Sunday, November 16, 2014

TV: The networks cry, "Let them drink piss!"

In the last ten years, viewer erosion has become acceptable as one show after another starts off huge and quickly caters.  In fact, Fox has built an entire line up around shows with massive viewer erosion.

You could even argue that Fox not only owns viewer erosion, it's pioneering new ways to accelerate it.

Take The Following.  The Kevin Bacon melodrama suffered what's now considered normal erosion throughout season one.  But as season two kicked off and viwers were told Claire (Natalie Zea) was dead (had died offscreen), the ratings went south with the ninth episode reaching now just a season low but a series low.

Episode ten revealed Claire really wasn't dead and the audience began to return but still much below the viewership season one had.

Last season also saw Family Guy take a turn for the worse in the ratings as well.

Episode six shocked many as the show killed off the dog in "Life of Brian."  The chatter and attention actually helped the next two episodes without Brian and his return also did well.  But fans responded to the trick (and slap in the face) as the season continued by fleeing in droves.

The series ended on a season low.  This season, barring The Simpsons' crossover, has also demonstrated a bond was broken with the audience with the stunt of killing off Brian.

You'd think suits would be paying attention but they clearly aren't because this Let Them Drink Piss approach to viewers is spreading to other networks.

CBS built their audience around sameness.  If you hate change, chances are you're a loyal CBS viewer.

So it's all the more surprising that the network's hit Elementary has decided to split up Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu).  That's the surprise.  The audience reaction hasn't been and Thursday night saw the series hit a season and series low.

Reality, audiences can take misery.

They can even enjoy it.

Years ago, One Life To Live had Judith Light's Karen Wolek pretend to go back into 'the life' and it cut her off from her friends.  The audience response was harsh until several scenes made clear that Victoria Lord (Erika Slezak) was tortured by the decision of her friend Karen and, after Vicki and her boys left, that Karen was tortured by keeping the truth from Vicki.  From that moment on, the audience was on board.

They were no longer suffering alone as they watched, they knew that the characters they loved were suffering as well.

If Holmes and Watson are going to be apart, the viewers don't want to see Holmes eagerly replacing Watson.  They want to know that the characters hate the separation as much as they do.

Why you'd go with that storyline to begin with is a mystery, one more implausible than anything Sherlock Holmes has ever tackled.

Some have offered that Elementary is down because it's up against ABC's ratings powerhouse How To Get Away With Murder and there may be a little truth to that; however, it's also true that last season saw Elementary go up against ABC's ratings powerhouse Scandal.

Point being, Elementary isn't losing viewers to How To Get Away With Murder, it's sending them over to the other network.

And then there's Grimm.

NBC's supernatural series is in season four and has lost three to four million viewers since the end of season three.

If you're asking, "How did that happen?" . . . Congratulations, you're stupid enough to work in NBC's executive suite.

However, you're too smart to work at NBC if you're gnashing your teeth and snarling, "Curses, April!"

In 1980, ABC launched a silly but successful sitcom entitled Too Close For Comfort.  It was a Three's Company rip-off with Ted Knight playing the Stanley Roper role as he fixated over the actions of his tenants (and daughters) Sarah (Lydia Cornell)  and Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and their friend Monroe. The cast was energetic and vibrant and managed to provide a solid half hour of entertainment despite frequently tired scripts. When a show survives on just the appeal of the performers, a network can breathe easy.

Unless someone knows how to 'fix' the show.

Fade in on a season two and horror of sexually ambiguous April played by the annoying Deena Freeman.  Was April a man or a woman, straight or lesbian, who knew?  There were some who swore she'd be revealed as a transvestite -- thereby going back to the pilot when Henry (Ted Knight) discovers his deceased tenant Rafkin was a transvestite.

But everything April did was odd, distracting and annoying.

She pulled the viewers out of the confection the rest of the cast was spinning by always being too loud and too abrasive.

Her mannish female was an oddity.  All the more so because no one ever commented on it or acknowledged it.

Did someone say Truble?

Near the end of last season, Jacqueline Toboni joined the cast of Grimm playing the most mannish female on NBC since Nancy McKeon's Jo of Facts of Life.

Truble is as annoying as a Joe Pesci in drag.   She fails to blend in with the other performers and is instead a shark suit in a field of flannel.

It's bad enough that she's even on the show, this actress who sends audiences fleeing with her mumbling and macho posturing.  But the producers really want to punish the audiences so they've allowed her to have "Grimm powers" (the ability to look at a demon in human form and see them as they really are) while stripping Nick of his "Grimm powers."

At least half the audience would be overjoyed if Nick (David Giuntoli) was stripped regularly -- of his clothes.  But when you start taking away his power, you're undercutting the character and the reason the audience watches.

And the ratings reflect that.

We're seeing another shift in ratings.

The last ten or so years made it acceptable to keep airing a show that repeatedly lost viewers (call it The 30 Rock Pursuit).  Now there's a move to actively work at sending even more viewers fleeing by taking away the very elements that made anyone want to watch a show in the first place.

How long before fed up viewers begin storming the executive suites of Burbank?

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