Fall TV: A Mid-Season Report
by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 1st 2011 11:47AM
It's always tempting at this time of year to look for patterns where perhaps none exist. With four confirmed cancellations ('Charlie's Angels,' 'The Playboy Club,' 'How to be a Gentleman' and 'Free Agents') and several on-the-bubble new shows ('Pan Am,' 'Prime Suspect,' 'Body of Proof'), the only real theme (besides being awful) is a tendency to take themselves too seriously. I do take some satisfaction from seeing all the nostalgia shows die an early death. Apparently the one thing 'The Playboy Club' team didn't look up about 'Mad Men' were the ratings -- a couple million viewers. It was also the only thing they were able to duplicate.
But what this means for the rest of the season is hard to say. The truth is, guessing at cancellations is more complicated than simply looking at the ratings. The relationship between a struggling show and its network is dependent on demographics, episodes in the can and behind-the-scenes financing. Age is a huge factor, and for once in Hollywood, youth is not a plus. Even though new dramas might be meeting or even marginally exceeding the ratings of older competition, the longer-running shows are more likely to be renewed, especially if another season will bring the show into the 80 - 100 episodes range needed to qualify for syndication. This could save 'Community' and 'The Good Wife' from saying sayonara in spring. 'The Good Wife' has even more going for it -- CBS actually owns the show, and it consistently brings in good reviews and award nominations.
It's interesting to note that shows that anticipate the rise of the pissed-off middle class are doing well with viewers. I include 'Two Broke Girls,' 'The Middle,' 'Whitney' and 'Revenge' in this classification ('Whitney' mainly because their apartment reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's). In the case of 'Revenge' the plot couldn't be more in tune with the current 'Eat the Rich' memes flowing from the Occupy movement. And boy, it's well done; 'Revenge' manages to deliver both glamor and disdain for glamor by embedding its '99%' protagonist inside the '1%' world. This show could be another 'Dynasty,' which also started slow and built strength over several seasons.
|Prime Suspect||3866 (3.9%)|
|Parks and Recreation||8029 (8.0%)|
|Harry's Law||4077 (4.1%)|
|Gossip Girl||8987 (9.0%)|
|The Good Wife||2880 (2.9%)|
|CSI: NY||2982 (3.0%)|
|A Gifted Man||2899 (2.9%)|
|Pan Am||20987 (21.0%)|
|Body of Proof||1966 (2.0%)|
|Terra Nova||11700 (11.7%)|
|Prime Suspect||7934 (7.3%)|
|Parks and Recreation||6796 (6.2%)|
|Harry's Law||14118 (13.0%)|
|Gossip Girl||1463 (1.3%)|
|CSI: NY||10207 (9.4%)|
|The Good Wife||18840 (17.3%)|
|A Gifted Man||4295 (3.9%)|
|Pan Am||10350 (9.5%)|
|Body of Proof||10399 (9.5%)|
|Terra Nova||6897 (6.3%)|
The late debuts of the two fairy-tale based shows -- 'Grimm' and 'Once Upon a Time' -- mean there isn't much data to use to predict how they'll fare. Both did well in their debuts, and thanks to high production values, they're getting positive buzz. But it's hard to imagine both shows surviving in the long run. In the past, when two such similar shows have debuted in the same season, one always dies. Remember the great 'Behind the Scenes at SNL' war of 2006? Sure you do, it's how you met Tina Fey. (Shortly thereafter, Aaron Sorkin decided to go back to writing movies, too.)
The big news to me is how few new shows even make it to the top 25 at all. The most recent US ratings included only three, down from four the week before, and five the week before that. Granted, football is having an effect on that, but it still seems like TV audiences are sending a clear message that they are happy with the same shows they watched last year. And speaking of last year, it's a case of "second verse, same as the first" when it comes to the big three: NBC is screwed, CBS is solid and reliable and ABC is the showboat. The CW exists in a special world where breaking 2 million viewers is really something (and it's something 'Hart of Dixie' managed recently).
Of course, in Canada we have another network that occupies special territory - the CBC. It's been a pretty brutal fall for them. Even the hits like 'Dragon's Den' and 'Battle of the Blades' are down from last year, and a few of the newer offerings are stinking up the joint. 'Cover Me Canada' asks an all-important musical question: what would happen if talented people ended up at a cut-rate karaoke night hosted by Alan Frew of 'Glass Tiger'? The answer is: nothing. 'Michael Tuesday & Thursdays' makes the critics laugh, along with a group that numbers about 160,000. The only show that's shown any growth is '22 Minutes.' '22 Minutes' is so old, if it were a person, it would be eligible to vote. Isn't it wonderful? Seriously -- I love that the rise of the American fake news mafia (Colbert and Stewart) revived ours. Bring back 'Talking to Americans,' I say!
This season has broken a few records. 'The Walking Dead' became the most-watched cable drama debut ever, and Ashton Kutcher's debut on 'Two and a Half Men' resulted in monstrous numbers, the biggest the show has ever seen.
And off-topic, but interestingly, recent events force us to ask ourselves if 'Men' in fact causes its leads to publicly humiliate themselves, as Kutcher seems to be following in Charlie Sheen's footsteps of being famous for having sex with random women in hot tubs and winding up in the tabloids. I wonder if they cast -- I dunno -- Tom Hanks, would he suddenly be caught snorting coke with hookers? Now that would get me to tune in.