Let’s Bring Back Prime Time TV

John Battelle
4 min readNov 3, 2023

I hate to admit it, but I miss prime time.

For those of you born after Seinfeld went off the air, “prime time” dominated an era when television viewers only had three or four choices at any given time. Before streaming took over our devices, before cable devolved to 500 channels with nothing to see, there was “prime time television.” If you’re old enough to remember when Friends ruled “Must-See TV,” you (and tens of millions of others) likely spent a fair amount of your weeknights engaged with prime time’s three-hour post-dinner programming block.

Prime time once acted like a national water cooler — offering a shared set of conversation (and argument) starters. At its peak, 20–30 million of us watched shows mirroring a conformed, but often entertaining brand of American homogeneity. The situational comedy format ruled, but there was also the procedural (CSI, SVU), the news serial (48 Hours, Dateline), and the casually subversive (The Simpsons, Twin Peaks).

There’s plenty of reasons to celebrate prime time’s demise — the lineup almost always projected a distorted, white-male dominated version of American life, and most of its offerings were, well, terrible compared to the cornucopia of quality shows that can be found across today’s streaming universe (does anyone mourn the loss of Models Inc.?).

But…more and more, I find myself wishing for a prime time comeback. Why? I think it boils down to the cognitive and social tax that the streaming landscape exacts on all of us. Sure, there will always be people who love to navigate the endless obstacles between our desire to watch TV and our ability to do so. But those are probably the same folks who use Linux on their desktop machines. For the rest of us, streaming is just…a terrible experience.

Unless you’re lucky (or mid-binge), finding anything to watch is just too much work. The first ten to fifteen minutes of “watching TV” invariably involves hunting for something to watch, figuring out how to navigate the endlessly terrible streaming service’s user interface, dealing with endless technical and password cruft, finding a show you might want to check out, watching for a few minutes, not liking it, then repeating the process, sometimes cycling between four or five different streaming apps. More often than not, we end up…

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John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business