Wednesday, I attended an all-day event focusing on the current state of television and its future at Syracuse University. The symposium was dedicated to Fred Silverman, the only person ever to have run programming at all three original television networks — ABC, CBS and NBC.
In one session, Silverman was interviewed by Steve Kroft, a longtime correspondent for 60 Minutes and fellow SU alumni. The event kicked off with a montage of programming that Silverman helped develop including MASH, Hill Street Blues, Roots, All in the Family, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, just to name a few.
Fred Silverman obviously has a great deal of insight when it comes to network television and how it can survive against cable, the internet, and the new on-demand mentality that dominates today’s media consumption.
During the interview with Kroft, Silverman was not afraid to talk about what he thought the networks were doing wrong and what he thought they should do to correct it.
“I think the big problem is people keep picking the wrong shows; they keep developing the wrong shows. People aren’t taking a chance. If you want to make a hit, you have to take a chance,” he said. Silverman went on to explain why he thought this was the case, saying the two major impediments facing the networks today are their obvious economic struggles and the fact that they are all part of conglomerates, “there is no longer a personal touch on
the part of management”.
When asked what he would do to remedy these problem, Silvermansuggested, “There should be an active effort to put shows on that reflect the world we live in.” He felt that the current network programming lacked a personal connection for the viewer.
He had some dire predictions for the networks if they don’t make a change, saying that if they aren’t careful “they will just be one of the guys.” He also predicts they will be creating much less original programming, only about 5-10 hours a week, and the rest of the schedule will be filled with local programming and syndicated shows. He pointed to the Jay Leno’s move to 10 p.m. as the first step toward this new format.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Silverman felt there was limitless potential on the internet, suggesting that eventually, the best TV programming will be produced online. He also said that within the next five years there will be one piece of equipment that we will use for TV and internet, kind of a TV/computer hybrid which will allow people to watch internet content in a more comfortable setting, like they do TV shows today.
It will be interesting to see if any of Silverman’s predictions come to fruition. He made several valid points and it would seem if anyone was qualified to speculate about the future of television, it is Fred Silverman.
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