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Dork Age: Television Networks
Sometimes, problems with a hit show or a collection of them can throw an entire television network into a rough patch. A poorly-thought out case of Network Decay
can also trigger this.
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- NBC has gone through two of these in its history.
- The first one was during Fred Silverman's tenure as president and CEO, 1978–81. Hot off of his success turning ABC into a titan in 1975–78, NBC brought him on hoping that lightning would strike twice. What they got instead was a slew of gimmicky shows that were often canceled after only a season, with failures like Supertrain and Pink Lady And Jeff being among the most notorious. The former hit Saturday Night Live went through its first Dork Age during the 1980-81 season, and was nearly canceled after the F-bomb dropped on the Charlene Tilton episode. Morale at the network crumbled with each passing year spent in a distant third behind ABC and CBS; Al Franken ran the famous "Limo for the Lame-O" sketch on SNL skewering Silverman's handling of the network (which led to Franken getting sacked and, with it, the aforementioned Dork Age the following season), while the production studio and singers responsible for NBC's "We're Proud as a Peacock!" campaign song recorded a hilarious parody version mocking Silverman.
The final straw came when the US Olympic team boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a result of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, resulting in an Eastern Bloc-dominated affair that few Americans were interested in watching — very bad news for the network that had bet the farm on Olympic programming that year to turn its fortunes around. Between that and the financial troubles of NBC's corporate owners, the electronics company RCA, it was speculated that the network would be shut down or sold off in a matter of years in order to prevent RCA from going bankrupt.
Fortunately for NBC, in 1981 they ousted Silverman and brought in Grant Tinker (co-founder of MTM Enterprises) as the new chairman and CEO, and put Brandon Tartikoff in charge of programming duties. Together, despite a few false starts, Tinker and Tartikoff oversaw the beginning of a golden age for NBC that would last for nearly two decades, with the network dominating the ratings and, in particular, being responsible for many of the great American sitcoms of The Eighties and The Nineties.
- Alas, those two decades eventually came to an end. Tartikoff died unexpectedly in 1997, but many of the hit shows he greenlit continued for years after. Following the end of Frasier and Friends, two of the network's last big sitcom hits, in 2004, NBC slipped from first to fourth as its new shows either failed to catch on or experienced Second Season Downfalls, and most of its attempts to make a reality TV hit like Survivor or American Idol turned out to be failures. Its Thursday night comedy block was one of its few points of consistent acclaim, and even then, shows like Community and 30 Rock struggled in the ratings.
The low point came in the 2009-10 season, when the Vancouver Winter Olympics proved themselves to be a $250 million money pit for the network, and the failure of The Jay Leno Show left huge holes across a third of the network's Prime Time schedule and caused a "Late Night War" between Leno and Conan O'Brien that left TV fans with a lot of ill will against NBC's executives. Time will tell if the ouster of unpopular CEO Jeff Zucker in late 2010 will see the network get turned around, though things seem to be looking up; The Voice is a smash hit, and the network edged out ABC for third place at the end of the 2011-12 season.
- CBS went through a bad decade in The Nineties. For much of The Eighties, its shows had skewed much older than its competitors ABC, NBC, and (starting in 1987) Fox – meaning that, while it was pulling in huge ratings from seniors and retirees with shows like Dallas and Murder, She Wrote, it wasn't hitting the lucrative 18-49 demographic that advertisers crave.note This earned it the nickname "the network of the living dead", and by the early '90s they were relying on their weekend sports coverage to stay in the black.
You can guess how that went. In 1993, after CBS had already lost broadcast rights to NBA and MLB, Fox signed a contract with the NFL that gave them the exclusive rights to air NFC games, a move that firmly established Fox as America's fourth network but utterly devastated CBS. A common joke claimed that CBS stood for "Can't Broadcast Sports". This was followed by Fox's plundering of CBS' sportscasters and, in 1994, through a contract with New World Communications and its merger with Argyle Television, poaching CBS affiliates in such key markets as Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Detroit,note forcing CBS to move to lower-tier UHF stations in those and other cities.note CBS would start to recover in 2000 with the debut of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Survivor, its first mega-hits in a long while, and since then it's caught back up to Fox for the #1 spot on the Nielsen charts.
- ABC went through a Dork Age of its own from 2000-2004, when many new shows didn't draw much in the ratings. The beginning of this was when the network gave Wolverine Publicity to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? for the 2000-01 season, saturating the schedule by airing the game show in prime time as many as five nights a week. In addition, Michael Eisner, then CEO of parent company Disney, turned down Jerry Bruckheimer's pitch for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which instead became a hit for CBS (see above), and many of the new shows that debuted on ABC in that period were hardly successful in terms of ratings. The network almost went bankrupt in this period, ultimately being spared after the debuts of LOST, Desperate Housewives, and Grey's Anatomy which boosted the network's ratings for the 2004-05 season.
- It has been said that ABC really needed those shows to succeed not just because of their precarious position at the time, but because, if they failed, there would have been no end to the jokes about the network being "lost" and "desperate".
- That painful time when Cartoon Network attempted to put more emphasis on live action programming.
- Not even Toonami was immune to the Dork Age. The TOM 4 era was hated by a lot of fans for the TOM's redesign, and for things like the Absolution and SARA being dropped without any indication of a reason. The general screwing of multiple shows reducing the block to nothing but reruns and Naruto led many to suspect Executive Meddling, especially given that this happened in 2007, after the Mooninite bomb scare in Boston and the resulting management shake-ups at Cartoon Network. Of course, then the block got taken off, and people mourned its passing, no matter what they'd thought about the retool... But when Toonami came back, it was with an updated version of the previous, well-liked TOM 3, with the Absolution back in space, and with no mention of the last few years of the original run.
- Long-time fans consider MTV to be in a permanent Dork Age since its de-emphasis on music videos in favor of reality TV (which has been going on for so long that there is now an entire generation of teenagers who have never considered MTV a "music" channel).
- A lot of sports fans consider ESPN to be in one now, especially with its flagship program SportsCenter. The sports news show rose to great popularity in The Nineties due to its charismatic anchors that could deliver scores and highlights with a touch of witty banter. More recently though, the show seems to be more focused on trumpeting its hosts over the games they're supposed to be reporting on through endless "analysis" segments that last way too long for many viewers. What's more, the Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smiths they have on now come off as too egotistical and annoying in the eyes of many.
- Nickelodeon's going through this right now, and has been since at least 2009. Over half of the channel's timeslots are filled with reruns of Spongebob Square Pants. They put out poorly-made live-action shows that make the Disney Channel (see below) look like a bastion of quality programming – though most agree that Series/iCarly at least was good. They gave Fred three poorly-received movies and a show that didn't even get a second season. They regularly reject quality pilots from talented creators, including turning down the chance to make Adventure Time into a full series. They have cancelled or ignored other good shows they have, yet gave multiple seasons to Fanboy and Chum Chum and Sanjay And Craig. And they now trawl YouTube for show ideas, like Breadwinners.
- Exemplified with their treatment of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original show was a phenomenon, raking in views across all demographic groups and bringing in rave reviews and huge ratings for the network, to the point where they planned a Movie Adaptation for a show less than a decade old (though the less said about that, the better). So how many episodes did Nickelodeon order for its sequel series Legend Of Korra initially? Twelve. Then, after the show proved to be successful, they ordered three more seasons... and proceeded to delay it time and time again until September 2013. And now they're booting it from the network entirely to make it internet only.
- Incidentally, this is also the point where they replaced their traditional iconic orange logo that could take any shape imaginable, with a generic "professional"-looking one.
- The Disney Channel (and perhaps the company as a whole too) went through one of these for the better half of a decade, generally agreed to have begun with the premiere of Hannah Montana (which coincides with the end of Kim Possible) and to have concluded with the premiere of Gravity Falls. During this period, they shoved animation to the side in favor of cheap, mediocre, tween-oriented sitcoms and TV movies that acted as little more than vehicles for whatever pop-star they were trying to bring into the limelight. They hardly even used their own mascots anymore! Fortunately, starting in 2010, they began to go back to their roots by creating brand-new, well-received animated shows while also making new shorts starring Mickey.note
- GSN (Game Show Network) went through this in 1997-98, when they temporarily lost the rights to nearly all Mark Goodson-Bill Todman game shows. While this did have the benefit of adding a whole slew of lesser-known shows, it also brought several critically-panned original shows (the nadir being Faux Pause, which was a horribly unfunny MSTing of obscure game shows). The 1997-98 era earned the Fan Nickname "Dark Period". By 2000, they had regained most of the Goodson-Todman library, but lost the rights to popular The Price Is Right reruns. In 2004, the network rebranded from "Game Show Network" to GSN, seemingly to move the phrase "game show" out of the way and allow for more reality shows and casino-based programming. Since then, the network's lineup has been in a near-constant state of flux, so whether or not it is still in a Dork Age is ultimately up to the individual viewer.
- CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has one of these every five years or so, always as a result of network/government bigwigs trying to draw in new audiences by making it more "relevant". This naturally turns-off long term fans (who watched CBC precisely because it doesn't typically trade in Lowest Common Denominator fare), while "mainstream" audiences get their entertainment from CTV and Global.
- ITV suffered a major Dork Age in the mid 2000s. After its attempt to launch a TV broadcasting service collapsed it seemed to completely lose its bottle. Once a channel known for its dramas, gameshows and current events, it slowly decayed into a channel associated with awful reality TV featuring z-list celebrities. This killed off its loyal older fans, and some disastrous attempts to capture the youth market showed it up as a poor attempt to imitate the much more successful Channel 4. This peaked when the channel that had once rivaled the BBC was reduced to broadcasting late night phone-in game shows associated with the filler channels. After years of failing, its only just managed to turn things around. The insanely successful X-Factor finally caught the younger market, and series of high quality dramas including Downton Abbey drew back its older fanbase.
- The BBC was not above a Dork Age either. The late 70s to the early 80s were a tough time in Britain, and the BBC suffered too. Its reputation as a trusted news source was shaken with some blatant pandering to the current governments. Its budgets were getting tighter, with Doctor Who suffering its worst production and ratings in its history. Its output was also seen as stale and safe compared to the edgier ITV. At a time when its directors were seriously concerned that any signs of over spending or not appeasing the highly conservative government might get the channel privatized, its not that surprising.
- The channel RTL once aired its own fictional programming like a line of Sitcoms and was the first to air many summer blockbusters. Nowadays the only true fictional programming is the blockbuster on Sunday, US crime shows on Tuesday and Thursday and one or two self produced shows. All other shows they air are "news" programs covering what celebrities currently do, game, casting and other reality shows as well as scripted anthology shows in a documentary style chronicling what white trash families are doing.
- RTL II's focus on children programming like anime gradually shifted over the years to reality shows and scripted soap operas in the vain of Jersey Shore. The daily kid shows were booted to a timeslot on sunday morning and now even this slot is going to be cancelled and replaced with rom-com films.