Sunday, November 18, 2012

TV: The networks go all Grand Guignol

It's been a very rough TV season.  The Olympics not only pushed the start of the season back, it soured many viewers as NBC arbitrarily decided when to cut away and when to stay.  Once the season started, the networks gripped the axe like Joan Crawford and Diane Baker in Straight-Jacket.


Casualties thus far?  Made In Jersey, Animal Practice, Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue and Partners.  The William Castle shocker here is that the ratings don't really matter.  In some cases they did, in some cases they didn't. 

Bitchy matters and the James Hibberds have certainly excelled in that.  They've taken their Joan Rivers routines to sites like Entertainment Weekly and clown around while forgetting to do their jobs.
They championed the awful Last Resort  which was a bad remake of Combat! mixed with soap opera.  And what the hell happened to Scott Speedman's face?  It was so fat and the cheek bones were gone and -- Oh, wait.  We forgot.  The Water Cooler Set only attacks the looks of women.  Even with its problems, Last Resort wasn't in the ratings toilet.  That needs to be stressed: The show was delivering plenty of viewers and, even with weekly slippage, it still retained a large core audience.  The cost per episode and the Water Cooler Set love meant that ABC expected higher ratings.  There's a good chance, that come spring, the network won't find another show to deliver that size of an audience which is why it's reserving judgment.  ABC is ceasing production on both Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue.  Presumably either could come back.

 Animal Practice won't be back.  That NBC embarrassment played like someone wanted to reboot BJ and The Bear but without all the plot twists and complexities of the original.  CBS will not be bringing Made In Jersey back either.  And maybe that explains ABC's decision?

In May of 2012, CBS suits were so full of themselves, that they could cancel a hit show, one that pulled in over ten million viewers weekly.  In a who's-the-dead-body-in-the-bed moment, they realized almost immediately that Unforgettable wasn't just a hit for them but it could be a hit for others (TNT had the money and the desire to continue the series).  Not only could they not afford the shame of losing a show that could become a cable classic, they weren't feeling too good about their upcoming fall schedule.  So, in late June, they suddenly announced Unforgettable was going back into production.

As the ratings for Made In Jersey demonstrate, CBS can bomb as easily as any other network.  Last Resort had a hard time attracting new viewers (the show lost viewers with each episode but was still earning respectable ratings) because the concept is just not that popular.  It never is.   Which is why Combat! and The Rat Patrol haven't resulted in a plethora of copycat programs.  The premise of Made In Jersey was also a huge turn-off.  It felt like Lipstick Jungle with a dash of Jersey Shore and the mix didn't make for a procedural that interested many.

We'd further add that Kyle MacLachlan is always a deal breaker.  Like Campbell Scott, MacLachlan can run off an audience faster than anything.  With the high-concept premise (Damages meets My Cousin Vinnie) and with Jersey Shore having peaked as relevant in October 2010 when South Park's "It's A Jersey Thing" first aired, you really needed something to warm up viewers.  If you consider the name of well liked TV personalities CBS has under contract and is not using, it's amazing that no one thought to plug one or two TV favorites into Made In Jersey

ABC put a two TV favorites in 666 Park Avenue and that might be the only reason viewers tuned in.  Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives) has a loyal following and Dave Annable had been very popular on Brothers and  SistersBetty covered the show each week at her site and early on identified the problem, "I wish they'd pace the scary better so that the scares came more often and it wasn't always the cliffhanger at the end of the episode being the most scary moment of the episode."  That was the problem.

It clearly wanted to be American Horror Story (FX series starring Jessica Lange in an Emmy award winning role).  But it lacked the guts and skill to get there.  The show about good and evil and supernatural things lacked one main evil character.  There was no Constance Landgon and, with each episode, characters with edges found them smoothed over.  Better pacing could have saved that.

Take "Rubber Man."  That first season episode of American Horror Story had thrills and chills throughout.   But, as Betty pointed out after the second episode aired, 666 Park Avenue saved the scares for the finale.  And usually the start of the next episode offered something milder than a Nancy Drew mystery.  Shows that are supposed to be scary need pacing and they need villains. 

Like Last Resort, Partners was pulling in viewers.  Was it pulling in as much as its surrounding sitcoms on CBS Mondays?  Nope.  But it was the new show.  It was the one that audiences would need to get used to.  Focusing on Partners allows CBS to ignore the real problem with Mondays: the ratings are down across the board.  Mondays was the network's big night and they were going to leverage that into Mondays and Thursdays.  They're doing great on Thursdays but the slippage on Mondays should bother them.

Friday night, Marcia wrote at length about the cancellation of Partners in "Partners gets the axe?" and what stood out most about the post to us was when she talked about Will and Grace.  Mondays was the low-brow yuck-fest for NBC.  Will and Grace was funny on that night but did not break out until NBC tried it on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Possibly The Big Bang Theory might have been a better pairing on Thursdays?  That would have allowed Two And A Half Men to return to Mondays -- its absence appears to have effected Monday ratings.

Partners was a poorly promoted but very funny show.  Of the new sitcoms on networks this fall, it was a ratings winner.  The over-hyped NBC sitcom The New Normal, for instance, continues to tank in the ratings, Fox's Ben and Kate is doing even worse than The New Normal,  and Partners has consistently gotten higher ratings than second season episode of ABC's Don't Trust The B---- in Apartment 23 which the network considers a hit.  What Partners needed was the opportunity to build some word of mouth. 

As Marcia pointed out, disgusting crap like the William Shatner sitcom and the awful American version of Worst Week were given much longer to find an audience.  But maybe taking the axe to Partners allows the CBS suits to pretend like Monday nights aren't down an average of 1.5 million viewers?  Maybe it will distract the Water Cooler Set from noting that as well?

They need not worry about the Water Cooler Set just yet.  It takes very long for anything other than hype to register with them.  What they should worry about was taking an axe to Partners.

If your line up is aging poorly -- as ratings suggest CBS Monday nights are -- the answer is rarely to keep the same shows on.  What's usually needed is new blood, something fresh.  So how cancelling the new show on Monday nights fixes the schedule escapes us.

At the end of Staight-Jacket, Joan Crawford accompanies Diane Baker to the asylum.  Sadly, at the networks, crazy can never be confined.


Note: "Will and Grace."  That's not the title!  We know.  But it's a Blogger/Blogspot problem.  When this is published you will read "Will and Grace."  If we use the symbol, we get extra.  For example: Will & Grace.  We didn't type the nonsense.  That shows up every time you use that symbol.  We are sick and tired of going through our TV pieces after they publish because that nonsense is added.  We have to go and clean it up.  If we use the symbol five times but only fix it four times and then realize we need to go back in, it's not just fixing that fifth time because we have to re-fix the four we've already fixed.  It's not worth.  We're not using that symbol in our TV commentaries anymore unless Blogger/Blogspot fixes their problem.

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