Broadcast schedules are two dimensional, there is a time slot and a desired demographic, which has conspired to make broadcast networks rather uninteresting destinations for good TV. The 22 minute sitcom format is dead while dramatic series are rarely given the time necessary for characters to develop.
It’s often forgotten that the venerable Law & Order series struggled in the early seasons (CBS originally ordered the pilot but rejected it, sending it to NBC where it now generates approximately $1b a year in revenue) but as we enter the 20th Law & Order season one has to wonder if it could be done again in a network landscape best described as hyper attention deficit disordered.
Case in point is a well reviewed series called Southland that NBC ordered with the intention of airing but later changed their mind, canceling production after 6 episodes had already been produced.
The network has six produced episodes, which were originally scheduled to begin airing on Fridays starting Oct. 23. Instead NBC has shut down production on “Southland” and plans to keep “Dateline” in the slot.
[From NBC cancels 'Southland' before its premiere--The Live Feed | THR]
This is exactly the kind of content that should be finding it’s way onto Hulu and iTunes. Online distribution is not bound by scheduling considerations and on the web every minute is prime time. This would suggest that given the right merchandising and promotion capabilities (think Amazon meets TV), Hulu could dramatically reshape the way we watch television because the original content we could be watching wouldn’t even make it to television.
This is highly speculative given that Hulu doesn’t yet have a subscription or micropayment mechanism and substantial quality of experience issues persist, yet it’s still exciting to consider. We’ve been promised “500 channels” of content for many years but when you end up with 500 channels of crap year over year you end up feeling a little jaded about the prospects, so perhaps the expansion of the web as a primary distribution vehicle for entertainment content could bring about positive change, but having said that it will take broadcast networks abandoning their long held reflexive view that the web is an extension of what they offer in broadcast form.