Somewhere, Fred Silverman is grumbling: ABC Programming Executive Paul Lee tells an audience at a conference in Canada that “Smart Is The New Mainstream” For TV.
Lee is probably right, given that networks have little choice these days to up their game, even as viewing habits fracture, with all the implications for both viewers and programmers.
Fred Silverman ruled prime time as the head of programming for ABC and NBC at various times in the 1970s. He somewhat infamously focused on shows that would appeal to the lowest common denominator, a rational strategy in an era where there were three main networks (plus PBS) and few other challengers for a viewer’s attention.
But that time is long past. Lowest common denominator doesn’t work anymore, or only works for the lowest common audiences (see also, the most egregious corners of reality TV).
Meanwhile, in a world of hundreds of channels and many competing entertainment options, being smart about the needs of a particular niche audience is often the only way to find steady success. ABC, facing the end of several durable franchises over the past two years, is having to be very smart indeed to replace them with compelling shows that will find a big enough audience to justify a slot on the still relatively big broadcast networks.
Is Lee right? TV certainly has become a much more vital creative medium over the past decade. Gray matter is the new black. What do you think?