My fall TV scorecard: funny ladies get A+, hyped-up brands like Playboy and Simon Cowell, an F
The big TV networks haven’t even finished rolling out their new fall shows, and already the first report cards are in.
Once upon a time, broadcasters might show a little patience; Seinfeld, All in the Family and Cheers are among the TV classics which took at least a season to catch on.
This year? CBS canceled Kevin Dillon’s hapless How to Be a Gentleman after one airing last week (confirming my anointing of the show as the worst new series of the season, by the way). The first show cancelled, NBC’s The Playboy Club, got three broadcasts, even as the network’s top entertainment executive said he would show patience with new shows.
So, even though Tim Allen’s return to prime time just aired Tuesday and five more new fall shows have yet to debut, here's my early scorecard:
Funny ladies get an A. Every network TV show picked up for a full season’s worth of episodes stars a funny female lead character: Fox’s The New Girl, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and NBC’s Whitney and Up All Night. Despite drowning in harsh reviews, comic Whitney Cummings scored a two-fer, seeing the NBC show she stars in (Whitney) AND the CBS show she co-created (Broke Girls) picked up for full seasons. Expect more brassy, obnoxious ladies (and shy, beautiful geeks) to pop in new shows to come.
Shows with strong pre-existing brands get an F. Networks love shows attached to well-known names because it makes selling early advertising easier. But The Playboy Club found its brand was also its biggest drawback (network TV rules kept it from being sexy enough for guys who like the adult magazine; people who might like an unsexy drama didn’t bother tuning in). Likewise, the new Charlie’s Angels is a charisma-challenged piece which doesn’t echo the original’s kitschy spirit; NBC’s Prime Suspect remake has little purpose beyond its name and ABC’s 1960s-set Pan Am can’t figure out if it’s a spy drama, female empowerment tale or personalized look at history. Like the old saying goes: stars don’t make great television; great television makes big stars.
Contrary to popular belief, the TV comedy ain’t dead. Hard to believe just a few years ago, some columnists were asking if the TV comedy was dead. Ratings for CBS’ Two and Half Men may have come down to a mere 15 million people Monday, but Ashton Kutcher’s arrival has saved CBS’ comedy franchise, scoring 29-million in its debut. ABC’s Modern Family, CBS Mike & Molly and Big Bang Theory all scored well. Who knew: when recession and divisive elections loom, people like to laugh.
High expectations bring low results. After months of telling people he was ready to conquer American television, X Factor mastermind Simon Cowell has seen his American Idol clone judged a failure for scoring about 12 million viewers a week; just outside the Top 20. Fox’s other big-ticket series, Terra Nova, faces similar problems; developed with a massive price tag, production set in Australia and connection to Steven Spielberg, the series’ average 10 million viewers feels like a letdown, despite finishing ahead of The New Girl and Glee in overall viewers.
Guys get low marks, unless they’re catching a ball. All four shows canceled so far have men in starring roles: Playboy Club, How to Be a Gentleman, NBC’s Free Agents and the CW’s H8R. But NBC’s Sunday Night Football is one of the highest-rated shows in primetime, so maybe they should have set Gentleman in a football huddle, or something.
Moving a series, even a successful one, is risky business. Shout out to CBS’ The Good Wife, which came off an Emmy win for star Julianna Margulies with a slate of strong episodes. But the network moved it to Sundays, where regular overruns for afternoon football games can delay the show by 30 minutes or more, screwing up DVR schedules and keeping fans guessing.
That scheduling choice may be equaled only by Fox, which has yanked new episodes of The New Girl until after the World Series, reasoning that its momentum will resume once baseball is done.
Which only proves there isn't any kind of success on TV that a meddling network can't ruin with a questionable move.