A world without scripted cable series isn't one we want (we need them more than you realize)

With cable TV ratings continuing to go down, we need scripted shows on basic cable more than ever!
CRUEL SUMMER - "Endgame" - As timelines collide, friendships implode, new evidence emerges and the shocking truth is revealed É in more ways than one. (Freeform/Justine Yeung)LEXI UNDERWOOD, SADIE STANLEY
CRUEL SUMMER - "Endgame" - As timelines collide, friendships implode, new evidence emerges and the shocking truth is revealed É in more ways than one. (Freeform/Justine Yeung)LEXI UNDERWOOD, SADIE STANLEY /

With word that USA Network is getting back into the scripted series game, it’s past time that other cable TV networks follow suit if they want to survive!

Before the 2000s, basic cable didn’t do too many scripted shows, preferring to let pay channels like HBO and Showtime handle that. There were a few series here and there on USA Network, but they weren’t seen as that dominant.

It all changed in 2002 when FX premiered The Shield. The stunning cop drama stunned critics and proved basic cable could deliver the same level of powerful stories as anything on HBO. Michael Chiklis’ Emmy win made other networks sit up and take notice. 

That was followed by USA Network’s “Blue Sky” period of shows like Monk and Psych. Then AMC produced Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both Emmy-winning powerhouses and after that, scores of basic cable channels followed.

They varied from ABC Family/Freeform’s teen-oriented shows like Pretty Little Liars to TNT’s crime fare, such as Leverage, but provided more than enough entertainment for folks tired of network shows.

However, in recent years, scripted fare on basic cable has severely lessened. The rise of streamers like Netflix and Prime Video has taken away creativity and several networks have changed their views thanks to behind the scenes business decisions. In short, scripted shows on basic cable are dying out and that’s bad news for the entertainment business.

Why cable needs scripted shows

A Hollywood Reporter piece on TV ratings proves that without sports, cable is in big trouble. 9 of the top 10 most watched cable shows of the 2023-24 season were sports programs with #10 being reality show The Curse of Oak Island. The highest-rated scripted series was Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart which was then followed by news programs. 

It’s true that cable itself has changed with folks cutting the cord and relying more on streaming, so judging by ratings isn’t the same anymore. Yet it can’t be denied that a lack of scripted shows is bad as reality and sports shows are cheaper to produce but don’t provide as much entertainment. 

There are signs that can change with USA Network ordering right to series The Rainmaker, based on the John Grisham novel. That’s a good thing, as adding more scripted shows to the slate is better than the network relying on nothing but reruns of Law & Order: SVU or sports fare. 

This comes after Freeform, TNT and TBS have all seemed to get out of the scripted game despite boasting some terrific series. As good as streaming shows can be, folks can respond to network fare just as much. In fact, basic cable has the advantage of all their shows having weekly episode releases to build up more interest rather than dropping an entire season at once where it can be quickly forgotten. 

It’s easy for creators to want the freedom of streaming, but basic cable can still work, and it is a challenge to focus on storytelling rather than breaking boundaries. There’s also the simple truth that viewers will respond to a scripted show with good buzz a lot more than a standard reality TV series to gain more viewers, something cable needs now. 

The recent Hollywood strikes showed how tough a TV landscape without original fare can be. The basic cable networks need to realize that relying on non-scripted fare is only going to drive viewers away when all it takes is one hot buzz-worthy series released weekly to get folks watching more than some streaming show.

The fact is that cable TV still has a place and adding more scripted fare is much better than endless reality shows or the like. So we can hope that USA Network’s new series can inspire other basic cable networks to follow suit as scripted shows need to be the backbone of the business again.

We need the return of USA Network's "Blue Sky" era. We need the return of USA Network's "Blue Sky" era. dark. Next