Television, As We Know It, Is Changing

Originally published on TV.com on March 12, 2008:

Television, as we know it, is changing as we know it. Think about it. Talk to anyone who was born before Television even existed and they’ll tell you how much it’s changed since its inception. Talk to anyone who was born within the last 40 years, and they’ll tell you things have changed since even they’ve been around.

Color television was only introduced into households in the mid 1950’s early 1960’s, but very few shows were actually filmed and broadcast in color, though ’s ‘ Theatre’ became the first color filmed series in October 1954.

Since NBC was owned by at the time, they were of course in the forefront of color programming. produced the most successful (and cost efficient at that time) line of in the 1950’s, and by 1959 was the only remaining ‘major’ manufacturer of color television sets.

and , not being affiliated with a manufacturer, were hesitant to ‘promote’ their competitor’s product, so they were less inclined to switch over to color programming during that time. In fact, between 1960 and 1965 discontinued all regular color programming, while ABC put off their first color series until 1962.

NBC was a ; they were the first to announce a for the fall of 1965 that would be almost entirely in color.

While all the networks were airing color programs by 1968, the television sales for black and white TV’s still outnumbered the color sets until 1972 – which, apparently, was just about the time that half the television households in the U.S. finally had color sets. 1972!  That’s only been 36 years!

My grandfather would fondly recall the ‘good old days’ when his whole family would gather around the for their favorite weekly programs – it was something to look forward to each and every week, and the whole family enjoyed the entertainment together.  When television came along, it was again a ‘family thing’, where the whole family would enjoy an evening of television, amazed at this new technology, and even more amazed when color television came to fruition.

The rapid changes of television past are only changing more rapidly as more people and companies have the means to try new things.  I remember getting a ‘hand-me-down’ VCR from my parents when I got my first apartment – it had a wired remote control, but I didn’t care, I was able to finally tape my favorite shows and watch them whenever I actually had the time to do so, rather than being mandated to having to sit in front of the television when the networks deemed it so by their scheduling of my favorites.  My husband’s Electronics Engineering Technology class is astounded to hear about televisions that didn’t have a remote, television viewing before there was cable and ‘On Demand’, “because, like, that’s just wrong, man!”

We are in a fast-paced world, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, and no one has time to be mandated by a specific television schedule.  More people are shifting away from sitting in front of the television for a block of time each evening or each week because it’s not ‘the good old days’ anymore.  You have iTunes, iPhones, iPods and wireless computers.  Who needs to actually have a television in their house anymore?

In fact, those, like my parents, that have the ‘old’ non-digital television in their households are in for a rude awakening when everything will be switched to digital. Their televisions won’t be able to receive any programming at all unless they opt for some sort of converter box.  I don’t see that happening any time soon for my parents – they are ‘set’ in their ways of how they watch their shows, and they’re only barely in their 60’s!

With how rapidly technology is ever changing – watching TV on your iPod, checking your email on your coffee mug that doubles as a computer screen – networks have their work cut out for them.  Gone are the true ‘ratings’ days – Nielsen hasn’t been able to keep up with the technology over the years and comparatively speaking, there aren’t enough Nielsen boxes in households to truly calculate actual viewer numbers.

Yet, the networks still rely on that old archaic method of deciding if a show should stay on the schedule or ultimately be canceled.  Look at Jericho – its fans protested loudly – and with nuts – to convince CBS to bring the show back and watch the numbers from all sides.  CBS listened, they brought Jericho back, and while the archaic ‘Nielsen Numbers’ are still low, CBS has also been paying attention to the online streaming, the downloads from iTunes and other sources, and still have yet to make a decision on if the final episode of the resurrected series will be a ‘Season Finale‘ or ‘Series Finale‘.

Then there is NBC.  A network that used to be the #1 network of all the original three.  They led the pack in new technology, they led the pack in programming, they simply led the pack.  It makes you wonder ‘what happened’?  Over the years NBC has slipped off their pedestal and have not been the #1 network in quite awhile.  

I can only speculate that part of that is due to their recent programming choices and how they promote – or don’t promote – quality shows.  Instead, they’ve been the network that cancels shows in infancy, never looking back. They’ve become known for their cheesy ‘remakes’ of shows, and of course a huge influx of Reality TV.  They have lost a lot of loyal viewers because of that, a lot of people have switched over to ABC, CBS and the network that showed up late to the party 30 years later and has a strong presence in the industry, .

Television is changing rapidly, but so is the demand from the viewers for Quality Television.  ABC, CBS, and yes, even FOX, have been adding more and more ‘quality’ to their programming schedule.  NBC started to show better programming by adding some quality to their 2007-2008 programming schedule.  They introduced three new shows that really stood out for the fall of 2007 – Journeyman, Life and Chuck – in order of their ‘quality factor’.  But they are making decisions to ‘opt out’ of quality by choosing not to bring back the best quality show they’ve had in years – Journeyman.

NBC ‘gave up’ on Journeyman before they even aired episode 4. Why? Because the archaic ‘Nielsen Ratings’ didn’t coincide with NBC’s expectations of how many people should be watching their show.  They spent a lot of money to produce Journeyman, but didn’t follow through with promotions, then put it in a time slot that historically has not done well in the numbers, Monday night at 10:00 pm.

They unfortunately didn’t take into account the multitudes of viewers that don’t simply sit in front of their televisions for blocks of time to watch a show ‘live’.  They don’t have the Nielsen ‘boxes’ in enough households to truly reflect the average ‘viewing habits’ of the masses.  They don’t take into account the number of people that stream, download or watch online.  They don’t take ‘new technology’ into account in their ‘expectations’.

They also didn’t give Journeyman a chance to see if another night/time would be more attractive to their viewers, like they have done in the past for their lesser ‘quality’ shows.  Journeyman is one of the few shows that actually would have done very well in an earlier time slot.  Along with being Quality Television, it’s also rife with Family Values.  Something you can’t get from Reality TV.  Something you don’t get from scores of other shows. Journeyman was a show that many have stated brought their whole family together to watch, in spite of the late hour. Reminiscent of the ‘Good Old Days’.

In this ever changing, fast-paced world, there needs to be a restructuring of how the ratings are calculated. There needs to be continuity across all the venues available today, and those that will be available in the future. 

Quality Television, as we know it, is changing rapidly.  Television as we know it is changing rapidly.  At some point we will come full circle and fewer households will physically have a television in their houses, because they’ll be carrying iPods and laptops and yes, even coffee mugs with an interactive computer screen.

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