, it can do no right. It’s our punching bag. Maybe it’s just a consequence of the giants’ fall, but I’m not quite sure it’s accurate. I have a feeling we’re blinding ourselves to some of the successes that the networks may still be experiencing, including the work of Rhimes.

Lastly, a friend mentioned the effects of the post-network era, and I was reminded of how inadequate I find that term. I know the reference is the broadcast network infrastructure, but if anything, this era is defined by an extension of networks, different kinds of networks, so the moment seems to be less post-network than super-network. I realize that the way we use “convergence” pretty much covers that concept, but the super prefix reminds me of its foundations in Kinder’s supersystem. I also like being reminded that what we’re dealing with here is the changing and not the erasing of networks, and that survival comes not in shedding networks but in in figuring out how to connect with new and different ones.


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