Editorial: Mission Critical

The NAB Show has expanded well beyond its original broadcast core, this year’s debut of the two-day Online Video Conference being the latest example. Nevertheless, as the show unfolds this week in Las Vegas, it seems an apt moment to assess the state of broadcast programming, that beleaguered species often overlooked in paeans to TV’s “Golden Age.”

At the top of the list, let’s praise Fox’s game-changing smash, Empire, which is not only the year’s breakout success in the ratings but also a milestone for diversity efforts in front of and behind the camera. As with Shonda Rhimes’ “TGIT” lineup on ABC, Empire skews social and live, two key benefits. Sports, the other major bright spot, thrives by emphasizing its DVR-resistant nature. And hey, let’s even give an experiment such as NBC’s much-maligned Peter Pan its due. OK, so it wasn’t Shakespeare in the Park. But would you have preferred another look-alike procedural drama in that time slot? At least a move like Pan shows that some risk-taking remains.

Kudos are deserved in these areas, but the networks also warrant scrutiny for being too rigidly adherent to old models. Pilot season, upfront ad sales, franchising, seasonal cycles—the list goes on of tactics that have worked in the past but are not guaranteed to in the future. So let this year’s NAB Show—and its talk of new tech standards, TV Everywhere adoption and the many ways that content is distributed and consumed—encourage broadcasters to be as adventurous on the programming front as their tech teams and partners are in reimagining the TV screen itself.