If You’re Going To Send Them To Streaming, Why Bother Making Peak TV At All?
Networks Still Can’t Get Why They’re Not Invited to the Emmys
Back in the Paleozoic Era — otherwise known as the fall of 2019 — CBS debuted Evil, a series which had the impeccable credential of Robert and Michelle King, creators of The Good Wife. An exceptionally well done horror series with some brilliant moments of satire, it may have been the closest thing television has had to The X-Files in the 21st Century. Featuring brilliant performances from Mike Colter, Aasaf Mandvi and particularly Michael Emerson as a man who might very well be the devil himself, it was one of the best reviewed series of 2019. Though the ratings were not high — especially for the Tiffany network — CBS renewed it for a second season.
The season finale aired in January 2020. Then the pandemic and quarantine hit. Producing television series became increasingly problematic for everybody. Production eventually resumed on Evil, but a premiere date never came for the 2020 season. Finally, this past May, CBS announced that Evil would return for a second season — but on its streaming service, now known as Paramount Plus.
For the past ten years, there has been a major outcry from the broadcast networks as to how the Emmys and other awards groups have decided to honor pay and basic cable and eventually streaming services with nominations, but basically ignore the networks. This criticism is not entirely unwarranted. I myself have spent many columns raging against the Emmys utter refusal to recognize brilliant dramas like The Good Wife, Parenthood and more recently series like A Million Little Things as well as hysterical comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mom and most excruciatingly Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (I won’t dig up the old saw of how the Emmys were willing to acknowledge lesser comedies that weren’t, strictly speaking, on television, than acknowledge a better series on an actual network). I could never understand why Downton Abbey and Girls were worthy of recognition and these shows weren’t.
But a huge part of the blame must go to the networks themselves. Over the past decade, their reactions to the Peak TV on other networks have been to produce remakes, procedurals and rely constantly on one showrunner for an entire nights programming. Dick Wolf, Greg Berlanti and Shonda Rhimes would occupy space that could’ve gone to better series. Then there is the fact that we are glutted with reboots and continuations of old series on every single network. There was no reason for a new Equalizer, a new Magnum P.I. or a new series of Will & Grace, except that they came with an initial built in audience. And with few exceptions, most of these series have little imagination or reason for being and very quickly had very diminished audience. Yet despite that, every year we keep getting a new bunch of these reboots and remakes rather than, I don’t know, original television.
I realize that network television needs to make money, but unless diminished ratings are supposed to somehow to this, I don’t see how it’s working. Next year, NBC will have two entire nights devoted to Dick Wolf programming; one to the Law & Order universe; one to the Chicago universe. None of these series have been able to crack the five million mark in ratings for years, and SVU is now in season 22. NBC has a history of being unable to cancel series until they’re long past their expiration date, but this is becoming ridiculous. ABC and Fox are at least trying to get away from these issues, but it doesn’t seem to be paying off, either.
And CBS is by far the most frustrating of these networks. NCIS has occupied so much real estate for so long even though it is difficult to find anyone who watches any of them. And now, after canceling the New Orleans franchise, they’re setting up a new spinoff in Honolulu. And it actually gets worse! One of the series they’re bringing back is CSI, the procedural that started this whole mess. This is what they think we’ll get better response than Evil? Really?
Which actually brings me to an earlier point. One of the best series currently on television is NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. I’ve raved about it multiple times at this column. It’s been nominated for multiple awards and is most likely to one of the main contenders for Emmys for NBC. Its ratings are not great and it’s on the bubble. A network exec was quoted as saying the show will continue “if not on the NBC, then Peacock.” So this is how networks will deal with critically acclaims shows that don’t bring in a mass audience from now on. I’m willing to bet those few show-runners who are still considering bringing products to networks will probably think long and hard before bringing series anywhere if that’s the best they can expect.
And it’s not like being on a streaming service is a guarantee of recognition either. The Kings know this better than anybody. The Good Fight — which is just as good as The Good Wife — has been airing on what will be now known as Paramount Plus for the past four years. Critics love it; the Emmys don’t.
So networks, if this how you want to play it, fine. You want to try and draw audiences in with reboots of Hart to Hart and continuations of ALF, go right ahead. But you don’t get to keep complaining about how Netflix and HBO keep dominating the Emmys. You forfeited that right when you decided your streaming services are better served for your premium shows.