At one time, it seemed undeniable that we preferred slightness on TV during the hot weather months. The broadcast networks — before the cable and streaming revolutions — believed viewers wanted the summers off. They stocked their summer schedules with filler, primarily reruns so we could spend hot nights wrestling more deeply with the themes of “Three’s Company” during a second viewing. They didn’t spend much money, tossing a few variety shows in among the reruns to add just a little flavor to the primetime tapioca.
Oh yes, those were happy, heady days for Mac Davis, Helen Reddy, Ken Berry, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, among others.
Compare that to the more substantive series coming our way this summer. The Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle is bringing his miniseries “Pistol” to Hulu, six episodes of Sex Pistols madness and mayhem. A new iteration of “Queer as Folk” will premiere on Peacock, beginning its ensemble story lines about friends and lovers in New Orleans with a mass shooting at a gay nightclub. Jeff Bridges will star in a CIA thriller, Dennis Lehane has written a new prison drama, and we’ll finally see the last episodes of “Peaky Blinders” (Netflix, June 10) and “Better Call Saul” (AMC, beginning on July 11).
We’ll also encounter dueling power flexes by HBO and Amazon in the two weeks leading up to Labor Day. HBO is premiering its eagerly awaited “Game of Thrones” spinoff, called “House of the Dragon,” on Aug. 21, then Amazon is firing up its big-budget “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” on Sept. 2. Once upon a time, the end of summer was a TV dead zone, whereas now, outside of the network bubble, it’s just more time and space to deliver the goods.
Also once upon a time, fall was deemed the only season for fresh series. It’s that time of the year when schools start up and new beginnings are hailed (even though — shhh — the beautiful leaves are dying and bone chill is officially pending). Over the course of a week or two, the networks threw down their new lineups all at once, another fall syllabus of sorts for people already busy sharpening pencils. And then, with breaks for the December holidays and such, the networks kept the episode machine running straight through May, before the summer falloff.
Now we know that the seasons don’t necessarily play a role in your entertainment diet. Do you only want light and breezy in the summer, and dark and provocative only in the winter, when you can comfortably swaddle yourself in an anxiety vest? Is “Ted Lasso” only appropriate viewing in the spring, when optimism and hope are in the air? No, and no. We no longer live in that kind of season-bound TV world, and I’m happy about it. Even though it may be above 70 degrees outside, even though I may have eaten dinner on a porch, even though blueberries are in season and pears are not, I want to watch what I want to watch.
I understand that summer can mean something different to the movie industry, where, at least before the pandemic, you need to go outside to partake. It’s a lot easier to brave the elements when there are no gloves or earmuffs involved, and summertime is the right time for blockbusters, I get it. But when it comes to TV, which doesn’t even require a trip to the den if you’ve got the right phone setup, no one’s toes are going to go numb on the way to the latest Netflix or Hulu series.
So season-centrism, I reject you. There is no great TV hiatus anymore, no summer programming desert, and I celebrate it. Sure, the broadcast networks continue in their old pattern, gorging us in the fall and lightening up in the summer — and that’s featherweight light at this point, given how light the other network seasons have become. Instead of, say, three game shows and five reality shows per week, they offer eight and 12, respectively, during the summer.
But the networks have serious competition, and that gives us a lot more freedom to choose. Yes, the seasons go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down, but none of it really matters when it comes to scripted television.