Tallying up fall TV's winners and losers

This may be the fastest-moving TV season ever, with the first cancellation — Fox's awful sitcom Do Not Disturb — announced days after the season officially started. So even though all the new series haven't debuted yet, a few winners and losers have already emerged. Here's what's working and not so far:

WINNERS

Saturday Night Live and Tina Fey: Ratings are up 50 percent this year, mostly on the strength of Fey's dead-on Sarah Palin impression and an election so absurd, some sketch scripts read like debate transcripts. Even the new Thursday night SNL editions are off-the-chain funny in a way the Mothership rarely manages anymore.

Katie Couric: Dismantling Palin with smart questions and a disarming smile, Couric finally owned a news story in a way that silences critics and builds credibility. Maybe now, gossips will stop insisting she's leaving the network after the inauguration.

Cable news channels: Election fever is a serious ratings bonanza for all the cable channels, earning record viewership for debates, convention coverage and daily reporting. But with traditional outlets such as C-SPAN and PBS bringing up the rear, viewers seem more engaged by the food fights on cable TV.

The Mentalist and CBS: Simon Baker's drama about a super-perceptive ex-con man turned detective is the year's highest-rated new drama, joined by powerful returns for CSI, Criminal Minds and even the Ghost Whisperer on Fridays. CBS's older audience may be the only folks left watching network television.

LOSERS

Heroes: Producers had one chance to restart a show once seen as NBC's next great hope. But a continually confusing story line — do we really need to jump back and forth in time again? — feels like a thinly veiled rehash, bringing week-to-week viewership declines and fanboy disappointment.

Everybody but CBS: NBC's Knight Rider, ABC's Pushing Daisies, Fox's Terminator series — all highly anticipated shows in serious ratings trouble, regardless of quality. Recent figures on DVR viewership are helping some — Heroes got a 20 percent boost — but since advertisers fear TiVo users mostly skip commercials, that may not help much.

Tina Fey's 30 Rock: I've seen the show's first two new episodes, and they are hilarious. But as star/creator Fey sets the TV world on fire playing Palin for a show she doesn't work on anymore, NBC won't drop her series for another week-and-a-half, on Oct. 30. Talk about striking while the iron cools.

Ti-NO

Frank TV, 11 p.m. Tuesday, TBS: Impressionist Frank Caliendo must have photos of TBS executives palling around with terrorists at a Freddie Mac conference. How else to explain another season of a show so startlingly unfunny, you wonder how a guy with just a handful of good voices landed it in the first place? Caliendo climbs into pounds of makeup to play Charles Barkley and William Shatner, mostly proving the magic of watching impressionists involves seeing them become characters without outside help.

Ti-NO

Stylista, 9 p.m. Wednesday, WTOG-Ch. 44: It's a reality show aimed at finding the next, hot young editor assistant for Elle magazine. So, of course, the 11 hopefuls competing Apprentice-style for the gig are asked to prepare a breakfast for honcho Anne Slowey and defend their own fashion choices. And given this is a not-so-thinly veiled rip-off of The Devil Wears Prada, couldn't they have found a bigger name in magazines than a fashion news editor who once appeared on Project Runway?

the list

You may watch a TV show here and there, but how engaged are you?

Nielsen IAG, an offshoot of the TV ratings company, asked more than 5,000 respondents questions about cable TV shows in the past year. The theory: If you're more engaged in the show, you'll also watch the commercials (yeah, right!).

Here are the cable shows that most engaged viewers (note that just one is scripted):

Living with Ed (HGTV)

Property Ladder (TLC)

Real Housewives of Orange County (Bravo)

Date My Ex: Jo and Slade (Bravo)

In Plain Sight (USA)
the site

Just in case Fox's Family Guy and American Dad don't provide enough Seth MacFarlane for your taste, the prince of in-your-face animation has a whole YouTube channel devoted to new cartoon gags at.youtube.com/sethcomedy. Just make sure the volume is low at work and around the kids; the drugs and sex references are frequent if funny.

Tallying up fall TV's winners and losers 10/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:47pm]

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