Network TV: a summer season to forget
The season is slowly setting on 2014’s summer TV series. And if ratings are a good indication, America is whispering a collective “good riddance.”
Whispering is the operative word. While there hasn’t been much outrage over the less-than-stellar 17 scripted series the networks rolled out over the past three months, viewers voiced their displeasure by clicking elsewhere – and not necessarily to cable.
While final summer ratings won’t be available for a few weeks, it’s certain that “America’s Got Talent” is by far the most popular series on all of television. Last year’s summer sensation, “Under the Dome,” remains the top scripted series, although its ratings have slipped considerably.
In cable land, “Major Crime,” a spin-off of “The Closer,” appears to be the top drama, with the returning “Rizzoli & Isles” and new “The Last Ship” the other scripted front-runners of the season. To no one’s surprise, WWE wrestling is the top nonscripted program.
Those are the trees. Here is the forest.
With the exception of a handful of fresh program choices, viewers seem to be content with reruns. CBS’s repeats of “NCIS,” “Big Bang Theory” and “Blue Bloods,” for instance, are among the most-watched shows of the summer. It’s fair to say now that the networks’ recent grand experiment with new summer programming has been a colossal failure.
It is not bringing substantial new eyeballs to the networks.
It is not retaining the much larger audience of the regular season.
It’s not keeping most younger audiences from drifting to cable or the Internet.
A ray of sunshine, perhaps, is that the networks may have at least slowed the erosion of a summer switch to cable.
What have you been watching this summer? The graph accompanying this article charts the overall top shows, but it’s only viewers 18 to 49 who are vital to any show’s renewal. That gives a huge boost to “Big Brother,” which is topped only by “America’s Got Talent” in that age group, along with “Master Chef” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”
It may well spell cancellation for “Unforgettable,” which rates 30th among younger viewers, and “Extant,” which is simply too expensive to produce when leveraged against the number of younger viewers it attracts.
So far, four summer series – “Black Box,” “Famous in 12,” “Backpackers” and “Seeds” – have been axed, while “America’s Got Talent” will be back next summer along with “Last Comic Standing,” “American Ninja Warriors,” “Night Shift” (with a full-blown 14 episodes), “Undateable” and “Welcome to Sweden.” “Sweden” isn’t close to a hit, but it is a low-cost program in that it is imported from Sweden.
On cable, FX has renewed “The Strain,” and TVLand has axed “Kirstie.”
While not official, it’s unlikely ABC will renew “Rising Star,” nor will NBC opt for a sophomore year for “Crossbones.” FX certainly will not bring back the heavily promoted “Married” and “You’re the Worst” (which couldn’t even muster one million viewers), and AMC likely will not renew “Halt and Catch Fire.”
TNT’s “The Last Ship,” however, should be back, since it’s doing well both at its scheduled time and in delayed viewing.
Here are a few tips for next summer, albeit from someone who generally flips to summer shows only during commercial breaks of Pirate games:
• Slide in summer shows as early as possible. “24: Live Another Day” and “Night Shift” drew attention while the regular season was still concluding and kept viewers’ interest throughout the early summer.
• Don’t repeat. If the whole point of summer shows is fresh programming, why did NBC keep airing repeats of “America’s Got Talent” in July? Sure, people tuned in, probably because they didn’t think NBC was that disrespectful of its audience to shove reruns at them just a few weeks after the originals aired. Think again.
• Don’t hire summer scriptwriters. Were this year’s “Under the Dome” episodes written while the writer was surfing? The premise may be outlandish, but that certainly doesn’t mean the scripts should be preposterous. (The acting is equally juvenile, but it wasn’t as noticeable last season when the writing was more palpable.) To be fair, however, the writers were given a difficult task of attempting to create a storyline for a series that was originally written to wrap up in one season.
The following results are based on all viewers:
1. “America’s Got Talent” (Tuesday)
2. “America’s Got Talent” (Wednesday)
3. “Under The Dome”
5. “24: Live Another Day”
6. “Night Shift”
9. “Big Brother” (Sunday)
10. “Big Brother” (Wednesday)