An Open Letter To… The Networks

Dear Execs In Charge,
We love TV. Really, we do. Heck, television is basically the altar upon which we sacrifice a huge portion of our lives. And sometimes, you guys actually make it worth our while. You renew good stuff (BIG LOVE, PARKS & RECREATION) and mercifully whisk away the bad…
Okay, so JERSEY SHORE and ‘TIL DEATH would seem to indicate you’ve kinda dropped the ball in that regard.
But here’s the thing: There comes a point in any relationship where you start to really look at the other party and say, “I love you… but do you feel the same way toward me? Are you willing to commit to me with the level of intensity which I am toward you?”
Sadly, more and more, I feel as if our love is a one-way street, on which you are driving a bus intent on running us down repeatedly. You let our favorite shows disappear for months on end and somehow think we’re buying this whole “mid-season finale” thing. But we’re not! We know it’s just a cheap ploy that you use as a way to get us excited about shows going away for an extended period of time. You come up with some lame-o cliffhanger to keep us on the edge of our seats until you’ve decided we’ve been punished long enough.
Well, maybe we’re the ones who’ve had enough?

And while we make time for you, every night, do you return the favor by making sure we have new episodes to watch? No! In fact, after spending years getting us hooked on season which offered up 30 or more episodes, you cut us off by saying, “You know what? We’re going to give you 13… and you’re gonna like it!” Hell, HBO, you’re giving us 9 measly episodes of BIG LOVE! You’ve made a big deal about renewing it for a 5th season, but you know what? Nine episodes ain’t a season! And if there’s a year in between, we expect more from you!
What was that? You did not just say “Let’s get real.”
We don’t want to get real! We’re tired of real. You can have the housewives of wherever and the vapid morons populating MTV. When reality television first started, it was innovative and at least attempted to be honest. It was more documentary than titillation. But of course, you love your reality, because it’s the programming equivalent of a ten-dollar hooker: cheap and easy.
But you know what? We’re not going to run out and buy THE BACHELOR on DVD and cherish it the way we do our ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT or THE WEST WING collection. So while you may be making a quick buck now, in the end, you’re cutting into your own revenue streams.
Unfortunately for us, you know we ain’t gonna walk away. You know there’s at least one television in just about every home in America, and at the end of a long day we’re going to plop ourselves in front of it rather than — God forbid — talk to our families or read a book.
So yeah, we love you. And we’re going to stand by you.
But would it kill y’all to return the love… just a little bit? MODERN FAMILY and DAMAGES are a good start. Sadly, summer’s coming, and the minute the temperatures star to soar you take all the good stuff and go into hiding like George’s genitals on the “shrinkage” episode of SEINFELD. Sure, you’ll offer up some “special summer programming” that will basically amount to four hours of bad (BIG BROTHER) for every hour of good (FOX’s Upcoming Bradley Whitford/Colin Hanks Project looks promising), but why not take a different approach this year? Why not spend the summer courting us… showin’ us not only some love, but some decent original programming?
If you do, we might just spend the night.
We’re just sayin’.
Your friends at

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  • Nick

    Amen, bro.

  • bws

    Summer COULD be used as a launching pad for new shows on the networks. However, the numbers could be harder to interpret against less/different competition. And numbers are everything. Until television networks FUNDAMENTALLY change, those little TV ratings you post every day are all that matters.

    As far as the number of episodes goes, I’m actually FOR fewer episodes for dramas. Procedurals (which I don’t watch) and comedies can do longer runs. The other action/dramas would be better served with a shorter run. Why do you think cable and pay cable have been cleaning up awards lately? HBO, SHO, TNT, AMC… all do shorter runs and as a result, can create a more cohesive narrative. It’s almost not fair in terms of the awards to compare a season of 22 versus a season 12. If you do 22 episodes, you get about 9 “meh” episodes. It’s why we complain when Fringe or Flash Forward or Dollhouse or Chuck has an off week.

  • Wow. That was amazing. you said everything that I was thinking and more. We are at these networks mercy, but if they want to stay in business, they better change their ways. The younger generation has many more modes of entertainment and may just call their bluff and leave.

  • Dave

    Big brother bad??? 🙁 Only reality tv I am obsessed with.

    But completely agree with you on the ammount of episodes. HBO and showtime are horrible with it, at tops you get 12 episodes then you have to wait an intire year. Even for comedies that’s just a little rediculous.

  • Similar to bws–I would love to see the US use more of a UK approach to the number of episodes in a season. I would prefer shows to have fewer episodes per season and keep the story arcs tighter and better.
    Whenever I watch 24, it starts off and ends great, but drags in the middle. If they cut it down to 12 episodes or 2 12 episode “days” a year, I think the show could be better and not have that dragging feeling in the middle. It is similar for other dramas–they seem to run out of steam mid season.
    I can’t stand the whole Neilson rating thing–whenever I see numbers of viewers listed, I don’t believe them at all. I am not a Nielson family and don’t know anyone who is. I don’t feel like my TV watching is being counted.

  • bws

    Kyle, I would actually be very excited if “24” did two distinct seasons that were 12 each. I know it would “totally destroy the fabric of the show” but jeez, it’s in its 8th season. It wouldn’t hurt to do something a little different.

  • ct

    BWS and Kyle —

    I agree with you in principal. But what drives me nuts is the notion that somehow, it’s impossible to tell good story for 24 episodes or more a season. Frankly, I find that to be rubbish. It’s lazy on the parts of the writers. it also has to do with a complete lack of advance planning. Too often, it becomes VERY obvious that the writers aren’t plotting their shows carefully. The scribes at 24 have admitted in the past to not knowing how the season is going to end! If they were to sit down and plot out each step of the way, they’d have a full, exciting season. The same is true of any show. As the old saying goes, “if it’s not on the page, it won’t be on the stage.”

  • Ren

    Damn TV, I love you too much and look how you betrayed me? Cancelling Ugly Betty and annoyingly having me wait for Glee to return. Darn you TV and your addictive ways!

  • I haven’t seen one ep of Big Love (it’s in my Netflix queue, don’t worry), but I agree. Its 5th season is 10 episodes. Lame. But I guess if your season’s ratings are up 13%, you add about 13% of episodes to the show.

  • bws

    24 is near impossible to keep momentum because of its choice to go real-time. It’s not necessarily a lack of planning. It’s just that is a ton of writing that has to operate on the edge of your seat. Remember, they turn an episode in 7-10 days. In the case of 24, yes, they pre-plan before the season starts but once they start rolling, 7-10 days is all you get to crank out a 60 page script where stuff has to continually happen.

    Ugly Betty had 4 good years. I don’t expect my shows to go on forever and Betty had plenty of ups and downs.

    So yeah, in the end, I’d rather have 9 “A” episodes than 22 episodes where 13 of them are a “B” and 9 are a “C-” and they’re all mixed up and there are breaks in between with reruns.

  • Nick

    Several of you suggest “shorter” seasons or arcs. Isn’t that basically what we’re getting now, with 10 or 11 new episodes in the fall, then a winter break, and 10 or 11 episodes to close out the year? With 52 weeks a year, why would anyone want fewer than 22 new episodes?

    As for the cheap reality crap, I say confine it to June and July. Then begin rolling out some new programming in August. TVA has a great point: no one is buying reality shows on DVD, so there’s no “back end profit.” And fewer people are watching the crap upfront. And it cheapens the entire image of the network. Why are we force-fed this slop?

  • bws

    Remember, reality TV = same ratings, far less cost = greater profit. I can do the math just like TV execs can.

    I’d actually rather see MORE shows with FEWER episodes. Quality remains high and we get try to more new things. It’s kind of how HBO operates its Sunday 8pm CST slot. Right now, it’s Big Love. When Big Love is done, “The Pacific” will start. Then, it’s on to “Treme”. When that’s done, it might be time for True Blood. When True Blood is done, it’s time for … well, you get the picture. I think the real question is, why do we insist on having 22 episodes spread out over 36-40 weeks?

  • Summer… well, at least there will be Warehouse 13 and Eureka to look forward to! 🙂

    But right now I’m mourning the fact that I have to wait 2 1/2 months for Fringe to come back, am wondering when the hell will we get V back and really missing my dose of straight truth in Lie to Me. Thank heavens Castle isn’t taking an extended break!

    I don’t know what I’m going to do during the Olympics… rewatch the week’s episode of Lost 3-4 times? 😉 Or maybe, just maybe, read a couple of books! 🙂

  • bws

    At least LOST isn’t taking two weeks off for the Olympics. YAY! Fringe will be off for 7 weeks and then back for 8 straight.

  • karl

    yeah, cause you want quantity, not quality, right?

    A 13-ep season is fine, just put another show right after the first one ended, and that’s a TV season of 26 eps right there, 26 uninterrupted weeks of new episodes.

    13 eps/season allows more time for people to work on their shows (should it be pre-, in- or post-production), and makes for better episodes in the end. It’s a known fact, even Sorkin himself, as he was getting (one of) his Emmy for THE WEST WING, complained about the crazy schedule a 22-ep order forced them to work with, and how a more relaxed 13-ep commitment as done as cable allowed for more time & more quality in the end result…

  • Manju

    The part about TV being a bus that runs us over repeatedly…so true.

    Amen _O_

  • Nick

    Reality TV = zero rerun $ and zero DVD sales. Unless it scores big first-run, it’s a lose-lose for networks and viewers. And don’t tell me Amazing Race and Survivor are “cheap” to produce, either.

    I like the idea of more timeslot sharing. Introduce more new shows with fewer episodes, instead of going into months of repeats. Seriously, could The CW not have tried out a new show or two on Tuesday or Wednesday, instead of 3 months of serialized reruns?

  • bws

    I guess the question is which is cheaper? One show that does 26 episodes or two shows that are 13 each? I’d wager you can make them the same cost without much compromise at all and assuming similarly paid actors and production values.

  • shara says

    Well said! An excellent rant 🙂

  • Nick, I would gladly buy some reality shows on DVD if they actually released them. It was great to see the first season of The Amazing Race again on DVD, and how much the show has changed. I would rewatch other seasons as well, but they never released them.
    Call me crazy, but I also miss the days of summer without new TV shows. This 52 week programming schedule we have now can get overwhelming. I used the like to catch up on shows on DVD, etc over the summer. Now there is programming all summer long, and is seems like they release the TV shows on DVD in late August or September which gives you no time to catch up if you wanted to watch before the new season.