Cable's Always on the Job


Prior to every new television season, executives from each broadcast network sit in front of a program scheduling board and try to strategically position their daytime, primetime and late-night shows against programming from their competitors.

It may be time to add another column for cable-network programming.

Today, any industry observer or viewer would be hard-pressed not to find a quality, original cable program during virtually any hour of the day. From such daytime reality fare as Surprise By Design
and strong primetime series The Sopranos
and Monk
to late-night hits like The Daily Show
With Jon Stewart, cable arguably offers more quality, variety and choice for TV viewers than the broadcast networks — and share numbers are reflecting that change.

Even more remarkable is the breadth of cable networks that offer appealing and highly rated original programming. Most observers expect strong performances from such mainstream and general-entertainment networks such as ESPN, TBS Superstation, Turner Network Television and USA Network. But niche services like Bravo, TLC, Sci Fi Channel and Food Network deliver programs that not only have strong demographic appeal, but finish among cable's highest-rated shows within their respective dayparts. In fact, in some cases, these offerings even beat the broadcasters.

All of this is testament to the networks' commitment to differentiating themselves from their over-the-air competitors.

Of course, with success comes higher expectations, and viewers will hold cable to a much loftier standard of excellence and quality in the coming months and years. Also, the broadcast networks will not continue to cede viewers without mounting a counterattack.

Early this summer, the networks decided to play on cable's turf by launching a number of new shows, mostly from the reality genre, during its usual season of repeats. Initially, these entries somewhat slowed cable's momentum.

Yet judging by cable's ongoing commitment to original fare, programmers seem willing to work day and night to serve the needs of viewers.