If you’ve perused the Nielsen ratings the last two weeks you’ve seen TV biggest hits like Greys Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory and The Voice hit new series lows. Every year what’s considered a hit gets smaller. Now, shows that don’t even hit a 1.0 get brought back for another season. As there are more and more services to watch TV and with many younger people not even owning a TV anymore, that’s only going to continue. But broadcast TV can and does still command a big audience, especially with the aforementioned shows. It is time, however, for the broadcast networks to adapt their schedules in order to maximize that their biggest hits are seen by as many as possible. As recently as the 70s most broadcast networks ran their shows uninterrupted through March and ran reruns til September. Then in the 80s as a result of the sweeps periods and making sure their affiliates and O&Os had fresh episodes in May, reruns were padded in early spring and the season ended in May. No problem when there were only 3 networks. But now in addition to having a gazillion TV networks, people watch TV on their own time through their DVR and many just live on Netflix, Hulu and many other streaming services. It seems extremely counter productive to drag out 22-24 eps over 10 months. What ends up happening is that daylight savings time hits and even on the east cost now it’s getting warm and people are outside and the broadcast networks have just spent March and April running many reruns and in turn many TV viewers have forgotten about their favorite shows. All in service of May sweeps. But now it’s May and those last few new episodes are treated as an afterthought and getting ridiculously low numbers. It would behoove the networks to end their season a few weeks earlier. This would accomplish a few things, but mainly, they could run new eps virtually uninterrupted. If a broadcast show makes 22 eps, 9 can air in the fall. After a brief holiday break, they can return in early January for 3 more. 12 consecutive eps starting with February sweeps takes you to the 3rd week in April. By running these eps with no breaks you have a better shot at keeping the viewer engaged and your last few eps seen by way more than will be in May. This is Us ended its season in early March with a high 2.8. Imagine if it was still airing now. Just by surveying the landscape where last week TVs biggest hit TBBT was at number 1 with a 2.0, odds are This is Us would be ending its season with a much lower rating and less buzz than it did in March. Its overall average would be lower which could potentially lead to lower ad rates. Certainly in an industry where perception is a lot, a 2.8 looks better than a 2.0.
As far as what networks could do to satisfy their affiliates for May sweeps, a potentially easy solution might be to just move the summer schedule up a few weeks. America’s Got Talent is a monster hit for NBC. They air it once a year. Why not just extend it by a few more weeks and start it in early May. This also enables them to debut The Voice in late Jan as opposed to late Feb. Pretty much a win/win all around. ABC could debut The Bachelorette in early May, CBS could debut Big Brother at end of May as opposed to end of June, etc.
May could also be the month of big events. Sure the Friends cast has said they’ll never do a revival/reboot, but how about a one time special where they all sit around reminiscing and showing old clips? That’s hardly a big investment/risk and likely to do a whole lot better than most shows are doing now. Probably a lot easier to get the cast to commit to that. Ditto the cast of Seinfeld. Maybe certain shows can return for a very limited run, like a four week return of The West Wing. Maybe May is a good time to air that, after all the regular season shows have ended. How about specials of yesteryear like “Circus of The Stars“? Networks might be able to book big celebrities for a one time special as opposed to a 10 week realty series.
Bottom line: It benefits the broadcast networks in multiple ways to move their clock a little and end the major part of the traditional TV season a month earlier. There are lots of modifications needed in today’s TV climate. This seems like one that could actually be to their advantage.