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Quality alone can't save network TV shows from cancellation

Just three months into the new TV season, nearly a dozen series have hit the trash heap, victims of chronically low viewership, regardless of quality. • Proof of that trend was ABC's move to cancel three of its best-regarded shows: Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies (right). • Daisies was a particular sore spot. Visually flashy, cleverly written and honored with three Emmy awards, it still couldn't escape the brutal reality of low ratings. Here are a few bitter lessons from the 2008-2009 TV season:

The quality divide with cable is accelerating: Network TV faces serious problems — audience declines from 2007, even as overall TV viewership rises; growing competition with DVR, Internet and gaming; and advertising weakness.

But the biggest issue may be that cable can sustain quality shows with a fraction of the audience. Daisies' 6.7-million average viewers would be a bonanza for Bravo or the Sci Fi Channel; on ABC, it was cause for a eulogy.

Which means populist, predictable stuff like Dancing With the Stars and CSI increasingly becomes the network TV rule, leaving more sophisticated fare (and the moneyed audiences it attracts) to cable.

The fantasy boom has busted: Some of the most troubled series on network TV are the fantasy shows: Fox's Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, ABC's Daisies, NBC's Crusoe, My Own Worst Enemy, and, of course, Heroes.

They are expensive shows with complex plotlines that have often fallen short on execution. But they also compete with films that tell these stories better, with bigger budgets and better special effects.

So when comic book geekoids want a shot of superhero adventure, do they turn on an episode of the increasingly frustrating Heroes or watch Robert Downey Jr. nail one of the best roles in his career on the Iron Man DVD? 'Nuff said.

TV comedies keep rolling snake eyes: The numbers are numbing — among the Top 20 network shows to date, there is one comedy, Two and a Half Men. This season's most buzzed-about network comedy, 30 Rock, is ranked 48th, five slots below Eli Stone.

Sitcoms once were the gasoline powering the TV industry — big hits with profits to make up for all the misses. They're gone, replaced by increasingly stale reality TV that can't be rerun.

No wonder Hollywood thinks NBC entertainment chief Ben Silverman will keep his job. He increased revenues, despite developing a slate of expensive failures such as Crusoe, Enemy and Knight Rider. When every trend is working against you, the guy who can make something out of nothing may be your biggest asset.

TiVo

Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Elton John, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sundance Channel: Full disclosure — this comes from a bona fide music geek. But there are few pleasures more amazing than watching great musicians who respect each other telling war stories. So this interview series pairing Costello with everyone from Lou Reed to Bill Clinton in musical settings is like the coolest backstage hang ever. John kicks it off, showing how Leon Russell, Laura Nyro and Liberace — who knew? — shaped his art.

Ti-NO

Shatner's Raw Nerve, 10 p.m. Tuesday, Biography Channel: The mark of a bad interview is when you finish the program knowing as much about the host as the subject. Shatner spends too much time asking awful questions — did he need to spend five minutes quizzing Valerie Bertinelli on the existence of God? — and telling us about his own life to do anything but work my raw nerve.

the list

Everybody knows couples who seem to grow more annoying as the relationship grows. TV Guide recently provided a helpful list of the most annoying couples on television. Peruse their list and comments and see if you agree:

1 "Gizzie" (George & Izzie), Grey's Anatomy: "Could the combo name be any uglier?"

2 Tom & Lynette, Desperate Housewives: "She has him canned from her ad firm, hates mothering and almost cheats on him with a pizza guy. The real mystery here is why these two aren't in therapy."

3 Boris & Natasha, The Bullwinkle Show: "The couple that plays together stays together. The couple that gets off on terrorizing an innocent moose and squirrel is just freakin' scary."

4 Clark & Lana, Smallville: "Since we know the Hunk of Steel ends up with Lois, there's no reason to root for the Kansas kids."

5 Billy & Allison, Melrose Place: "For roomies-turned-lovahs, these two barely shared more than an address."

Quality alone can't save network TV shows from cancellation 11/29/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 30, 2008 12:45pm]

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