Sunday, June 02, 2013

TV: The return of summer schedules on broadcast TV

The broadcast commercial networks are attempting to make the summer break competitive once again.  As we've noted before, summer used to be where shows got try-outs.  The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour started out as a summer replacement show and went on to be a huge hit for CBS.


This summer NBC is airing the variety show America's Got Talent  (Tuesdays starting July 10th), the  reality show America Ninja Warrior on Mondays (starting July 9th) paired with the reality show Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls on Monday nights (starting July 8th), the scripted show Camp starring Rachel Griffiths on Wednesdays (starting July 10th) and it's already airing a great show we'll get to in a moment.

ABC's popular summer drama Rookie Blue returned to Thursday nights May 23rd, the awful show Wipe Out returned, The Bachelorette returned last week on Monday nights, Motive is the new detective drama leading into Rookie Blue on Thursday nights.  Returning last week were Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (Tuesdays) and What Would You Do? (Wednesdays).  The end of the month sees a reality mystery show Whodunnit? (Sundays starting June 23rd) and the return of Celebrity Wife Swap (same night, same channel) while  June 3rd (tomorrow) sees the premiere of the drama Mistress starring Alyssa Milano, Rochelle Aytes, Yunjin Kim and Jes Macallan.  Through the end of the month, Wednesday nights finds ABC airing new episodes of the sitcom How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life) paired with new episodes of the sitcom Family Tools (which finishes July 10th -- and Stan wrote about Family Tools last week at his site praising the show).  Friday, June 22nd ABC also begins airing the last four episodes of 666 Park Avenue.

The CW has nothing scripted but their improv game show Whose Line Is It Anyway? returns Tuesday, July 16th and the dating game Perfect Score debuts the same night.  Reality show Breaking Pointe debuts July 29th and reality show The Hunt on July 31st.

Fox's scripted show The Goodwin Games (sitcom starring Scott Foley) is already airing Monday nights. Reality shows Hell's Kitchen returned last month and is paired with reality show Does Someone Have to Go? on Thursdays.  Supposedly, July 27th will see the late night Saturday debut of Animation Domination High-Def; however, that show was supposed to have debuted back in January so don't be surprised if the start date gets pushed back again.

CBS started airing the Wednesday night cooking competition show The Great British Bake Off last month.  It's their only new episodes until the end of this month.  First, Monday, June 24th, Under The Dome debuts.  It's from the Stephens -- Spielberg and King.  Then the reality show Big Brother returns June 26 (and begins taking up three nights on CBS' weekly schedule).  Sunday, July 28th is when Poppy Montgomery's Unforgettable returns.

The summer return of this show is the only reason at least two execs at CBS still have jobs.  CBS did not have a good season.  This past season saw CSI:NY crater and saw new hour long dramas Vegas, Made in Jersey and Golden Boy bomb.  May 2012, CBS was so cocky.  They had Poppy's show bringing in an average of ten million viewers weekly.  A huge hit.  And they cancelled the show.  Only after protests -- and some wise words about how bad things could be next May if their new shows didn't pan out and the president of the network started asking why they thought they could do better than Unforgettable -- was it quickly announced that the show would have a second season as a summer replacement show.  If that hadn't happened, at least two CBS execs would be out on their asses.

The show should never have been cancelled.  It was a hit and you cannot have too many hits.  Execs at CBS thought otherwise in May 2012 but learned reality in May 2013.  It will be one of the bright spots of the summer.

One.  The brightest spot right now is NBC's Save Me, the Anne Heche sitcom airing on Thursdays.  Anne plays drunk Beth Harper who chokes on a sandwich one night and survives the next morning.  She now hears God speaking to her.  Is she crazy or is God speaking to her?  Something has her straightening out her life.  She stops drinking, she tries to establish a relationship with her teenage daughter Emily (Madison Davenport) and she lets her husband Tom (Michael Landes) know that God's saying he's not really happy about Tom's affair.  With his mistress (and employee), Tom's joking about how he's going to be smited by God.  It's not so funny when the mistress shows up on Beth's front lawn and, after refusing to leave, gets hit by a thunderbolt of lightning.

The fact that she could be crazy should help stop some criticism of the show that would be in place if the premise was God is speaking to her.  This is a funny show about redemption.  Anne's perfect in it and Michael Landes is perfect as her husband.  You believe them as a couple and you believe that, whatever's happening to Beth Harper, it's helping others.  It's helped her daughter, it's helped an angry old neighbor, it's helped the friend who she betrayed when, while drunk, she came on to the friend's husband and stole the friend's espresso machine.  Neither the stories nor the humor is obvious.  It's a real adventure and it's a shame NBC couldn't have paired it up with Community or another out of the norm show.  When Thursdays this November are bombing in the ratings, someone at NBC should be asked why Save Me wasn't on the fall schedule?

We're the ones who made the argument last year that CBS better turn Unforgettable into a summer show.  We made that here and we made it in person.  When we made it here we became the only critics to champion the show.  The Water Cooler Set couldn't be bothered.  Can they ever?

They certainly haven't rushed to note Save Me.

Last week, they did rush to weigh in on Arrested Development returning with new episodes on Netflix.  With Hemlock Grove last April, The Water Cooler Set 'discovered' something: Netflix tossing out a full season of shows on one day wasn't a working model.  It didn't allow people to absorb the show or discuss it the way that would have happened with a one-episode-a-week manner of unveiling.

We'd call them astute but we were making that observation in February about Netflix's House of Cards . . . and we were repeating because we'd already made that observation January 20th about Crackle's Chosen.  Poor Water Cooler Set, incapable of original insight.  They're forever the seat fillers at the Academy Awards who briefly rush in while the real people get up to go to the bathroom or stretch their legs.

All week long last week, The Water Cooler Set proved just how stupid they were as they tried to explain why Arrested Development was disappointing some people.  The first 'genius' to get it wrong was Jace Lacob (The Daily Beast) but once he typed it, everyone rushed to repeat it:

Due to necessity, the format is different for Arrested’s fourth season; each episode focuses on a specific Bluth (Michael, Lucille, Tobias, etc.) as locking down the schedules for all of the actors for the entire production was impossible. Instead, an episode doesn’t have a B- or C-storyline, but just a single arc, shuttling backwards and forwards in time, to bring the audience up to date on the efforts of George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) to build (or not build) a wall on the U.S./Mexican border or whatever new depravity GOB (Will Arnett) has embraced. (Bees, limos, and Christian magic are all on the table.)

This new format relies on all of its characters being able to carry an episode on their own (though a few other characters often do turn up throughout), and I’ll be honest here: they’re not always able to. 

Let's be honest here, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.  But that didn't stop everyone from repeating that lie.  By the end of the week, it was even being repeated by the Marxist analysts of World Socialist Web Site.  From Joanne Laurier's piece:

Reportedly, the series’ creators had difficulties coordinating the schedules of the leading actors who play the Bluths. This meant a format change in which each main character had to carry an episode (or more) essentially on his or her own—in some cases, doubles shot from behind stood in for other lead performers. Whether the problems were strictly logistical-budgetary, or the show’s own creators did not really understand why the original series worked so well, the results are not effective. Ripped out of the dynamic of the core ensemble, individual cast members are not able conjure up their former magic—or energy. While some scenes are funnier than others, no episode is entirely successful and most are plodding and rudderless.

Do those two and all the ones repeating in between them feel smart?  Do they feel like they did a job?

We think they failed as critics and should find a new line of work.

If Arrested Development were live  -- or maybe even taped before a live audience, they might have a point.  It's not.  It's filmed.

We're not fans of filmed comedies.  Most of them suck.  Most of the time with comedy, as Lucille Ball damn well knew, you need a live audience in front of you to feed off that energy and to see what's working.

But these idiots of The Water Cooler Set, they championed this return to 60s TV.  That is what it is.  It's all those bad comedies that, for the most part, are avoided and not big in syndication today.  The shows weren't funny.  At best, they provided whimsy.  Sort of like My Name Is Earl -- a sitcom The Water Cooler Set drooled over and a sitcom that helped destroy NBC Thursday nights.

My Name Is Earl was never a huge hit outside of the pilot.  By 2009, it was cratering.  It had always damaged Thursday nights but you had to know how to read ratings -- not a difficult task we thought until we encountered The Water Cooler Set -- to grasp that.  By the final season, there was no way to deny how bad it was doing.

But The Water Cooler Set had misled for so long that wanna be Water Cooler Setter Orrin Konheim had an online hissy fit that ratings led to the show being cancelled:

My first complaint is why are TV networks so oblivious to everything but Nielsen ratings? Just look up TV guide or Entertainment Weekly and see how often people are writing praises for My Name is Earl as opposed to a show like Yes, Dear or Two and a Half Men. Go to and and see how many people have posted votes or reviews on a series like My Name is Earl. See how active the message boards are. Talk to people. See how many fans of these shows exist on facebook. Look at Q ratings. Look at the volume of My Name is Earl-related twitter messages. Look at traffic on your site. Look at itunes sales and hulu sales.

To Orrin, success was social media -- Facebook, Twitter.  It was The Water Cooler Set that also invoked that shallow criteria.  It was "itunes sales and hulu sales."  My Name Is Earl didn't sell well on iTunes.  It didn't sell at all on Hulu because Hulu doesn't sell episodes.

Hulu is factored in from time to time.  As we noted in September of 2009, Hulu stats were what kept Cougar Town on the air for a second episode.  The ratings were there but ABC was iffy because there was a campaign launched against the show.  Was it a one-time thing?  Nope.  Because Hulu stats showed that people  were watching the next day -- despite all the e-mails claiming the show was "disgusting" and that, having seen the first episode, they'd never watch it again.  We explained that in our piece -- it's called reporting, and heaven help us, it's a chore that's been too often left to us.

Apparently, it's left to us to note the obvious as well.

One of the few 60s (and beyond) sitcoms that found a life in syndication was My Three Sons.  We do have a point.  When Barbara Stanwyck was getting ready to do The Big Valley, her friend and frequent co-star Fred MacMurray told her how he survived doing the TV show My Three Sons -- he only worked three months a year.  He did all of his scenes first for the entire season.  In three months, he was done and they were left to film the other scenes -- the non-Fred MacMurray scenes -- throughout the rest of the weeks each season.

When you're doing a TV show that's not live, you can do that.  (The not live but filmed before a studio audience Three's Company filmed Suzanne Somers scenes separately at the end of her run on that show.)

You get what that means, right?  There was no production troubles that prevented them from filming subplots to add in to other episodes.  If Portia de Rossi could only work two weeks, for example, that would mean they had ten days to film scenes with Portia and that was honestly more than enough to fit her into any episode.  They didn't have to be filmed in order.

Only a stupid and uninformed idiot would argue that 'production schedules' meant that each episode had to center on one character and you couldn't have subplots in the episodes.

The stupid and the uninformed Water Cooler Set goes a long way towards explaining the decay of commercial broadcast television.  They never really cared for it, a little 'too common' for them.  But they never championed it either.

Repeatedly, they got behind 'buzz' shows that had no audiences and usually had no audiences for good reason.  They refused to champion entertaining shows that needed the good word of mouth.  See, once upon a time, critics helped build word of mouth about TV shows.  But in the '00s, The Water Cooler Set chased trends and buss to try to pretend that they were meaningful or at least 'cool.'

They have failed at their jobs repeatedly.

Everyone of us has power.  We can choose to use it and how we use it.  How very sad that The Water Cooler Set has nothing to show for a full decade.  We, on the other hand, have spent years here making the argument for why commercial television needed to return to summer seasons.

It's not as if they even have a choice anymore.  If they're going to remain competitive in the ratings, broadcast television is going to have start doing summer programming.  We explained that, made that argument for years, and The Water Cooler Set was off raving over some man in a cable TV show.

Everyone of us has power.  In the past, TV critics used their power to champion and to lead.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  Today, what's 'trending' passes for a discussion of quality.   The '00s produced no great show that changed the face of television.  That's largely the fault of The Water Cooler Set who failed to promote, failed to push, failed to prod.  They are responsible for the lack of quality in the decade.  Hopefully, they -- like the decade they represent -- are now a thing of the past.  TV viewers deserve better.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }