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Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

The Impact of the Post-Network Era in Fiction Programming

Some contemporary authors feel the changes that occurred in television in the last few years have had a harmful effect on classic television genres. The diminishing ratings and the changes in technology have affected the way television is made and perceived. This paper analyzes the impact the post-network era has had on fictional genres one-hour drama, soap opera, and made-for-television. The choice of genres is motivated by a desire to unite all the ideas into one conclusion about the state of fiction in the current television landscape. Post-network television refers to the creation of a new television culture where the broadcast networks give way to a multi-channel, multi-medium landscape. This new situation leads to a disappearance of mass, passive audiences and sees the emergence of interactive viewers, and niche audiences. The post-network era leaves space for both reality television and quality dramas, as media conglomerates look for new ways of making television and revenue in a global media culture. In his article Television Network and the Uses of Drama, Christopher Anderson argues that networks expectations for one-hour dramas must change in order for the genre to survive. The author supports his claim by asserting, Television drama evolved in conditions that no longer exist (66) and wonders whether the familiar one-hour drama [is] a vestigial remnant of an earlier stage in the mediums history (67). If drama series cannot attract mass audiences to the channels anymore, their main reason for existing on network television is removed.

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

One of the conditions that have changed since the development of the drama series is the proliferation of different new genres, such as the various kinds of reality shows. Fictional series are now merely one item on televisions abundant menu of programming (Anderson 66); which means that the audience is more scattered now than ever before. Fewer viewers mean smaller revenues for the networks, which leads to less money to produce shows. However, broadcast networks depend on advertisers for their revenue or, as Anderson puts it, commercial networks are still in the business of delivering viewers to advertisers (73); they are not just a medium to communicate artistic messages, they need to make money out of it. These advertisers want their products to reach as many consumers as possible. This translates in a lot of pressure for one-hour dramas, the high cost of which must be justified by a large viewership. However, one of the main changes experienced by television in recent years is the migration of viewers from network television to cable television and the internet, so this large number is no longer possible. Moreover, the demographics that advertisers desire the most are the ones who are leaving network television in favor of cable or other ways of watching dramas: the internet and digital video recorders. Anderson continues, Discerning viewers are still drawn to drama series, but they have acquired a taste for an unadulterated viewing experience (73). The absence of commercials and the ability to create a personal viewing schedule constitute this new experience, which can be achieved thanks to digital video recorders, video streaming or premium cable channels.

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

Anderson proposes a change in the relationship between the networks and the dramas, especially in the use they make of them. The characteristics that defined the one-hour drama in its beginnings need to change in order to adapt to the new television market. However, onehour dramas are very expensive products. This genre is a labor-intensive form of programming that also requires a significant investment (Anderson 85). This makes changes very difficult, as the system is very resistant to transformations. Being that this is the case; the article uses words like accommodations to talk about the small changes the networks have introduced to reach the more discerning viewers. Networks try to project higher production values on some shows, such as on location shooting or expensive visual effects; or they make small concessions to viewers tastes, i.e. eliminating commercial breaks from series premieres. However, the author is not very optimistic about how far these little changes can go. Anderson explains the current series model as a safe bet and explains that networks have come back to a form of procedural drama that does not imply transformation. They are trying to contain the audience they already have. This tactic leaves a large amount of viewers the ones looking for complex stories and characters, the kind they are used to seeing in other media without anything to follow on television. Moreover, the safe bet strategy makes it impossible for any changes in the drama series to occur. This article is written from the industry point of view and analyzes the economic repercussions that one-hour dramas have for networks in the current environment and how

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

their viewership, although the most sought-after by advertisers, is the group that is leaving network television. One of the aspects Anderson emphasizes the most is the high cost of producing drama series. In a time when reality shows draw ratings higher than most drama series, traditional drama series look increasingly like an extravagance that survives form a distant era of television (Anderson 78). Therefore, networks are looking for new programs that cost less money or for a way of making one-hour dramas cheaper. This contradicts the idea of accommodations explained before, which means that network television still does not follow a clear strategy when it comes to series. In the time of fragmented audiences, Andersons article explains the need for a massive audience in order to make dramas profitable. With this argument, we are led to believe that dramas have no place in network television anymore. This helps us understand the trend of programming quality television, especially dramas, on cable. Cable series do not need to produce as many episodes per season, letting creators concentrate on shorter, more carefully crafted seasons. These dramas can be genre-specific and do not need to become a jumble of different characteristics that sometimes do not match. Cable channels can afford lower ratings, making them perfect for the era of fragmented audience. Another genre affected by the changes in the television landscape is the soap opera. Despite its diminishing ratings, Seiter and Wilson state in their article Soap Opera Survival Tactics that this is a genre resisting its disappearance. The very use of the word survival in

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

the title of the article suggests a struggle to keep the genres position on the television grid. This implies a hostile environment, where the genre has steadily lost viewers and seminal programs have been pulled off the air. However, the soap opera is a genre that does not want to vanish from television. This genre seeks to keep its defining characteristics but change its tactics when it comes to reaching their audience. Soap operas may change the medium, the kind of viewers they aspire to attract or the thematic genre in which they tell their stories, but they are determined not to disappear. The methods this genre is using to maintain a sliver of its status are imaginative and match current television characteristics. One of the new approaches to maintaining soap operas place is their repurposing for digital cable. This way, the genre is attempting to revitalize and address the changing lifestyles of [its] audience () with the option of syndication (Seiter and Wilson 141). The creation of the SoapNet network gives a new life to soap operas, rerunning old programs and making the new ones accessible to a completely new type of audience. This new viewership is precisely the most desired by advertisers: working women and college students as more sophisticated audiences (Seiter and Wilson 142). SoapNet seeks to attract them by giving a new spin to classic programs, adding a cynical, ironic twist to its marketing campaigns. In addition, it makes access to daytime soaps easier by rerunning their episodes on prime time, on the same day of its original broadcast. In the era of the niche casting and catering to very specific audiences, SoapNet tries to attract a wide variety of viewers with one common characteristic: their love for soap operas. It

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

is possible in this day and age for such a channel to exist because of the possibilities cable television brings. This article is very optimistic about the fate of the soap opera. Although it outlines all the difficulties the genre is going through, the authors seem enthusiastic about the strategies adopted to salvage the genre. This optimism is in part because the authors highlight the role of the audience in the configuration of the genre. However, one pillar of their argumentation the creation of the cable channel SoapNet lost part of its strength when it was announced that the channel would be removed in February 2012. Elena Levine seems more pessimistic about the future of the soap opera in her article Like Sands through the Hourglass. The Changing Fortunes of the Daytime Television Soap Opera. This article emphasizes, The steady, continuing decline in ratings for daytime soaps presents an alarming situation for the commercial media industries that allocate funding (Levine 38). This affirmation reflects a different point of view from the previous article, as the author is adopting an industrial point of view. Therefore, the tactics outlined in this article are labeled effort at survival (Levine 46). Although the article still points out the different ways in which soap operas try to still be relevant, the production changes explained do not seem as harmless as the repurposing the main article describes. The soaps have worked to cut production costs in a number of ways in the post-network era (Levine 47). These production cuts include changing contracts conditions or firing more veteran actors, offering a lower salary to young actors and eliminating breakdown writers.

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

Apart from its relocation to cable or the internet, soap operas become a program for the post-network era by adding different genre features into its narrative. Seiter and Wilson (Soap Opera Survival Tactics 146-149) use the example of Passions, an NBC soap opera that aired from 1999 to 2008, to explain how supernatural elements were introduced into the show in order to attract a younger audience. Along the same lines as one-hour dramas, producers tried to amalgamate various niche audiences, appealing to their tastes in different genres. Prime time soaps bring this genre mixing to the next level. They represent the evolution of the classic soap opera in form and content. Their higher production values make them adequate for discerning viewers of drama series. This more active audience can appreciate the intertextuality of the prime time soap opera, which takes elements from the melodramatic and the satiric. Erin Copple Smiths article, A Form in Peril? The Evolution of the Made-For-Television Movie, deals with the last fiction genre analyzed in this paper. Made-for-television movies seem to have disappeared from broadcast networks programming. However, as Smith states, the arrival of cable and the related fragmentation of the broadcast audience caused economic changes that led to migration of the form from broadcast networks to cable channels (138). Thus, made-for-television movies can be considered a clear example of the changes that occurred in the post-network era. Made-for-television movies play a significant role in cable programming. First of all, as cable channels need a much less numerous audience to be profitable, films with ratings of 3.8 which would be considered a failure on broadcast networks are seen as a huge success on

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

cable. Copple Smith points out that, cable networks () often boast their highest viewership when airing original movies, although even these ratings rarely come close to the viewership required to be a moderate success on broadcast (145). This reduced pressure as far as ratings are concerned makes cable a perfect environment for creative movies that would not find their place on broadcast television. This same phenomenon happens when we talk about one-hour dramas. As Anderson claims, cable channels have the freedom to pursue alternative formats because they are either partially or entirely independent of the advertising-supported model of the broadcast networks (Television Network and the Uses of Drama 83). Given the failure of made-fortelevision movies to retain viewers for network channels, we can consider them as an alternative format, making them the perfect programming choice for cable channels. Moreover, the made-for-television movie has the advantage of being less expensive than drama series. Cable channels such as Lifetime or Sci-Fi (now SyFy) paid $ 2 million for about thirty films in 2004 (Copple Smith 145). As the article reminds us, Because their audiences are in most cases much smaller than those of broadcasters [cable channels] often also command significantly reduced rates from advertisers, reducing their original programming budget. That is why made-for-television movies have become such a convenient product for these channels. However, sometimes cable channels decide to spend more money on films with higher production values. These high-profile films are designed to draw the attention of critics (Copple Smith 147) and to bring prestige and awards for the cable network. High budget films are more easily sold to other markets; or, as Steve Koonin expresses in Copper Smiths article,

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

the richer the production values, the longer the shelf life. Higher quality movies are more easily sold outside the United States, which brings new revenue to the channel. This article chooses the term peril in its title, but follows it with a question mark. The author does not believe that the made-for-television movie is in any danger of disappearing from television programming. The author acknowledges the lowering of ratings suffered since the mid-1980s, but she sees the loss of popularity in broadcast networks as challenges that the genre has been able to overcome: The made-for-television movie successfully adapted to the multi-channel transition and, far from dead, came to thrive on cable during the post-network era. The use of the term thrive implies a flourish of the genre, a growth in its economic and artistic value. Apart from its economic value, the made-for-television movies narrative adaptability has proven to be particularly useful in establishing distinct channels identities or brands (Copple Smith 138). In the era of niche casting, made-for-television movies can center their plots in a single theme or textual genre action, science fiction, sports and cable channels can use these themes to construct their identities around them. Cable channels use genre-specific films to cater to their audience and reinforce their image. As was the case with the previous genres, cable channels appear as more open venues for all kinds of programs. They have found a use for a genre that seemed to be dying in broadcast networks and given it a purpose and relevance that can only compare to what it had in the beginnings of television.

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

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This overview of fiction in the post-network era leads us to the conclusion that cable has become the preferred destination for these genres. Lower ratings expectations and genre specific programming create an ideal environment for one-hour dramas, soap operas and madefor-television movies. Contrary to what happens on broadcast television, fiction programs on cable channels can take risks with their narrative choices and can address viewers willing to receive their messages. The central questions raised by the articles cited will be very useful for the development of my final paper on the television series Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007-2009). I focused on different types of fiction in order to get an impression of the factors and elements affecting the development of drama series in the post-network era. I can use observations made about ratings demands on broadcast networks to analyze the reasons for this shows failure on ABC. In addition, references to what constitutes quality television and how it is a central aspect of the post-network era may help define the characteristics of Pushing Daisies. Finally, perhaps the most important notion that I can extract from the readings is the centrality of niche audience in cable television. The main argument of my final project on Pushing Daisies is the possibility that it would have been more successful on a cable channel than it was on ABC. This show did not garner high ratings, but it attracted a very devoted and specific audience. This is the type of audience cable channels cater to, so it could be safe to claim that this would be the perfect environment for this series.

Ana vila Bohrquez Osborne-Thompson FTVS 512 October 27th 2011

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Bibliography

Anderson, Christopher. "Television Networks and the Uses of Drama." Edgerton, Gary R. and Brian G. Rose. Thinking outside the box. A contemporary television genre reader. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2005. 65-87. Print. Copple Smith, Erin. "A form in peril? The evolution of the made-for-television movie." Lotz, Amanda D. Beyond Prime Time. Television programming in the post-network era. New York: Routledge, 2009. 138-155. Print. Levine, Elena. "Like Sands through the Hourglass. The Changing Fortunes of the Daytime Television Soap Opera." Lotz, Amanda D. Beyond Prime Time. Television Porgramming in the Post-Network Era. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. 36-54. Seiter, Ellen and Mary Jeanne Wilson. "Soap Opera Surivival Tactics." Edgerton, Gary R. and Brian G. Rose. Thinking outside the box. A contemporary television Genre Reader. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. 136-155.