Summer TV's Hits & Misses
Gordon Ramsay; Savannah Guthrie
It was a summer that won't be remembered fondly, at least by the broadcast networks. Despite a flurry of new shows, from CBS' Dogs in the City to ABC's Glass House, there wasn't much to crow about — at least until NBC's Summer Olympics ratings juggernaut came along. Cable fared better, launching new hits like A&E's Longmire and TNT's Perception and opening events like History's Hatfields & McCoys to big numbers. Here are some of this summer's highs and lows.
Some viewers complained that NBC didn't provide enough live coverage of the Olympic events. But with DVRs and video streaming services such as Netflix chipping away at the viewing audience, they were live enough. NBC's average of 31.1 million prime-time viewers made London the most-watched Summer Games held outside of the U.S. since 1976. Every event was streamed live online, which is why 57.1 million fans watched on their computers. No wonder we didn't get any work done.
Winning? Absolutely. The first 10 episodes of Sheen's new sitcom Anger Management hit the complex ratings formula that FX had put in place as a threshold before ordering an additional 90 episodes. Anger Management will now return in January and remain in originals nearly every week until 2014, when the 100th episode airs and the sitcom is sold into syndication. FX could always order more episodes beyond that and will still hold rights to the show's repeats through 2018.
Maybe all viewers are looking for is a good meal and a clean place to spend the night. Those basic desires have made Gordon Ramsay a durable one-man network for Fox, thanks to a resilient Hell's Kitchen, a strong third season for MasterChef and his latest rescue effort in the resort business, Hotel Hell. One week in August, all three shows landed in the Top 10 among viewers 18-49.
The rich and famous no longer rule reality TV. This has been the summer of four-wheelers, pig feet bobbing and living off the grid. More than 4 million viewers per week watched A&E's Mountain Men party like it's 1879. Toddlers & Tiaras star Alana Thompson's mud-lovin' family broke out on TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Lizard Lick Towing has grown into TruTV's top show. What's with all the redneck love? "It's a big country between New York and Los Angeles," says one veteran network executive. "We think the world is us. But those shows are more in line with what's out there."
TNT launched new hits Major Crimes, Perception and Dallas — the summer's Top 3 new series on all of TV, broadcast or cable — while The Closer's series finale was basic cable's most watched series telecast of the summer with 9.1 million viewers. "We want to take our viewers on a great ride, and it seems they really got on board," says programming head Michael Wright.
GSN's Jeff Foxworthy-hosted The American Bible Challenge landed the network's highest ratings of all time, launching with a 2.3 million cume in its first night. "There was unusually large interest in the concept," says GSN programming executive vice president Amy Introcaso-Davis.
For two weeks, the Olympics gave Today a major boost — but it turns out those viewers were an expensive rental. ABC's Good Morning America returned to the top of the morning-show ratings after the Summer Games ended, which means Today may find itself in an unfamiliar second place for a while. Whether or not replacing Ann Curry as coanchor was the right call, NBC is suffering in the short term from abruptly making the change before Today viewers were familiar with her replacement, Savannah Guthrie. Says one network veteran: "Nobody knows her, and Ann's fans are unhappy."
It's turmoil time at the kids' network, which is down 16 percent with tweens (rival Disney Channel is up a smidge). Nick wasn't helped by parent Viacom's standoff with DirecTV, and some have blamed the accessibility of its shows on Netflix. But Nick's programming also needs a reboot, particularly as iCarly ends its run and shows like Victorious and How to Rock have been canceled. To shake things up, the channel fired 24-year vet Brown Johnson and named Russell Hicks to the new job of content development president.
With a $15 million price tag, NBC had to believe that America's Got Talent would do better with Howard Stern at the judges' table. But through August 28, AGT has averaged 11.4 million viewers, down 18.6 percent from last year. While big-name talent-show judges do generate buzz, at some point, viewers may want to see some actual talent.
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