Is good TV bad for basic cable?

For 50 years, TV drama was “episodic.” Sure things changed but you didn’t need to know what happened last week to enjoy this week. All of a sudden, in the wake of complex dramas like The Sopranos and 24 TV changed dramatically. Dramas turned into well-made soap operas and you really did need to follow what went on. This was most obviously demonstrated by the most complex drama of the decade (possibly the most complex drama of any decade, Lost.

So began the era of “good TV” or as some have called it, the new golden age of television. Unfortunately not everyone is good with gold, apparently. There’s evidence that today’s serialized dramas, with their complex storylines and deep character development, aren’t terribly good in syndication. The Los Angeles Times even reports that Hallmark Channel, which is known for reruns of recent dramas, benched The Good Wife because of its poor performance and replaced it with The Waltons.

What’s going on here? Channels like Hallmark and Lifetime and even local non-network broadcasters rely on a steady diet of recent programming to keep the doors open, but apparently it turns out that “good TV” doesn’t fit the bill for them. These deep dramas may work great for Netflix, but that leaves their future on broadcast TV in question.

The theory is that people want comfortable, brainless entertainment from channels like these. They don’t want to remember where they are in the story, they just want to browse, enjoy and leave satisfied. It’s too hard to remember if Desmond is still stuck in the shelter or exactly who Minkowski is again. If they want to focus on a show, they’ll bingewatch, but these channels are more for people who want to browse.

It makes sense too that the average viewer for channels like Lifetime and Hallmark is older than than of a broadcast network… because older viewers are more focused on “comfort-food” tv than character-heavy drama. It’s just how they remember television being for most of their lives.

It’s hard to know where these “basic cable” channels will go if they won’t have a reliable source of hour-long dramas, but hey… there was a time that AMC was at a crossroads like this, with no good program source and look at them now!