As TV adapts to the streaming format offered by Netflix, HBO, etc., networks as they exist will become more and more specific in order to find a core audience in a niche group who are willing to subscribe to them. They will begin aligning their programming with a genre in the same way networks like Comedy Central and Syfy have shifted to central audiences. We’re already in the midst of this transition, so the question emerges: Which network fits your interests best?
There are too many networks to go over in detail, so we’ll stick to the big four: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. And because there are so many shows on those channels, let’s just focus on sussing out which networks match your tastes.
ABC: Channel 13
Watch if this network you like: Family Sitcoms
ABC was the first network to pursue the idea of turning themselves into a brand, and as of 2016 it looks like they’ve succeeded. With the cancellation of last year’s musical-fantasy “Galavant” and Muppets mock-umentary, “The Muppets”, the only comedies left on the network are family sitcoms. Some are built around diversity (“Fresh Off the Boat,” “Speechless”) while some tap into more 90s sensibilities (“Modern Family” is more like “Modern Frasier.”) Regardless, they’re built on the idea of families being families, and tend to be unique in their own ways.
Best Show: The Emmy nominated “Black-ish” isn’t the most consistently great show on TV, but when it nails its message it’s often better than pretty much any other network show. Not to mention, it features the best portrayal of TV parents: Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross.
CBS: Channel 11
Watch this network if you like: Old-Fashion TV Shows
For many years, CBS was the most-watched network on TV largely due to targeting viewers who were 50 and older. While other networks have ceased using live studio audiences, CBS has continued to use them in all but one of their sitcoms. CBS cast mid-90s sitcom stars Kevin James and “Friends” alumni Matt LeBlanc with Matthew Perry to ground their sitcoms. Also, “The Odd Couple” built a show with the premise of millennials clashing with Gen X. Coincidentally, CBS was the first network to capitalize on a direct-descendant streaming service with CBS Access, supplying it with a “Good Wife” spin-off and the new “Star Trek.” CBS is primed for TV’s future, even if its success is derived from its past.
Best Show: You’ve probably already watched “The Big Bang Theory,” so let me shout out to “Mom,” which was created by the same man behind “Theory” and won two Emmys through Allison Janney’s supporting role.
Fox: Channel 26
Watch this network if you like: Edgy Comedies
Unsurprisingly, the network that made parents worry their children might imitate Bart Simpson features a slew of programming with some bite to it. Two series, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Last Man on Earth,” are produced by the directors of the R-rated “21 Jump Street” movie. Similarly, “The Mick” and “Bob’s Burgers” feature actors who spend their time starring in TV-MA cable comedies. Moreover, “New Girl” features an extensive, ludicrous drinking game as a running joke. The aforementioned “The Simpsons” is still running and will be long after television as a medium ceases. Fox comedies are as edgy as network TV allows.
Best Show: “The Last Man on Earth” tinkers with the format of the ensemble comedy by setting its characters in a period where the majority of the human population has died. Despite that premise it is consistently hilarious, with the caveat that you can take Will Forte’s purposefully grating lead performance.
NBC: Channel 2
Watch this network if you like: Conversational TV
Not too long ago, NBC reigned supreme in its comedy blocks, its famous Thursday night line-up reeling in tens of millions of viewers who hankered for shows like “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “Cheers.” After a few rough years of low-rated comedy programming—at one point prompting the network to drop comedies from their schedule all together—NBC regained steady viewership with its sitcoms by basing them around conversational storytelling. Whether it’s the afterlife-set “The Good Place” ruminating on what it means to be a good person or “The Carmichael Show,” dealing in familial debates over topical subjects such as Bill Cosby or Donald Trump, NBC found its groove in making TV designed to make its audience think.
Best Show: The ensemble comedy “Superstore” features a slew of diverse and well-developed characters navigating life as it relates to lower-class employment. The show opens up discussions on poverty, teen pregnancy and illegal immigration, among the gags and silly situations it stuffs in.