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NBC’s Zucker says the future of broadcast TV is…The Ed Sullivan Show?? 3/20/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in NetworkTV.

I know it’s hard for those of you under 50 to believe, but there was a time when the biggest thing that happened in America each week was a live TV show hosted by a quirky, uncharismatic, and unattractive male that offered a variety of family-friendly entertainment. And I’m not making this up, but intact families with legally married fathers and mothers sat down and watched it together. The Ed Sullivan Show was probably best known as the venue for The Beatles’ first performance in America, unforgettably accompanied by frenzied screams of teenage girls. That show was watched by more than 40% of all Americans — still a record. Other performances included ballet, circus acts, comedy, opera, rock, scenes from Broadway plays, and singers from every genre. Well, surely that will never happen in America again. Oh, yeah?

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker is saying that in 10 years, “the really big shewww” will be what broadcast TV is all about. He cited as examples shows, many of which are live and unscripted, that have been proven to generate huge and diverse audiences for limited periods, including the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Heroes, Grey’s Anatomy, and American Idol. Broadcast networks cannot afford to go too niche, he says, which he sees as the strength of cable networks. Will it really be possible in an Internet age for a broadcast network to make a living off of a predictable flow of shows that can generate mega audiences? Zucker is no dummy, but it seems to be about as likely as getting all four original Beatles together for a reunion tour.


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