Starting with new television shows airing on HBO several years ago, we’ve seen a giant shift of new programming moving to non-traditional paid channels. There was a time where over-the-air networks dominated the new show markets, but that time is over. Each TV season we see a plethora of new programming on the “cable” networks, and not just HBO. The best thing about these new shows is that they are often better than the shows found on the traditional networks.
When I think about it, this trend really took root when the networks were dominated with “reality” programming and game shows. People who didn’t want to watch The Biggest Celebrity Dance Star getting voted off the island by big brother tuned into programming that was too edgy for network television. FX, TNT, and USA were a few of the networks (besides HBO and Showtime) that began airing original programming. Shows like The Shield Rescue Me and The Closer dominated cable ratings. Monk has been on for years and continues to draw good ratings, followed by one of my favorites, Psych.
It has come to a point in my TV viewing where most of the TV shows I watch are not on the major networks. Monk, Psych, Raising the Bar, True Blood, Weeds, In Plain Sight, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, are all great shows that draw me away from the networks. In fact, there was a recent article that stated the USA Network drew more viewers than the 5th “major” network, The CW. Networks like TBS, A&E, Starz, and AMC have joined TNT, FX, USA, HBO, and Showtime on the original programming bandwagon, and oftentimes they air some of the best programming on television.
I think part of the reason these new shows thrive and survive on the cable networks (besides the fact that they may be able to get away with more edgier content) is that on paid TV the shows are given more of a chance to pick up steam. A show like Psych would have never survived if it was shown on parent network NBC instead of USA. The ratings would not have been high enough. If you look at the show Kings on NBC it had low ratings but, in my opinion, was a really good show. I think part of the reason is that it was never given a proper chance to gain viewership. NBC should move it to USA over the summer and see if it gains traction there (why not, they’ve done it with two Law and Order series).
Perhaps the major networks could learn something from the cable stations and take bigger chances on programming. Or perhaps, since many of the cable channels are owned by the same corporations as the major networks, they are content having shorter seasons and keeping the programming where they are. I don’t know, but I continue to find myself watching the major networks less and less.