Terry Hazlett

The year in television: New content, DVRs and live programming

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Some final thoughts on a year in which the most indelible television moments were Michael Bolton famously fracturing a Christmas song atop a Honda and Miley Cyrus giving everyone the figurative finger on the MTV Awards. Vast wasteland, indeed.

All kidding aside, 2013 was a stimulating year for television programming, especially on cable. Odd then, that with so few new hits on the networks, only five – “Lucky Seven,” “We Are Men,” “Back in the Game,” “Ironside” and “Welcome to the Family” – have been canceled.

That fact that the very worst of the new shows, “Dads,” is still on the air reveals all. In an effort to combat cable, networks are adamant about having new content on the schedule every night but Saturday (which was conceded to cable long ago). To accomplish that goal, several series that typically would have been axed are merely holding the fort, albeit not very well, while upcoming new series are building a backlog of episodes.

One side benefit of the “new content” mantra is that networks didn’t opt for three weeks of repeats over the holidays.

In addition to the virtual elimination of reruns during the regular season, networks are moving toward repeat-free summers as well. But if they’re going to offer legitimate series such as this year‘s “Under the Dome,” could they at least opt for actors worthy of prime time?

By far, 2013’s television major game changer is that programming is now determined by the viewer. TV is better for it. Quality shows that may have in the past been axed are being salvaged by the formidable number of eyeballs catching the show on DVR or recording devices. At the same time, it’s becoming obvious that at least a few reality series aren’t as popular as once thought. Turns out people were turning in mostly because of the “live” component, but not bothering to tape them for later viewing.

Is there any doubt the “live” aspect will soon become a large part of television after this month’s presentation of “Sound of Music Live”? (Notice “live” was purposely part of the title). The musical scored on multiple levels. It won its time period, it attracted a solid 18-49 viewer base and, as a bonus, it was one of the most recorded shows of the year. In total, more than 41 million people watched at least part of the event. And “event” is the key word to the future success of television. Whether it’s a live or truncated series (or an episode presented in rhyme or with musical interludes), networks are increasingly emphasizing the “special” aspect to attract viewers.

With the failure of “Ironside” and dozens of previous re-boot attempts, you’d think networks would have learned their lesson. But instead, a new version of “Murder She Wrote” is in the works, as is something called “How I Met Your Father.” Place your bets now.

You may have noticed fewer year-end “best of” lists being published in recent years. It’s increasingly impossible for critics (and casual viewers) to get a reasonable handle on all that’s offered on network and cable to offer a fair assessment. I’m willing to share my favorites list, but that’s all it is – shows I watched this year for personal enjoyment. That would not include any pay cable series (don’t subscribe) or most basic cable series as I’ll be watching those in bulk on DVD. In alphabetical order, those 2013 favorites are “Big Bang Theory,” “The Blacklist,” “Chicago Fire,” “The Goldbergs,” “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” “The Neighbors,” “Parenthood,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Vikings.”

Sadly, three of those series may not make it through 2014.

We’ll be posting no “worst of the year” analysis, either. Suffice it to say that I eventually tuned out “The Crazy Ones,” “Do No Harm,” “Dracula,” “Golden Boy,” “Hannibal,” “The Michael J. Fox Show,” “Nashville,” “Revolution,” Sean Saves the World,” “Splash” and “Super Fun Night.”

“Revolution” unfortunately evolved from an intriguing concept into a soap opera mess. The cast deserved much better.

Purists may disagree, but the ratings success of the colorized “I Love Lucy” Christmas special this month could be a good thing. While it may be disrespectful to tamper with films where black-and-white hues are integral to the storytelling, there’s little harm in attempting to reach new audiences by colorizing ancient TV episodes which were filmed in black-and-white primarily because television was a black-and-white medium. I think of a few exceptions (“Twilight Zone”) but, for the most part, if a little color can introduce new audiences to Lucy, Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith, go for it.

Congratulations are in order for Kelly Clarkson, who may well have recorded the first new Christmas standard (“Underneath the Tree”) since Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Canon” in 1998. Still, as with all new Christmas songs, it will take years, if not decades, to determine the tune’s durability. Wendy and Carnie Wilson’s “Hey Santa” was heralded as the next big holiday tune in 1993, but 20 years later, it’s all but disappeared from radio.

More than ever this year, companies are plucking current music for their television commercials. So were the composers of “Roar,” “Brave,” “Applause” and “Counting Stars” writing with double-dipping in mind? Stevie Wonder (“I Just Called to Say I Love You”) is no doubt smiling.

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