TV Season in Review: Breaks Are Bad, Gore Is Good, a Reality Check and More Lessons Learned
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
An extended hiatus (…or two) and willy-nilly scheduling can wreak havoc on a show’s momentum and thus its ratings — and, worst case, leave viewers to dwell on a subpar installment for too long. But has this lesson truly been learned by everyone? CBS is airing its new Hostages thriller for 15 straight episodes, period, then turning the time slot over to a second new series. ABC, meanwhile, had the brill notion to use its Wonderland-based spin-off to fill Once Upon a Time‘s annual wintertime hiatus… but abandoned the idea by instead scheduling the offshoot for fall. That makes us Grumpy.
SOMETIMES, LESS IS MORE
Somewhere, at some point last spring, someone decided that Revenge needed to be about “more” than one woman’s laser-focused quest for [see show title]. And yet all season long, charter fans begged for the show to return to its simpler, Initiative-free roots. Hopefully, the welcome reception the Season 2 finale got sent a message to whomever tinkered with Emily’s tale.
GOOD WIFE FANS MUST ALWAYS DVR THE MENTALIST
CBS does the best it can, with earlier kick-off times and the Twitter/ text message/on-screen “delay” alerts, but during football season, one must always be willing to record a little Patrick Jane if they want all of Alicia Florrick.
REALITY TITANS ARE WEAKENING
Following So You Think You Can Dance‘s lead, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars is scrapping its own results show, starting this fall. The Biggest Loser already slimmed down to one hour a week. And X Factor and American Idol are (again) promising less bloat/results show filler. Will this ebb in the reality-TV craze further reward us with more scripted fare? That answer… after this commercial break!
PAYOFF IS APPRECIATED
With a fleeting season-ending cameo (featuring some deft casting), How I Met Your Mother quelled a growing wave of frustration-filled negative sentiment by finally delivering on The Mother. Whether the sitcom can proceed to pull off the 24-episode weekend wedding in its farewell season remains to be seen.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Another network (say, CBS) might have felt burned by Chicago Fire‘s tepid ratings and middling premiere buzz and not given the freshman drama as much rope. But NBC did, and even got a spin-off out of the deal. Similarly, ABC gave The Neighbors some breathing room after a lambasted debut, and wound up seeing the critical tide turn enough to net the comedy a second season.
WE’RE LOVIN’ HAYDEN
Think back to a year ago, and you’ll probably remember scoffing at the casting of “that Heroes cheerleader,” Hayden Panettiere, opposite Tami Taylor herself. And yet now the petite powerhouse is breaking your heart, just as in any number of country music tunes, with every setback she suffers.
SINGING SHOWS SHOULD KEEP THE DRAMA ON STAGE
Remember the Epic Mariah/Nicki Feud of 2012, “caught” on tape by TMZ or some such sort and destined to have everyone glued to the new season of American Idol? [Crickets] Or how about the time one of Fox’s singing competitions — Idol or The X Factor — was trying to sustain buzz for its current season, only to have headlines glommed by the “Who Will Be the Judges?!”/contract drama on the other show? In short: Now more than ever, it’s time to let these shows be about the singers on stage and not the overpaid people behind the soda pop cups.
TV HEROES CAN BE SUPER
Just as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Marvel’s assorted superhero movie franchises are doing big business on the big screen, The CW’s Arrow proved that a regular ol’ living room welcomes comic book faves as well. (And no, oft-exposed abs don’t hurt.) The big test, though: Can Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this fall do solid-enough numbers for a Big 4 network?
THERE WILL BE NO HAPPY ENDING FOR ANY MODERN FAMILY LEAD-OUT
The number of hipsters, catchphrase creators, Dawson’s Creek alumni and perky single moms who have labored to prove worthy of the Dunphys’ dynamite ratings could fill a football stadium. Good luck this fall, Rebel Wilson!
YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO TWISTY
No, not every show can adopt the Scandal-pace of burning through story and rattling off dialogue. But if Shonda Rhimes’ ever-buzzy sophomore hit showed us anything, it’s that if the writers are up to the challenge, uncorking an insane amount of juicy twists and expediently dropped bombshells will get the pop culture conversation churning as well, and in turn pump up the ratings.
STOP UNDERESTIMATING THE BRAVERMANS!
Suffice to say, NBC learned that 15 episodes of Parenthood is not enough, renewing the beloved family drama — which regularly won its Tuesday time slot — for a full 22-episode season coming this fall… albeit opposite (eek) Scandal.
MARKETING IS EVERYTHING
Assuredly with an eye on American Horror Story’s impressive freshman run, ABC leaped onto the scare-fare bandwagon with this supernatural drama… yet hedged its bets by touting the show as the “seductive” portion of its Sunday line-up. That thematic disconnect still makes our teeth itch.
‘NARROW’ COMEDIES ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
In explaining his giving Happy Endings the hook, ABC president Paul Lee said the comedy proved too “narrow” — a concern obviously shared by his peers, as this past season delivered zero breakout comedy hits, while even fan favorites such as Community and Parks and Recreation earned renewals by the skin of their teeth.
ABC STILL HAS A MASSIVE THURSDAY PROBLEM
Taking some of the bloom off the rose for Grey’s Anatomy (TV’s No. 2-rated drama after nine seasons) and Scandal (which hit an all-time high with its sophomore finale) is the fact that ABC’s Thursday lead-off spot is salted earth. Zero Hour, Last Resort, Missing and Charlie’s Angels are just some of the shows that have lived and died in the 8 o’clock spot in the past two years, so this fall, ABC will try to have its cake and eat it too, scheduling the closest thing to a “returning favorite” — Once Upon a Time in Wonderland — in the impossible slot.
PARTING CAN BE MORE SWEET THAN SORROW
Fringe, Private Practice, The Office and 30 Rock are among the shows that locked into end dates and as such were able to build toward satisfying swan songs. Next in line to plot their final exits: Dexter , How I Met Your Mother and Nikita.
THERE ARE MORE PLAYERS THAN EVER
And we’re not just talking about the multitude of characters Tatiana Maslany plays on Orphan Black, BBC America’s terrific new piece of wonderfully original programming. Throw in the likes of Sundance’s Rectify and Top of the Lake, in addition to all the must-see goodness from cablers such as AMC and FX, and your DVR’s plate overfloweth.
BLOODY + GOOD = BLOODY GOOD!
With a demo rating of nearly 6.0, AMC’s super-squicky The Walking Dead not only trounced any broadcast drama this season but even bested The Big Bang Theory, all while amassing more than 12 million total viewers — on a basic cable network. Similarly, Fox’s intense, stabby The Following not only emerged as the year’s top-rated new drama, it even beat the No. 1 returning drama, Grey’s Anatomy, while American Horror Story’s perverse thrills and chills failed to scare many away. And though it doesn't deliver the quantity (of viewers) to match its quality, Hannibal‘s fans are able to look through their fingers and past its gasp-worthy gore to appreciate its eye-opening smarts, as well.
AT SOME POINT, HATE-WATCHING BECOMES HATE-TO-WATCH
NBC’s Smash drummed up buzz during its freshman run, due in large part to what some dubbed “hate-watching,” wherein people would tune in simply to snark away on social media and such. Thing is, while “hate-watching” may seem hipster-cool in the moment, over time — say, a long hiatus between seasons — that perception that a show simply isn't very good congeals into simple disinterest.