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.