Becoming a Network Programmer

Ah, the good old days.

Being in charge of prime time programming at a network has always been challenging. A mix of art and science, it has been done brilliantly on occasion, such as Brandon Tartikoff’s decade-long run from 1981-1991 at NBC. Of course, it’s even more challenging now than it was just a few years ago. Entertainment options have proliferated and now coveted audience demos are just as likely to be playing video games or watching movies at home. The web offers plenty of entertainment options as well, including video content. Where once the role of network programmer was the sole domain of the people at ABC, NBC or CBS, now basic and premium cable channels produce a wealth of original programming as well. This makes the competition for content keener and the role of programmer, wherever you are, increasingly challenging more cutthroat.

Despite this I still find it shocking that it’s impossible for any network to string together a week’s worth of decent prime time programming. Surely in this day and age, where we can pull programming for anywhere in the world, someone should be able to put together three hours of quality programming every night?  A clever mix of entertaining and informational shows that is stimulating, uplifting and enjoyable.

Clearly that’s not going to happen.

So, like any good 21st century media junkie, I’ve decided to take things into my own hands and program my own prime time network schedule. I’ve scoured all the sources and platforms to pull together a mix of programming that’s just right for me. For the most part, these are shows that are currently in production, but in some cases I’ve dipped into shows that have ended their run, but are easily accessible via Netflix, Hulu or other archival libraries.

In putting the schedule together I gave thought to not only the mix of programming I’d like to see, but how the different shows might fit together. You don’t necessarily want to go from a quirky comedy to a tough-guy reality show. I see how putting together a line-up is a delicate balance, but I also understand the realities of current viewing habits. Where once it made sense for a programmer to ask if a certain show was right for the network brand, that question is less relevant now. There aren’t “ABC people” anymore. You can’t just assume people will stay with you for three straight hours. I’m even wondering how important the notion of the “lead in” is anymore.  With time-shifting, I’m not sure how often that really occurs anymore. I can’t think of a single example of when I watch two shows on the same network back-to-back.

So, here we are, the Rick Liebling Network, or RLN as we like to call it, 2011/2012 prime time line-up:


8:00pm: Sportfolio

8:30pm: Monocle

9:00pm: Mad Men

10:00pm: Storyboard

11:00pm: The Gruen Transfer

By Sunday night, I’m ready to start putting myself back in a work frame of mind. I’ll kick it off with two Bloomberg TV programs, Sportfolio and Monocle, that present business and culture in different ways.  Then it’s time for Mad Men, one of the best scripted shows on television. I’ll wrap up the evening with Storyboard and The Gruen Transfer, two programs that dive into the world of advertising from a global view, based out of India and Australia respectively.


8:00pm: Countdown

9:00pm: Battlestar Gallactica

10:00pm: Deadliest Warrior

11:00pm: The Daily Show

11:30pm: The Colbert Report

On weekdays we’ll start with news/politics, but then transition to a shot of testosterone with back-to-back shows filled with action. Then it’s more current events, presented as only John Stewart and Stephen Colbert can.


8:00pm: The Rachel Maddow Show

9:00pm: Iron Chef America

10:00pm: House Hunters

10:30pm: House Hunters International

11:00pm: The Daily Show

11:30pm: The Colbert Report

Sure, I like watching Keith Olbermann, but five days in a row is a little much, so let’s switch over to Maddow a couple of times a week. Then it’s time for some reality programming that feeds my domestic side. No back-biting or trumped up drama though. And of course we’ll continue to wrap it up with Stewart and Colbert.


8:00pm: Countdown

9:00pm: State of Play

10:00pm: The Wire

11:00pm: The Daily Show

11:30pm: The Colbert Report

Wednesday features two brilliant dramas, one from the BBC and one from HBO. All five seasons of The Wire are available via for HBO subscribers, otherwise you can get it via Netflix.


8:00pm: The Rachel Maddow Show

9:00pm: That Mitchell and Webb Look

9:30pm: Portlandia

10:00pm: Modern Family

10:30pm: The Simpsons

11:00pm: The Daily Show

11:30pm: The Colbert Report

Thursday is comedy night on the RLN! A mix of the eclectic (Portlandia) with British sketch comdey (Mitchell & Webb) and the rare American broadcast fare (Modern Family). Top it off with The Simpsons (starting from the 1st season) so we have some animation in the lineup.


8:00pm: 30 for 30

9:00pm: TechStars

10:00pm: Real Time with Bill Maher

11:00pm: Fox Soccer Report

It’s the end of the week, time to unwind a bit. We begin with the award-winning sports documentary series from ESPN, then we check out the hot startups with TechStars. After getting my snark on with Bill Maher, I gear up for the sports weekend with the FOX Soccer Report.


8:00pm: Attack of the Show

9:00pm: The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret / Peep Show

9:30: The Office UK

10:00pm: International Sport

It’s the weekend, time to get my pop culture and gaming fix with G4’s Attack of the Show. This is followed by some indie comedy. Todd Margaret is a little gem starring David Cross. Just one brief season so far (more episodes in 2012 featuring Jon Hamm!), so we’ll also fill in with Peep Show, another Britcom featuring Mitchell & Webb. That’s followed by the UK version of the Office. Finally, a two-hour block for soccer, rugby, cricket or F1 thanks to some niche cable or ESPN3.

So, there you have it. Seven days of prime time programming featuring dramas, comedies, ‘reality,’ news and sport.