It’s been an interesting year for television.
With ratings sinking, cheap reality programming gaining traction and a couple of long-running landmark programs coming to an end, the landscape for the next year or two might be a complete crapshoot.
Although I don’t spend my time wallowing in celebrity gossip, I do find the machinations of the television industry fascinating. And this year has been particularly bizarre, with the whole Leno/Conan debacle the biggest story of the year – unless you want to separate Leno’s return to The Tonight Show from the single greatest disaster in prime time history. Ironic that Jay would make Headlines wither way.
Somehow The Simpsons keeps rolling along, South Park remains controversial and long running franchises Law And Order and CSI Wherever multiply like rabbits. Networks try to feed us more copycat cop crap, lame lawyer shows and miserable medical dramas. When they come up with something original (FlashForward) or even a reinvention of a past success (V) they forget that a complex serialized drama can’t have a huge gap in its schedule or momentum will be lost. (And speaking of Lost, someone at ABC couldn’t even understand the concept of the phrase “uniterrupted schedule”, choosing to air a repeat episode April 25th).
Fox has announced that 24 is ending this season, no doubt largely in part to the high cost of the program. But they hit the jackpot with Glee, and hopefully will pour some American Idol profit into keeping the wonderful Fringe alive. NBC looks like it might finally have a Thursday night comedy block again (Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock) but is scrambling to replace the third of their schedule that The Jay Leno Show wiped out. If ABC drops it’s two high-priced sci-fi shows and cancels Heroes, they virtually concede Monday and Tuesday nights; only Castle and Modern Family have broken the mold of celebretard programming. CBS might have found a winner in The Good Wife but the network is still more likely to clone a show than create one.
It’s not all hopeless. USA came up with a winner in White Collar which should help ease the loss of Monk. Friday Night Lights returns this week thanks to the cost-sharing deal between NBC and DirecTV, whereby DirecTV gets to air the series on pay TV in the Fall, then NBC gets to air it on broadcast TV in the Spring. (Maybe that strategy can save shows like Damages and Southland; adult oriented drama that doesn’t pull vampire numbers in the ratings.)
And the summer brings us basic cable winners like The Closer and Rescue Me and Mad Men as the more nimble basic cable channels like TNT, AMC and FX counter-program the dead season. Elmore Leonard on television is a good thing. Louis C.K. on television is a good thing.
If the smaller channels can get it right…why can’t the major networks? Pretty soon it’s all going to be internet television anyway, so the smart and savvy will survive. There is still a large audience that wants great storytelling and well-written comedy.
But every year I still cringe when brilliant shows get cancelled. Watching the slow death of Better Off Ted was reminiscent of Arrested Development’s demise, only accelerated. And why would you have a show called The Unusuals and not let it be…unusual? But I could just be bitter. Hell, I still haven’t forgiven CBS for cancelling EZ Streets.
There are a few excellent resources for those of you looking into that crystal ball wondering what’s happening with your favorite shows…or with the schedule in general. You’ll probably want to bookmark them. The week of May 17th might be D-Day for many of these programs as the networks finish Sweeps and sharpen the axes.
The Futon Critic is an excellent resource for TV news and even includes this handy guide to how many episodes are left for each program. Shows are listed by network in a cancel/renewal status grid (note that a lot of them are TBD).
The aptly named Is My Show Cancelled site focuses on just that very thing.
TV By The Numbers takes a more statistical approach to the situation, tracking ratings on a daily basis and making some predictions based upon trends and historical decision points.