It’s time to have an uncomfortable talk about mortality. Television as we know it is in the process of dying a slow, painful death. The “big” networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and The CW) are scrambling to fix their ratings downturn. But it ain’t gonna happen. Today’s viewers are watching sitcoms on their DVRs, their cell phones, their iPads—anything but a creaky old television set. And cable TV is flat-out kicking broadcast television’s ass in the ratings game.
For decades, summertime was the time for TV reruns. If you missed a few episodes of your favorite network sitcom in fall/spring, you could catch them in July. Or you could go out and play Frisbee. But these days—what with the proliferation of new cable TV stations and broadcast networks expending extra effort to create original summertime programming—reruns are hardly the hot topic. September is fast approaching, and summer is almost gone. We’re just weeks away from the debut of the fall 2011 TV season. What better time to ask the question, “What have we been watching all summer?” I’ll give you one big hint: There ain’t a lot of scripts involved.
If you’ve been living in a TV-free cave, you may have missed the fact that Conan O’Brien returned to the late-night airwaves on Monday, Nov. 8. A year ago, Conan was the most high-profile casualty of the Late-Night Ratings War: Round 2. When Jay Leno was promoted to NBC’s prime-time lineup (a move even the most casual of TV viewers knew was boneheaded), O’Brien inherited the sweet 10:30 p.m. “Tonight Show” slot. A few months later, when NBC executives realized their grand plan was tanking, Leno was shipped back to “The Tonight Show.” With nowhere to go (his old “Late Night” slot got taken over by Jimmy Fallon), O’Brien was sent packing.
It’s official: This past Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIV was the most-watched event in television history. Neilsen estimates put 106.5 million sets of eyes on the showdown between New Orleans and Indianapolis. That beats a 27-year-old record of 105.97 million viewers set by the series finale of “M*A*S*H*” back in 1983. That’s fairly impressive. Sure, there were fewer TVs back in 1983; but there were also significantly less viewing options. This year’s record ratings also mark a big improvement over last year’s Super Bowl match-up between Arizona and Pittsburgh. That contest attracted only 98.7 million viewers.