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 that took at least a year's worth of episodes to catch on.
This year? CBS canceled Kevin Dillon's hapless How to Be a Gentleman after one airing (confirming my anointing as the worst new series of the season). The first show canceled, NBC's The Playboy Club, got three broadcasts.
So, even though Tim Allen's return to prime time just aired Tuesday and five more new fall shows have yet to debut, we can draw an early scorecard. Here's what we know:
Funny ladies get an A. The first four network TV shows picked up for a full season's worth of episodes star funny females: Fox's The New Girl, CBS' 2 Broke Girls and NBC's Whitney and Up All Night. (The other shows, the CW's Ringer, Hart of Dixie and The Secret Circle, are all dramas starring women.) 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.
Shows with strong brands get an F. Networks love series attached to well-known names for selling early ads. But The Playboy Club found its brand was also its biggest drawback (it couldn't be sexy enough on network TV for fans of the adult magazine). Likewise, the new Charlie's Angels is a mess that 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 stars.
Contrary to popular belief, the TV comedy ain't dead. Just a few years ago, experts asked if the TV comedy was a goner. Ratings for CBS' Two and a Half Men may have come down to 15 million people on Monday, but there's little doubt Ashton Kutcher's arrival has saved CBS' comedy franchise. 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 hype, X Factor mastermind Simon Cowell has seen his American Idol clone judged a failure for scoring an average 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 had men in leading roles: Playboy Club, How to Be a Gentleman, NBC's Free Agents and the CW's H8R. Meanwhile 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, messing with 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.
Which just shows: There is no TV success that a network can't find a way to undo, somehow.