Audiences changed the way they consumed television — as well as what they watched — last year, making binge-watching a phenomenon and breathing new life into the TV movie and miniseries genres. What's in store for this year? Here are a few hot topics.
Will there be any more fallout from the Duck Dynasty controversy?
While A&E's Duck Dynasty boasted eight of the top 25 non-sports telecasts on basic cable in 2013, the reality show's ratings had started to decline toward the end of its fall run. Then came the dispute over star Phil Robertson's homophobic and racially insensitive comments in GQ, which earned him a brief suspension that ignited a furor in right-leaning media and led to a quick reinstatement. As the show returns for a fifth season on Jan. 15, network insiders believe they may see a ratings boost as new viewers check in to see what the hubbub is all about and current fans turn out in force. (Season 5 has already been shot, so don't expect to see the aftermath of the GQ interview addressed on the show.)
A&E and the Robertson family are expected to regroup soon to determine the next step in putting the controversy to rest. Among the topics to be discussed: what role the Robertsons might play in the public service announcements the network pledged to produce as part of its decision to bring Phil back. The PSAs won't be ready to air during Duck Dynasty's season premiere and will likely show up later in the year. It appears that all involved want the dynasty to continue to rule. "There's no animosity," says someone close to the show. "It was never this big war."
Can NBC keep Jay Leno in the family?
Various reports suggest that CNN (led by former NBC boss Jeff Zucker) could be hiring Jay Leno after he leaves The Tonight Show in February. But will NBC Universal be willing to part with the popular host? Sister cable network USA made a play for Leno when he originally left
Tonight in 2009; might USA come calling again? Or will the comic take a Bob Hope-style role and host occasional specials for NBC when he's not touring with his stand-up act? "We've made it clear that we want Jay to continue with NBC and have talked about several ways to do that," says NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. "At the same time, we're being respectful of his desire to finish The Tonight Show and then look at the future."
Will WGN America become the next FX or AMC?
It's not just a channel for Cubs games anymore. WGN America is hoping to reposition itself, just as FX and AMC did, via quality scripted original programming. First up: the supernatural love story Salem, set during the 17th-century witch trials, and Manhattan, which chronicles the race to build the first atomic bomb. "We're beginning a transition from a network with regional roots to one with a true national identity, built on provocative programming," says Matt Cherniss, president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios.
When will Hulu figure out its identity?
Hulu owners Disney, NBC Universal and 21st Century Fox considered selling the streaming service in 2013, but instead invested an additional $750 million. While Hulu is still known mostly for its crop of already-aired network-TV episodes, new CEO Mike Hopkins plans to double its original series output in coming years. So far, original programs (Seth Meyers's animated The Awesomes and the BBC coproduction The Wrong Mans) haven't resonated with viewers the way Netflix's House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black have. Disney even sold a new batch of Marvel series to Netflix. "Hulu has been the black sheep," says Shira Lazar, host of the interactive show What's Trending. "They need to do more original, exclusive content."
Can USA conquer the sitcom genre?
USA ended 2013 as cable's most watched network once again. The network is known for hour-long dramedies like Psych and White Collar, and executives have been eager to find success with half-hour comedies. The process may not be easy. USA's acquisition of Modern Family repeats has been met with so-so ratings, which could have a negative impact on the spring launches of two sitcoms: Playing House, starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham as best friends raising a baby together; and Sirens, about Chicago-based EMTs, from executive producer Denis Leary.
And more questions to ponder...
Will the networks regain their ability to develop new comedies that both viewers and critics adore? Can reality TV find a monster new hit? Will Community make it to six seasons and a movie? Will Discovery make a splash in the scripted world with Klondike? Will the networks find success in miniseries like FX's Fargo and Fox's Wayward Pines, or will viewers sour on the format? Can ABC turn Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the hit the show hopes to be? Will Chicago Fire spinoff Chicago P.D. succeed, giving executive producer Dick Wolf a whole new franchise? When will Jeff Zucker's CNN recovery take hold? Can Fox's New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine capitalize on their showcase time slots right after the Super Bowl?