A 'Cheers' veteran explained the big problem with current network TV


cheers finale

Mark J. Terrill/AP

The "Cheers" finale

TV networks are thinking about themselves too much as "brands," and it's a problem for audiences, according to writer-producer Rob Long, a veteran of "Cheers" who was recently brought on to right the ship at the CBS sitcom "Kevin Can Wait."


"The sad thing that's happening to network television is the networks are thinking of themselves as 'branding it,'" Long said on the KCRW podcast The Business. "Our brand is this, our brand is that. And I always found that silly. I roll my eyes. As if the audience ever thinks that way. They never think that way."

Long's position is that the network would be better served having a mix of content: big splashy comedies, grown-up workplace ones, straight-ahead family shows, young-people ensemble shows, and so on.

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"I'm not quite sure I know why a network has to be branded. It always seems like they are trying to outsmart the audience, which is never ever ever a way to be successful," he said.

One reason there could be an increased focus on a network having a specific "brand identity" is that network execs envision a future where they have to sell that brand directly to customers.


CBS, where Long's current sitcom lives, has made a huge effort to sell its Netflix-like streaming service, "CBS All Access." Beyond letting you watch CBS shows on-demand, All Access also has its own original shows that don't play on TV, like "The Good Wife" spinoff "The Good Fight," and the upcoming Star Trek show. Last month, All Access was nearing 1.5 million subscribers, who each pay either $5.99 a month or $9.99 for the commercial-free plan.

If you have to convince people to fork over $5-10 a month directly, it's good if the name CBS means something to them. Still, even if the future favors a-la-carte streaming services, that doesn't mean the brand has to be narrow. Netflix's brand isn't tied to a particular show sensitivity, and its content is as tonally expansive as its $6 billion budget.

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