TV's burning questions

Addressing the current issues we all must be wondering about.

If you happened to see the recent Gayle King interview with alleged sex offender R. Kelly (and just about 7-million viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen), I think it is safe to say that Ms. King is no longer just Oprah’s best friend. She kept her cool despite what was certainly a tumultuous situation. Her questions were direct, appropriate and spot on. And, after this telecast, I am ready to give "CBS This Morning," featuring King, another shot. And I imagine I am not the only one.

This leads me to this week’s column, which segues into some key things about television (and digital), at present, that I bet we are also thinking about…or at least should be. This listing is in no particular order, and we begin with an upcoming show I am not so sure everyone is all that "mad about."

Will you watch the "Mad About You" reboot?

After months of speculation (and no interest, apparently, from the broadcast networks, cable or the key digital outlets), there is a home for the revival of 1990s NBC sitcom "Mad About You:" Spectrum Originals. For those of you who never heard of this platform (and I doubt many have), this is a premium content platform from Charter Communications. Just last month, Spectrum highlighted its first original scripted show at the Television Critics Association with a set visit to upcoming drama "L.A.’s Finest." And the hope is that interest in "Mad About You," featuring the return of Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, will ignite subscriptions.

Given the absolute lack of interest in the final season of "Mad About You" in 1998-99 (and a $1 million paycheck for Reiser and Hunt), I am just not sure this is the right show to ignite subscriptions for Spectrum Originals.   

Could "Last Man Standing" return to ABC?

ABC’s loss was Fox’s gain, when Fox wisely ordered a new season of comedy "Last Man Standing" one year after the alphabet net unceremoniously dumped it. But with Disney’s pending acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and Fox expected to populate "Last Man Standing’s" evening, Friday, with "WWE Live" next season, the Tim Allen comedy could ultimately return to its former time period on ABC.

Since "Fresh Off the Boat" has barely generated any interest on Friday this season, and most of ABC’s comedies underperforming, the return of "Last Man Standing" to its original network could very well be an option. 

Will "The Simpsons" ever end?

At this point, I think is safe to presume that few people are watching what is now, by far, the longest running scripted series in the history of television. The animated Fox mainstay is now officially renewed through 2021, taking it through 32 seasons (and over 700 episodes). And because this is animation, the characters on "The Simpsons" just, well, do not age. But the real reason why, perhaps, Homer and company perennially avoid the proverbial pink slip is because of the lucrative off-network arrangement Fox made with corporate cable cousin FXX in 2013. The deal, valued initially at an unprecedented $750 million, offers FXX the full VOD and non-linear rights (including FXNOW, the mobile viewing app of FX Networks). And its value will only increase if the series keeps producing new episodes.

All together now…D’oh!

Can Dick Wolf break the record books for the most number of hit shows on the air in the same season?

Although that honor was a virtual lock between producers Aaron Spelling, Quinn Martin and Norman Lear (who, at age 96, continues to find new hits), the answer…by next season…will be yes.

With five hit dramas populating the network airwaves at present (the "Chicago" trio on NBC – "Fire," "PD" and "Med"), granddaddy "Law & Order: SVU," and CBS’ freshman "FBI"), Wolf is now in the running. And a renewal for "SVU," which is expected, will at 21 seasons make the "Law & Order" spin-off the longest running scripted drama in television history.

Next season, NBC has already given a commitment to Wolf’s "Law & Order: Hate Crimes." CBS has expressed interest in "FBI" spin-off "FBI: Most Wanted," which will be featured in a backdoor pilot later in the season. And Wolf also has his golden hands in the potential revival of "New York Undercover" for ABC. If this trio moves forward, that will make eight series for Mr. Wolf, and that will give him the honor of housing more hits shows in one season than an other producer.

Will the bubble eventually burst for Netflix and the other digital streamers?

With continued growth in subscribers, ongoing critical acclaim, and the lion’s share of Internet traffic, Netflix has changed the course of broadcasting to the "where you want, when you want" philosophy. But at a reported $12.04 billion spent on content in 2018 (up 35 percent from the $8.9 billion in 2017) and an estimated $15 billion spent in content for this year, still at a major deficit, the question to ponder is when the cash (and the increase in subscribers) will eventually fizzle out. And that same question -- to a lesser extent – goes to the competing streamers, like Amazon and Hulu, who are all competing in this era of "Peak TV" with what appears to be unlimited pockets.

At some point the investors will want to see a profit. And, also in the future, these streamers will have to eventually fess up and issue data supporting whom is actually watching. But, as it stands, however, nothing is expected to change anytime soon. And that means more and more original scripted series. No wonder the average TV critic looks awfully tired these days!

Is digital eventually going to replace the linear model?

Given the ongoing erosion on the linear platforms, you might assume the end is getting near for networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW. Digital, after all, offers the convenience of creating your own schedule. And the caliber of much of the digital product is quite good (and without the typical restrictions in the network broadcasters face). But don’t be fooled. While no one can deny the growing relevance of digital, this is still a model that has yet to be fully monetized. The target millennial audience will eventually age up with families of their own (where TV will certainly be of benefit). And, even on a platform like Netflix (which remains a mystery in viewership size and demographics), the ease of watching the old-fashioned way still makes these broadcasters a more accessible option.

While the broadcast nets face more pressure than ever from declining ratings, digital competition and shifting ad dollars, the future for any platform -- linear or digital -- is dependent on the caliber of the programming. That always comes first. As long as these outlets continue to tap into what viewers are interested in consuming, there should be room for everyone.

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