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CBS Owns Television and My Faves Aren’t Cool

November 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I know it’s nothing new… CBS has been dominating TV for a few years now, and they do it with authority. Still, I can’t help but think back to the days when Touched by an Angel was CBS’ big thing, and when they hit the ground running with now long-running reality shows, Big Brother and Survivor, taking on the crest of a reality television wave that soon died out. Remember The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?… Good times.

I so hated reality TV, though. To some extent, I still do. I like my entertainment scripted, thank you very much. And I don’t buy the “reality” schtick one bit. Those gigs are so staged.

That said, reality television has its merits, and continue to play a large role in American pop culture today — as much as it pains me to admit it.

But, seriously, CBS used to be considered a network for old folks, to put it bluntly. Never did they have the wide breadth of programming that they do now. It was back when NBC consistently ruled the week on a regular basis, and fostered their “Must See TV Thursday” line-up with a two-hour block of strong sitcoms, ranging from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Seinfeld to Mad About You to Friends to Frasier to Will & Grace. All of that was followed by the popular medical drama, ER (which is now in its 14th season).

Mad About You debuted in 1992, and helped launch film careers of both stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. As a result, Hunt is the second actress to have won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Oscar all within the same calendar year; the first to do so was Liza Minnelli. Photo © In Front Productions and Nuance Productions

Over the course of roughly 15 years, starting in 1990 with Will Smith’s breakout series, NBC had a revolving door of choices that always gathered strong audiences. This, of course, does not even take into account the success of 80’s sitcoms like Cheers and The Cosby Show. As for the 1990’s, not one of the aforementioned sitcoms lasted less than six seasons, and one can’t turn on the television at any time of the day without finding one of these series airing in syndication.

Unfortunately, that control began to fade as these sitcoms began to die off, one by one. The Fresh Prince ended in 1996, Seinfeld in 1998, and Mad About You ended in 1999 — but not before stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser were making a cool million dollars per episode in the last season (this precedent undoubtedly helped the six Friends stars achieve the same pay a few years later). NBC finally let go of the six-character show with seven-figure actors in 2004, along with Cheers spin-off, Frasier. And they only just called it quits on Will & Grace in 2006.

Friends stars (from L-R) David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston were, at one point, the highest paid actors in television. Known for their real-life bond, these actors helped keep NBC in the spotlight for a decade. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

It was a bitter release that seriously hurt NBC in the long-run. It’s not to say that their other nights weren’t successful, because they were. However, “Must See TV Thursday” was a staple of the network. Whether it’s by coincidence or not, once the sitcoms faded away, so did NBC’s control. By the time 2004 rolled around, CBS already had several Jerry Bruckheimer dramas in tow, including the three-pronged CSI franchise, Cold Case, Without a Trace and Close to Home. It would seem the Old Fogey network snuck up on us all and wholeheartedly earned control of our entertainment.

So far, CBS hasn’t been sharing much by way of viewers, unless it’s begrudgingly with ABC, another network that underwent somewhat of a revamping a few years ago. Both CSI and Grey’s Anatomy fight for dominance on a regular basis — that is, when American Idol isn’t on, the World Series isn’t in full swing, or Dancing with the Stars isn’t airing. Otherwise, they take turns for the Number 1 spot of the week. Ironically, both series air during the same timeslot on Thursday nights — a night with which NBC seems to struggle rather consistently nowadays.

Popular online website zap2it.com has the Nielsen’s list of Top 20 series for the week of November 11th through November 18th. Of the series listed, CBS has 11, ABC has 6, NBC has 2 (with their highest ranking being at 11 with Sunday Night Football), and FOX has 1. Seriously, it’s no longer much of a contest anymore, and the tables have certainly turned.

Talk of Grey’s Anatomy leads me to the conclusion that my shows just aren’t “cool” yet, even halfway through the season, while dramas like the one starring Ellen Pompeo continues to dominate. I’ve never gotten into it, but I absolutely love Shonda Rhimes’ other medical drama, Private Practice. I really can’t believe it’s only recently broken into the Top 20 spot, though I have my theories as to why that is.

For one thing, they don’t have sex all the time. Grey’s was built upon the sex lives of the young interns.

For another, three-fourths of the Private Practice cast are over the age of 35. The leads, a cast of geniuses really, don’t really cater to the preferred demographic I guess, which would explain why there wasn’t as much crossover between both Rhimes series as perhaps everyone expected.

Private Practice stars television veterans (from L-R) Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Tim Daly, Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman and Paul Adelstein, along with relative newcomer, Chris Lowell. Photo © ShondaLand

It’s a shame, too. Kate Walsh, Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Paul Adelstein and Tim Daly are all immensely talented. I don’t really care that they all seem to have a “been there, done that” air about them. It’s because they’re not playing sex-crazed, twenty-somethings that I enjoy them so much. No offense to Grey’s, because it’s a great show in its own right, but Private Practice is much more mature without the “mature” content. It’s been nearly eight episodes, and I’m pretty sure there’s only been one sex scene — if that. It’s rare for a show to go that long without nookie, and I applaud them.

Sadly, the same applies to my other favorite series, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty and Women’s Murder Club. None of them are in the top spots, they don’t have sexy, steamy characters in dramatic relationships, and that’s apparently what sells. That and crime dramas, like Criminal Minds and NCIS. Oh well. Thankfully they’re still performing strong enough to stick around.

Now, for spoiler junkies like myself, TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello has revealed some great scoop about some of the top-rated series on television (along with some other juicy secrets) here. You’ve gotta love this guy, if not for his fans.

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Strikes, Viewership and ‘Women’s Murder Club’

October 15, 2007 Leave a comment

Strike on the Horizon

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the recent Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) issues that have been a brewing in Hollywood of late. Apparently the issue stems from Guild members requesting more money for content that makes it to the Web. According to Broadcast Newsroom, there has been heavy debating on either side, but there is a silver lining for some shows: With the networks ordering so many scripts in advance (so as to compensate for a potential strike that will otherwise leave them with gaping holes in their programming), it’s giving “struggling” series a second chance at survival. The popular online trade magazine cited CBS’ Cane, FOX’s K-Ville and ABC’s Big Shots as examples of such stragglers.

This all seems to be yet another indication of the ever-changing distribution model that studios and networks have both been fighting and trying to keep up with for the past couple of years. There is, as always, an issue of copyright, and how the original authors of a product can be properly compensated. Unfortunately, thanks to torrents and a host of other video- and media-sharing websites, it’s very difficult to track every single download. While it’s unfortunate for the creators of each work, it’s also rather unavoidable. Worldwide, fans are determined and resourceful when it comes to finding what they want on the Internet.

Is TV Viewership Rising, Falling, Or at a Plateau?

I’ve been wondering lately how viewership has been faring, but it’s become a bit hard to compare this season’s performance with last season’s because of the recent DVR debacle. Networks are wanting ratings credit for viewers who watch their series through DVR and TiVo usage, and Nielsen is admittedly trying to keep up with the changes.

The digital age has caused a revolution for which networks, advertisers and Nielsen’s were not quite prepared, but they are trying. Still, I’m a bit surprised that there are no new series that have gotten the official axe yet. Granted, it’s still early, but usually there’s a stinker or two that’s canned after the first week. I’ve yet to find one. And I know that doesn’t mean that quality in programming has increased, because ABC’s Cavemen is still around. Its concept (and the fact that ABC, of all networks, actually greenlit it) still boggles my mind.

So, we have struggling shows that aren’t doing so hot this season. We have no breakout hits, despite the many, many, heavily-pimped new series, such as Private Practice, Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Cane, Pushing Daisies, Life, Moonlight and Back to You. However, we also have networks preemptively requesting more scripts so they can have something to produce and broadcast over the next three or four months in the event of a strike. With all of these technological and political changes, it’s going to be an interesting season. Some series may be cancelled a little later than usual, while others may be given a final chance to add that extra umph! they’ve needed to truly shine. Only time will tell how each network’s programming fares.

Women’s Murder Club


Picture by tvguide.com/ABC — From left to right: Paula Newsome, Laura Harris, Aubrey Dollar and Angie Harmon

I caught the series premiere of ABC’s newest drama based on the literary work of acclaimed bestseller, James Patterson. The series, starring crime drama veteran Angie Harmon, follows the lives and careers of four diverse San Francisco women as they work together to solve murders.

At first, I’m sure some people scoffed at the idea. Though Patterson (who also serves as Executive Producer of the TV series) has had incredible success with the book series, I’d imagine there may have been some trepidation with having an all-woman team solve crime. For one thing, it breaks tradition. Over the past 20 years, law enforcement shows have typically comprised of a male-female duo, with the male lead character mostly taking precendence.

While I am personally intrigued by the concept, I would not be surprised if some wondered whether the audience would buy, or be interested in, four women taking on the bad guys every week.

Fast National Ratings, as reported by zap2it.com, suggest that Women’s Murder Club had a strong reception with audiences. Though premieres are not always indcative of a series’ overall success, Friday is a tough night, specifically with CBS’ killer lineup. If the series can measure up to the competition on a regular basis, and build upon what I’m sure is an increasing online fanbase (most likely comprised of women), I think the series has the opportunity to be a success.

It’s unconventional, not just in theme and characters, but also in directing and writing. The story takes place in beautiful San Francisco, shying away from the obvious and overdone choice — gritty New York City.

While Harmon’s Lindsay Boxer has a backstory that may bring in a bit too much soap to the story (the character’s ex-husband is assigned as Boxer’s boss in the pilot), the combination of hard-nosed professionals with passion and a trusting friendship will ultimately drive the series. I’m looking forward to more episodes, and seeing how each of these characters will contribute to future storylines.