A Love Letter To Network TV In An Age of Streaming & Cable
I’ll just go ahead and say it: I love network TV.
I know, I know. Say what you will. Go ahead, I can take it. But before you dig your heels in for a fight, let me explain why my love for network television is still going strong…
I grew up on network TV. For whatever reason, the big five networks were the channels we gravitated toward in my house. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX — those were our bread and butter. The first show I binged (before binging was a word used to describe watching TV) was “Charmed.” There were eight seasons (178 episodes!) of kickass, demon-banishing storylines about the Halliwell sisters, and I ate them up.
That’s the best thing about network TV, after all. There’s so damn much of it.
While Netflix continues a trend of cancelling its best shows after three seasons, network TV rallies on. Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” is still going strong into 15 seasons. “NCIS” is in its 16th, “Supernatural” has lasted 14, and “Law & Order: SVU” was renewed for a record-breaking 21stseason in March 2019. “Friends” ran for 10 seasons, “The Big Bang Theory” is taking its final bow this year after 12, and oft-watched “The Office” features nine.
The sheer amount of network TV should be reason enough to love it, but if you need more, look to the quality characters. Network TV shows that run for so long do so because they feature lovable characters that audiences want to spend time with every week, year after year.
You’re kidding yourself if you think people tune in to watch “Law & Order: SVU” because they want to see the next compelling case. No! They care about Olivia Benson. They’ve struggled with her, triumphed with her. Same with “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Modern Family,” “Arrow,” “New Girl,” “Castle,” “Parks & Rec,” and “Criminal Minds.” Network TV consistently creates characters that audiences care about so much they’ll follow along no matter what.
And because shows coming from the likes of Netflix, HBO, and Amazon are so good, network TV had to get better too, which means there’s an incredible amount of creativity happening in network television right now.
“Jane the Virgin” leans into telenovela tropes while also being one of the most heartfelt shows on air. “The Good Place” features some of the most innovative writing out there right now, and it’s a traditional, single-cam comedy. “Once Upon A Time” turned the fairy-tale world upside down over and over again, while “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” somehow figured out how to simultaneously embrace the rom-com genre, and go against it completely. Shonda Rhimes invented “must-tweet TV” with “Scandal” and Dan Fogelman’s emotional “This Is Us” continues to tread emotional ground not covered anywhere else.
Network television writers are the true MVPs. Every year they’re faced with writing seasons that can range from 15 to 23 episodes — and all of those episodes have multiple storylines! That’s impressive even before you consider that cable and streaming seasons rarely surpass 10 episodes.
I may keep up with television across the board — including those shows on cable and streaming — but I’ll never completely turn away from the Big Five networks. Because even though many viewers are too caught up in the battle for some uncomfortable throne of swords to notice, network TV is alive and thriving.
So suck it streaming. Network TV, you have my heart.
Big Five Believer