Terry Hazlett

Networks face another failure

If networks don’t see big picture, they’re doomed for another failure

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This Mother’s Day Massacre was anything but pretty in pink.


Hollywood’s skewed version of Mother’s Day was festooned with the right color, albeit for the wrong reason. This year, more than 40 pink slips were quietly handed to current series, the better to prepare for the splashy unveiling of network fall schedules.


The cancellations purposely were announced mostly on Friday, Saturday and Mother’s Day to underplay the fact that the 2012-13 season largely was a failure. Gone, in addition to more than a dozen series axed earlier in the year, are “Golden Boy,” “Vegas,” “1600 Penn,” “Deception,” “Go On,” “Guys with Kids,” “The New Normal,” “Family Tools,” “How to Live with Your Parents” and “Malibu Country,” along with sophomore series “Happy Endings,” “Don’t Trust The B,” “Whitney,” “Up All Night,” Touch” and “Smash,” and veteran shows, “Body of Proof,” “CSI: New York,” “Rules of Engagement” and “Rock Center with Brian Williams.”


That’s not to mention six series that bowed out voluntarily – “Fringe,” “30 Rock,” The Office,” “90210,” “Private Practice” and “Gossip Girls” – and one canceled series that will return in the fall to burn off its unaired episodes – “The Cleveland Show.”


In addition, NBC is still deciding the fate of “Hannibal” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” CBS is holding “Mike & Molly” back until midseason and ABC is cutting its dance card in half as “Dancing in the Stars” will be reduced to one night a week.


That’s it in a nutshell.


So what’s left? At NBC particularly, not much at all. That’s entirely understandable when one recalls that the formerly proud peacock actually had fewer viewers than the Spanish-language network for a few weeks this winter.


Once again, however, the primary excuse for canceling many shows was they didn’t appeal to a younger demographic. But did CBS really think teens were going to flock to Dennis Quaid’s “Vegas”? Did ABC truly believe young men would tune in to see Dana Delaney’s ‘Body of Proof” or Reba McEntire’s “Malibu Country”? And what made NBC believe that masses of any age would buy into “Smash”?


So why are networks setting up to fail yet again?


The new lineups include series featuring Robin Williams, Michael J. Fox, Linda Lavin, James Caan, James Cromwell, Allison Janney, Blair Underwood, George Segal, Greg Kinnear, Martin Mull, Bradley Whitford and Tate Donovan, among others. Sure, they’d make a great centerfold spread for “Senior Life.” “Sixteen Magazine,” not so much.


This isn’t to say that their respective series won’t be top-notch. Previews for the Michael J. Fox sitcom, for instance, are extremely engaging. But if networks are committed to catering to younger viewers, it needs to nurture some younger stars – and quickly.


The truth, though, is that it’s already too late.


Younger viewers have all but abandoned network television and with all the alternatives at their disposal, they’re not coming back. Sure, they’ll tune in the occasional “Big Bang Theory” or “The Voice,” but mostly while their grandparents are taking in the “Tiffany Network” (and are the only ones who remember when CBS had that nickname), the kids are exploring social networks of their own. At the same time, adults who still fall within the age parameters of the network “want list,” consider television as a diversion enjoyed on their own time and schedule.


Simply put, the attraction of prime time television is primarily to those who grew up with the networks when they were the only option. Still, once networks stop living in denial, they very much can still succeed. “NCIS,” for instance, has over the years drawn in younger viewers while maintaining its core older audience. Why even consider axing those upcoming series with Robin Williams, Martin Mull and, yes, James Caan, if they turn out to be quality shows that draw steady, albeit older audiences? If the show is a good one, younger viewers will eventually find it. Networks simply need to evolve with their audience.


Once a programmer realizes it’s unnecessarily throwing baby boomers – and their deep pocketbooks –out with the bathwater, perhaps it will stop obsessing over demographics.


If it truly wants to return to its golden age, golden-agers necessarily need to be a part of the mix


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