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Silly Season: The Harsh Reality of Summer

0915 rizzoli
Proving that it’s more than just a medium through which to request that The Hollywood Reporter "get the fuck out of" one's face, Deadline.com last week posted a pretty insightful short piece on how summer broadcast TV is all about crappy reality shows now and why that sucks. The gist of it is that the networks used to experiment with new reality formats during the summer but haven’t for the last few years, and that now tired old reality shows are getting their butts kicked by solid scripted cable programming, such as TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles” and “The Closer.” (Clearly, we mean “solid” from a business standpoint, not an artistic one.)

That would, on the surface, appear to be good news for actors. But before reality ruled summer on the networks, the season was a breeding ground for successful scripted programming. “ ‘Seinfeld’’s original run was in the summer,” Nellie Andreeva wrote at Deadline. “And Fox’s ‘The O.C.’ too launched in the summer, the last scripted broadcast series to successfully do so. From then on, it’s been all cable, with such signature series as USA’s ‘Burn Notice,’ TNT’s ‘The Closer,’ and AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ all launching in the off-season.”

“The O.C.,” by the way, premiered in 2003. That’s eight years without a new prime-time scripted broadcast series taking flight in fall.

The rise of reality programming over scripted was cemented in 2009, when NBC ceded its 10 p.m. time slot five nights a week to Jay Leno. That move proved such a failure that many of the people responsible for it lost their jobs. But the ensuing return of Leno to the 11:30 p.m. time slot from whence he came did not start a swing back in the direction of scripted programming. If anything, reality TV, with its lower overhead costs and bigger ratings, is even more important to networks now than it was before—as the jettisoning of daytime dramas the last two years demonstrates.

The silver lining is cable, where scripted drama and comedy have flourished, both in the ratings and with critics. But even though audiences no longer distinguish much between a cable show and a broadcast show, union contracts still do. If the pendulum does swing back in the other direction next summer and scripted programming can make a comeback, however small, actors would certainly benefit.

Pictured: the cast of TNT's “Rizzoli & Isles”

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