Question: I've been watching TV for so long, I remember when test patterns were "must-watch TV." Critics fondly reminisce about the golden years, and there were some truly great years. But am I wrong to think that we are now in the platinum age of television? As this past winter season wound down, this DVR viewer was bummed by the thought of a long summer season of reality shows, relieved only by Rescue Me. To my surprise (and here's a plug for TV Guide), I learned about some of the new series that would be flung all over the cable globe: Mad Men, The Bronx Is Burning, Damages, Kill Point (episodes piling up as I try to catch up with other shows) and now I hear buzz about The Company. Add to that So You Think You Can Dance (far superior to American Idol), Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen, and my personal addiction The Daily Show, and I just can't find enough hours to watch. So my question is: Why don't the networks just give up the full season philosophy (usually thrown in with repeats or as Lost tried last year, interspersing it with another series, and just get into the cable mode? Why not just run shorter seasons of shows, but more of them, and give up the fall season/summer season. Just run shows all year long with breaks as often as necessary to keep up the quality. The Sopranos proved fans will wait as long as it takes to get their shows back.
Answer: After what's happened this summer, with so many terrific new and returning cable shows breaking out all over the dial, I'll be surprised if at least one of the networks (maybe ABC, which has mostly bombed with its summer reality junk this year) doesn't step forward next summer and try to introduce some scripted show of actual quality — burning off failures from the season before doesn't count. Thanks for the shout-out, but it's a fact that next year, our Summer Preview issue deserves to be as eagerly awaited as our annual Fall Preview. The shows are that good and that important. But changing the broadcast networks' September-to-May formula is still a long shot for the foreseeable future. Summer is still "time off" for many people, with schools largely in recess and families on vacation, and that (as well as, just as importantly, advertising cycles) determines what's being shown and when. Cable uses this off-season as an opportunity to showcase many of their best projects, but for the networks, it's still a game of mass, and that means airing their big-budget shows when the viewing levels are at their highest. Could the networks benefit by staggering the scheduling pattern of their series? That's already happening where serialized thrillers like 24 and Lost are concerned. I'd expect more of that in the future, as networks continue to try to avoid alienating viewers with long stretches of repeats. But where eventually is all of this heading? I wish I knew.