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Barry Levinson urges TV to take back Saturday night

by Allison Waldman, posted Oct 28th 2009 10:00AM
Barry_Levinson_PBSFor the longest time, I've kvetched about the fact that the television industry has stopped programming for Saturday night. For years, Saturday was a great night of television. I remember M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, not to mention guilty pleasures like The Facts of Life and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Even NBC's thrillogy, The Pretender and Profiler were fun. All those shows were Saturday night hits (some bigger than others).

Well, I'm not alone in missing Saturday TV; Oscar-winner Barry Levinson feels the same. Levinson is also a TV producer -- he did Homicide: Life on the Street and The Philanthropist -- and he thinks the networks are making a big mistake by not seizing on Saturday primetime. He knows the business pretty well and he's confused by the networks' strategy.

"I don't think the answer is to retreat," he told the New York Daily News. "When you give up Saturday night, you open the door for people to go somewhere else. Basically, they're shrinking their own audience."

You said it, Barry. That's what I've been thinking for years. When I'm home on a Saturday night , I'm watching my DVR for shows from earlier in the week or renting a DVD. I don't watch live television unless there's sports, like this week when the World Series game is on.

The networks, of course, have claimed that money is the issue. It's too expensive to create original programming for one more night of the week. So, instead of cultivating the audience from that night, they choose to ignore that there's any audience there at all.

If you ask me, one network is going to break free from the unwritten pact and take back Saturday night. CBS could do it, and would be the most likely because it skews to an older demographic. Presumably, if you're over 50, you're at home on Saturday nights.

According to Nielsen, there are 101.1 million viewers in prime time on Saturdays -- across the entire demographic range. It's a smaller number of viewers than the other nights of the week, but it's still a lot of households. Like Levinson said, "You have a massive audience, they're available and they can't find anything to watch."

So, I ask you, if the networks were to go back to offering original shows on Saturday night, would you watch?

[To see The Philanthropist, go to SlashControl.]

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Karen

I agree! Especially with a show like The Pretender. Bring it back!

October 29 2009 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy_MO

The network excuse of money is a lot of crap. What they really mean is their slavish need to only create programming for the 18-49 group trumps anything else (of course, that does relate back to money since advertising are even more slavish about the 18-49 group). Saturday used to be a night a great television. A lot of it family oriented, some of it adult oriented. In addition to the shows already mentioned others like The Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote were top 10 hits right to the end.

The oldKevin Costner movie comes to mind, "Build it, and they will come." Saturday should be a no-brainer for family entertainment. If there's one group advertisers love more than the 18-49 group, it's the 'tweens. Networks have just become lazy. It won't be long before original programming will only be on Sunday through Thursday. Friday is nearly a wasteland for all networks with the exception of CBS, which has found moderate success with Ghost Whisperer, Medium, and Numbers. Dollhouse may be an interesting series but Syfy is beating them on a regular basis. Smallville and Ugly Betty are barely present. I'm surprised Fox hasn't given the night back to their affiliates.

October 28 2009 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kristen

My weekend is during the week, so for me and several other like me in the retail industry, we come home on Saturdays after a long work day and watch TV. I'd love original programming on Saturday nights again.

October 28 2009 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gottacook

Part of what "mdk" says above makes no sense: Levinson is not talking about "artistic vision" but about the networks' failure to make good business decisions. And the "bean counters" have always had the real power in network TV (as is also true at GM, etc.) and aren't a recent phenomenon at all. Even so, I agree that traditional broadcast TV may be as antiquated as newspapers soon.

October 28 2009 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mdk

Levinson just doesn't seem to get that there just is no respect for great artistic vision like his in Hollywood anymore. The bean-counters and brain dead marketing people have taken over totally since the corporate sector was ceded total control over the supposedly "public" airwaves back in 1996. Think back and it becomes obvious that is the exact date when TV and began its decade long slide into total mediocrity and irrelevance. If it doesn't maximize corporate profits over the course of a quarter, it's not going to happen. Sorry to bring the doom and gloom Barry, but TV is as dead as newspapers at this point.

October 28 2009 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gina

Yes. They could move some stuff around a break up the problems I have on Tuesdays and Fridays. Too many shows no dvr. There is nothing on tv on saturdays. I usually watch my netflix and play the Sims2.

October 28 2009 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

I'm okay with not having anything to watch on Saturday. As TV-addicted as I am, I recognize that I at least need one day to take a breather from it all. And even then either I go out with friends or watch shows I've recorded from the week or my Netflix DVDs.

October 28 2009 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard

I'd at least DVR the worthy ones. But, as long as they show some good repeaters on Saturday, I'm pretty satisfied. There are a couple of nights that have more worthy TV than I'm able to record.

October 28 2009 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kip

Great points. I wonder what the program would be to really reel people in to get them to watch? Sci fi has done a good job with Friday evening shows but even they don't do anything on Saturday nights. Perhaps it will be a cable channel like USA or FX that leads the way here. I don't see NBC or a major network running this.

October 28 2009 at 11:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kip's comment
Jimmy_MO

Actually, Syfy has had good success with those bad B-movie monster flicks with the poor CGI effects. According to Syfy they draw anywhere from 2 million to 2.5 million on a regular basis for what is essentially poorly-made crap. Imagine what a network could do with something of more quality.

October 28 2009 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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