Will broadcast television survive COVID-19?
That question was raised early in this perpetual lockdown.
Time was one of those who go the party started with an article titled "What Will TV Look Like After the Pandemic?"
There's no doubt that broadcast nets are suffering. They've been scraping by for years.
While some scripted shows always seem to gather an audidence, such as the franchises like NCIS, One Chicago, and 9-1-1, or heavy hitters like This Is Us and Grey's Anatomy, broadcast has leaned heavily on unscripted content, and that's what gets the ratings.
For a site like ours, that's stuttering, at best. We don't cover unscripted in any depth because there isn't an audience for it, at least not that we've cultivated.
But it's The Masked Singer, The Voice, and America's Got Talent that top the annual ratings lists across the board. Somehow, they're almost unstoppable. They also managed to get it together early in the lockdown to keep viewers entertained.
While other shows came screeching to a halt, The Voice continued their live shows through the end of their season, and America's Got Talent entertained with new episodes during the dog days of summer.
Cable, which many thought was on it's last breath, saw impressive ratings on Paramount with Yellowstone, but other high profile offerings like The Alienist: Angel of Darkness and NOS4A2 didn't soar quite as high. The former was a limited series, and the latter has been subsequently canceled.
Heck, even Yellowstone's success didn't save Paramount's other series, scripted or unscripted. Paramount announced significant changes in which the only ongoing series to survive was Yellowstone, and now we don't even know how it will be airing after the dust settles.
And if you thought that being on a streamer was enough to guarantee success, buzzy and eagerly awaited Amazon series, The Boys, decided to try a weekly rollout for its sophomore season, and the result was that fanboys decided to arbitrarily tank reviews with their unsatisfaction.
Will Hulu find pushback after COVID? Maybe it's not only the broadcast nets that will suffer. We just don't know.
With the number of streamers emerging and the siphoning of shows into brand-specific silos, we'll be less likely to see what our friends see than ever before.
Still, with the craziness of 2020, you'd think that audiences would be eager for a little normalcy.
Unfortunately, for broadcast networks, normal means imports that aired previously in other countries and new fare that was previously earmarked for summer.
With the way broadcast nets have aired summer programming in recent years, that's obviously not exciting to viewers. It seems like content that is benched during fall and winter for, well, reasons, proliferates summer, so people aren't clamoring even to first-run, second-seed content on their beloved networks.
The same network that brings you This Is Us, NBC, isn't having a lot of luck with Canadian import, Transplant.
Filthy Rich, a soap opera helmed by fan-favorite Kim Cattrall struggled out of the gate this week. By contrast, when she and the cast were greeted this spring at the SCAD aTVfest, they were the belles of the ball.
What a difference a few months makes. Light, summer viewing is lauded, while tossing it to fall, not so much.
Early results suggest the pandemic-proof programming idea to be a failure. Sure, we're still early in the fall schedule, such that it is, but it's not looking good for the kind of content we're used to watching and covering. Sports and unscripted might be all that survives.
Living without the linear broadcast networks these past months has ensured that people are even more snuggled into their new, cozy relationships with their favorite streamers.
The series we mentioned earlier still seem to command eyeballs, even if only when it comes to news. Whether the same people reading about casting moves and production delays will watch as their former favorite shows begin trickling in again is anybody's guess.
But what does it say when today, CBS made a one-year deal to air two of their favorites, EVIL and Unicorn, on Netflix? The power of streaming has helped good shows find audiences in the past, with Riverdale and Good Girls reaping rewards.
Heck All American became a bone fide hit on The CW after airing on Netflix, when very few people tuned into the freshman season. Once upon a time, quality content airing on broadcast DID make hits. But so much about our world has changed, and TV as we knew it suffers, as well.
After this year, guessing isn't worth the gamble anymore. What was once a crapshoot is a worse bet now. Maybe a spin of the roulette wheel or a pull of the slots lever. Yikes.
Yes, 2020 is unprecedented, but the demise of broadcast really isn't. You've been ushering in the end of that era every time you choose to wait until a show is renewed or for it to land on a streaming network to watch.
It's true. Every time you decide not to watch something on broadcast, it's another nail in the coffin for scripted content the likes you have grown to love. It's like comfort food; you don't always want to eat it, but when you want it, it's nice to know that it's there.
But as long as people keep tuning out, TV, once a unifying factor that gave disparate people something to talk about because of their shared viewing habits, might never look the same.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.