Yet broadcasters are hurt by the pervading sense that, on a regular basis, cable is now the first choice for quality. That’s reinforced at awards shows: Except for Maggie Smith’s supporting actress award for ‘‘Downton Abbey,’’ broadcasters were shut out at this year’s Golden Globes. The last broadcast program to win the Emmy for best drama was Fox’s ‘‘24’’ in 2006.
Veteran TV critic David Bianculli said he often records several episodes of new broadcast dramas, waiting to see if it looks like the show will stick around before wading in, even though ‘‘I hate feeling that way.’’
‘‘Broadcast television has incrementally but increasingly insulted the intelligence of the audience,’’ said Bianculli, editor of the TV Worth Watching website and a teacher of film and TV at Rowan University. Cable shows ‘‘are getting smarter and more complex all the time.’’
In seeking the best creative minds, broadcast networks have always had the advantage of reach: No cable show gets the nearly 20 million viewers that ‘‘NCIS’’ draws for each new episode. Many cable networks would have been delighted with the ‘‘Zero Hour’’ audience that ABC found wanting. Those distinctions may be slowly breaking down, too: Only four broadcast dramas had more viewers than AMC’s ‘‘The Walking Dead’’ two weeks ago, and the horror show often wins among younger viewers.
Don’t think Fox executives didn’t notice that successful series when they gave the go-ahead to ‘‘The Following,’’ or NBC with its upcoming drama on Hannibal Lecter.
Broadcasters are in the midst of their annual rite of spring, reviewing pilots to determine which will become series over the next year, an exercise with the same hope of crocuses pushing through a layer of snow.
They only hope that television viewers will notice their work.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org or on Twitter (at)dbauder.