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The Marriage Ref Is the Future of TV. Seriously!

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NBC

OK, not totally seriously. But a tiny bit.

Back when I wrote a cover story about Jay Leno coming to primetime on NBC, the big macro-point was that The Jay Leno Show was a dramatic example of how TV was changing in a time of fragmentation and decline. Big networks, to oversimplify, are becoming more like cable, looking for ways to program cheaply, and concentrating their big, blowout programming spending in a few timeslots. The cover line I suggested, which we ended up using in the inside spread of the print magazine instead, was “Jay Leno Is Shrinking Your TV.”

Now it’s The Marriage Ref‘s turn to shrink your TV.

When affiliates pressured NBC to take Leno out of 10 p.m., you might have thought that NBC would go back to an old-fashioned  strategy, focusing on the kind of primetime dramas that made its reputation in the ’80s. And maybe that is where NBC is going. I don’t know. I don’t think NBC yet knows.

On the other hand, look what NBC refilled its schedule with—Parenthood, yes, but also a bunch of cheap reality hours. And look what NBC has just announced it’s renewing for next season. No, not Parenthood; not Chuck, not yet. Instead: The Marriage Ref, cooking extreme-competition game show Minute to Win It and celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?

I don’t know what NBC’s fall schedule will look like, and it may well end up looking more like an NBC fall schedule from 1998. Or maybe not. While the network’s masterstroke of cutting costs with five nights of the same thing didn’t pan out, the search for cheap hours is not over. And if it happens to be something else that the critics hate—well, that’s just the cherry on the sundae!

In the meantime, anyone want to make the case that I should give The Marriage Ref another chance?

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