Tuned In

Will the Last Person to Watch a Broadcast Network Please Turn Off the Set?

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Why, you wonder, is NBC turning over a third of its weeknight programming to Jay Leno? There are specific reasons having to do with the in-the-toiletness of NBC at present, but there are also, as they say, systemic causes. Namely, no one is watching broadcast-network TV. 

Well, not no one. But a new study has found viewership sharply down for the big networks this season, even as it has risen for cable. (The study, I must note, come from Turner Networks, which is part of Time Warner like Time magazine is, and which has an interest in pointing out good news for cable networks.)

How bad is it? Only eight of 66 returning shows have gained viewers. And five of them are on CBS, where, to be fair, a good chunk of the viewership is still tuned to the network because that was what happened to be on the TV when they died. 

The upshot, as I’ve said before: the broadcast networks are now simply large cable networks. Whether giving a show to Jay Leno specifically is a good idea is one thing. But the larger point is that inevitably, the networks need to program more like cable channels, with more targeted spending on their scripted series. 

One big driver of the rise in cable viewing, apparently: the news networks, and thus, the election. For the good of the TV industry, Barack Obama needs to run for re-election in 2009.