For years now, there has been talk about many A-list writers shunning broadcast TV in favor of cable and streaming series because of the fewer limitations and bigger creative freedom they could get there. That has been reflected in the WGA Awards nominations over the past five years, with the number of broadcast entries dwindling, pushed out by cable and SVOD originals.
The trend culminated this year with no nomination for a broadcast series in the top series categories – Drama Series, Comedy Series and New Series — the first time network TV has been completely shut out. What’s more, there were no broadcast nominations in the two longform categories, Long Form Original and Long Form Adapted, with the traditional nets represented in the live-action field only with three Episodic Comedy noms for NBC’s now-canceled The Carmichael Show, the revival of Will & Grace and Trial & Error.
For comparison, last year NBC’s This Is Us was nominated for New Series (it also won for Episodic Drama), with longform noms for ABC’s American Crime and Madoff. There were a total of 6 WGA Awards nomination in the primetime live-action categories for broadcsat shows last year vs. 3 this year.
The last time there were broadcast Comedy Series nominees was 2013 when the category was actually dominated by network entries — three out of five — 30 Rock, Modern Family and Parks & Recreation. The last time a broadcast program cracked the the Drama Series category was in 2014 with CBS’ The Good Wife.
While This Is Us this year became the first network series to land a best drama series Emmy nomination since The Good Wife in 2011, the hot NBC family drama was not able to break broadcast’s dry spell in the WGA Drama Series category.
It is true that a number of top broadcast creators/showrunners have jumped to cable with such praised series as Homeland (24‘s Howard Gordon) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (30 Rock‘s Tina Fey), and ABC maven Shonda Rhimes also recently made the leap to Netflix. They are joined by feature scribes too.
But there is also the argument often raised by broadcast networks and studios: Is it completely fair to compare writing for broadcast and cable/digital? On broadcast TV, the writing teams have to churn out 18-24 scripts a season for a drama series in a very condensed time frame. On the comedy side, that number usually is 22-24 episodes. In cable and digital, the seasons usually consist of 8-13 episodes, with a lot more time to craft them.
This is a discussion that will likely continue as broadcast continues to face an uphill battle in getting awards recognition and to attract top creators.But getting a big, broad network hit like This Is Us, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Empire a couple of years ago and The Good Doctor this fall is still considered a reward worth pursuing.