Changed Channels: 2011 to 2013

All My ChildrenOn January 5, 1070, the ABC Television Network debuted a new half-hour soap opera series called All My Children. After seven years, the series was sufficiently popular to win an hour-long time slot. It remained on the air until September 23, 2011, cancelled due to changing audience and lifestyle behaviors.

On April 29, 2013, All My Children returns, with stories and many original cast members intact, five days a week, in its original half-hour form, but the series will not be seen on broadcast television. Instead, the series will be shown on Hulu’s website and on iTunes (if you want to watch on a tablet or phone, you must subscribe to Hulu Plus). One further inducement: in addition to All My Children, another long-time ABC daytime staple, One Life to Live, is also returning.

Taken as an isolated incident, the return of soap operas (or, politely, daytime dramas) is interesting news for the advertising and television industries. It’s not an isolated incident. Somehow, sometime between 2011 and 2013, something happened.

In my house, we occasionally watch a network television series at the time that it is being broadcast, but this is no longer routine behavior. Instead, we DVR anything we want to watch. The ease of simply pressing a button to record a program–a button that may be remotely operated by smartphone or tablet–turns out to be a radically new idea, different in both utility and convenience when compared with, say, VHS tapes. Alone, this convenience did not shift our behavior. Video-on-demand is also an interesting idea, but we have not used it as often as we thought we would. So that’s not the big shift.

Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld eating corned beef sandwiches at Carl's place.

Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld eating corned beef sandwiches in Carl’s living room.

Turns out, the big shift is the apps that are now on my TV, computer, iPad and iPhone. At first, I didn’t really understand the importance of the software. For me, HBO GO was the tipping point. The network offered not only current programs, but complete collections of all of their popular series, essentially for free to anyone subscribing to their cable service. Showtime has done the same with its Showtime Anytime app. Between HBO and Showtime, I have access to enough original programming to keep me busy for a decade. Still, the overall composition of our family’s media diet didn’t change as much as I thought it would. Then again, that was only 2012. By 2013, the shift occurred. The tipping point was a new TV set and one app in particular: Amazon Prime. Why this one? Well, it was kinda-sorta free: we buy enough books to justify the $75 annual “free shipping” charge; with this package, Amazon Prime comes as a bonus. We started by catching up on a whole lotta Twilight Zone episodes, then switched to Arrested Development. When we feel like “just watching TV,” we watch three or four Arrested Development episodes. And if we’re more ambitious, we choose a movie. Or, we fill-in with Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee via the Crackle app (two of the best episodes: the one with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, and the one with Ricky Gervais). I haven’t yet seen Crackle’s popular thriller series, Chosen starring Milo (Heroes) Ventimiglia. We haven’t yet bothered with Hulu and we’ve just signed on to Netflix, whose selection of online movies is  embarrassing and not worth the money.

House of CardsWe are not, however, subscribing to Netflix for the movies. Instead, we’re watching its well-publicized entry into the world of high-end television drama: House of Cards with Kevin Spacey. We don’t have much interest in Netflix’s next series, Hemlock Grove, which begins on April 19, because we’re too busy watching West Wing reruns to bother with a werewolf thriller. Netflix has announced a pilot with WGBH for a new children’s series, and will launch its first animated children’s series, made by Dreamworks, based upon its motion picture, Turbo: F.A.S.T. Also from Netflix: a new Ricky Gervais comedy series called Derek seen on TV in the UK on their Channel 4, but here in the U.S., it’s not on TV, it’s on Netflix.

We may, however, sign up for Hulu+, in part because (guilty pleasure) I used to watch All My Children, but mostly because the app/channel (not sure what we’re supposed to call these “not-quite-networks”) is launching four new series, including a promising comedy spoof from the funny Seth (SNL) Meyers, The Awesomes.

On YouTube, you can watch more than forty original episodes of H+ The Digital SeriesThe first episodes ran in August. It’s a sci-fi thriller. Battlestar Gallactica: Blood & Chrome is the prequel to the cult-fave TV series seen on both YouTube and SyFy.

A scene from Tom Hanks' elaborate new Yahoo! Screen animated post-apocalyptic series, Electric City.

A scene from Tom Hanks’ elaborate new Yahoo! Screen animated post-apocalyptic series, Electric City.

On AOL On, On Yahoo! Screen, there’s a spoof of dating reality shows called Burning Lovebut the big news from this online channel is a new Tom Hanks project called Electric City. I’ve been having fun watching Video Game High School, which crosses reality and the cyber world.

Traditional television networks are trying their hand, too. FOX is debuting Short-Com Comedy Hour this summer.

More is on the way. And, I suspect, much of it will be better than average network fare for two reasons. First, creative decisions are being controlled by a smaller executive committee, and producers are being allowed more freedom (that will change, but for now, it’s worth savoring). Second, there’s a lot of talk about “the HBO Model” which assigns greater value to the quality of the property than to a third party relationship (in a typical network’s situation, every decision is affected by the opinion of the sponsor, and again, for this brief shining moment, the focus is on the creative work and not on the needs of the sponsors).

2013. The year that everything changed.

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