Why Shows Live or Die

The fall schedules reveal that new rules are guiding the networks as they compete more fiercely for a shrinking audience. But is the viewer benefiting?

Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby may be gone, but who says network television will never be the same again? Every spring the familiar rituals are repeated: the well-hyped fall-season announcements; another batch of new shows competing for attention (a record-high 35 this season, when Fox is added to the Big Three); a fresh onslaught of optimistic projections from chipper network executives.

It's a tougher game than it used to be, however. The three networks' share of the TV audience showed a slight gain this past season, but the long-term trend has been down, down, down. To compete for a smaller pool...

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