With a new year comes a fresh set of challenges for some of TV's biggest names, shows and networks. Here are some developments we'll be watching closely.
Will fresh faces bring new energy to Dancing With the Stars, American Idol and The Voice?
Here's the reality: Other than NBC's The Voice, TV's talent-competition shows experienced a rough fall. Viewers yawned at the addition of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to The X Factor, while Dancing With the Stars' all-star edition fizzled. "Viewers missed the excitement of seeing stars dance for the first time," an ABC insider admits. Dancing is bleeding young viewers (its median age is now around 62), so it may never be the ratings force it once was. But a headline-making cast of newcomers could always revive interest in the show. (Nonetheless, ABC is reportedly pondering just one Dancing cycle next season.)
As for the singing-show titans, both The Voice and American Idol are undergoing major cast changes. Idol hopes to reclaim some of its mojo with new judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. The Voice, the fall's top-rated reality show among adults 18-49, looks to keep that streak going without its house diva, Christina Aguilera, and jester, CeeLo Green. Usher and Shakira will bring their own star power to the next edition, but The Voice is as much (if not more) about the chemistry among its coaches as it is about finding breakthrough talent.
Will Tyler Perry be the new face of OWN?
Nobody can replace Oprah. But actor-writer-director-producer Perry's deal to create two original series for the network could make OWN more fun. David Zaslav, chief executive of OWN partner Discovery Communications, recently told investors that Winfrey's endeavor was "too teachy and preachy and earnest when we started."
The offerings from Perry — best known for broad comedies like the Madea movies and TBS' House of Payne — are expected to be a departure from OWN's high-minded offerings, such as the motivational Oprah's LifeClass. "I think it's going to create more balance, more humor, more diversity on the network," Zaslav said.
Perry is also expected to build on the success OWN already enjoys with African-American viewers — Winfrey's August interview with Rihanna on Oprah's Next Chapter scored more African-American women than the four major broadcast networks combined in the time slot.
Can a new boss get young viewers to want their MTV again?
No network rides the ratings roller coaster like MTV. When it stumbles across a cultural phenomenon like Jersey Shore or The Osbournes, it becomes a powerhouse. But MTV's young audience is fickle, and when it tires of once-trendy series, the channel slumps.
Now that the Jersey crew has said arrivederci, MTV finds itself at one of those low points, with ratings down about 30 percent last fall. "We need the next loud reality hit," says one network insider, "and I don't think it's going to be Buckwild" — the new Jersey Shore-like show set in West Virginia. "Programming that appeals to girls in a smart, irreverent and funny way would be a great direction to go in."
New programming president Susanne Daniels, who helped launch The WB and brought new life to Lifetime, is in search of MTV's next big hit. For an idea of what direction Daniels might take at MTV, she cites Teen Mom and Awkward as two of her favorite series on the network. Having just arrived, Daniels says it's too soon to talk about her plans, but she's already reaching out to the creative community in search of fresh fare. "Priority No. 1 is just great programming," she says.
Can Jeff Zucker turn around CNN?
The incoming CNN president may have few fans in Hollywood after NBC's primetime lineup crumbled under his tenure as NBCUniversal president/CEO. But NBC News continued to thrive and MSNBC found its way to success while he was running the company. His résumé also includes a stint as executive producer of top-rated Today in the '90s. That's why CNN staffers are eager for the risk-taking Zucker to bring his knack for developing and wooing talent to the network.
"A new start, a new dose of energy, a new commitment by a new leader is coming at exactly the right time," says Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent. While Zucker is expected to focus on creating shows that will compel audiences to tune in when there's no breaking news, Amanpour believes he will respect the network's global reputation as a credible news source. "He said to me that CNN is indispensable," Amanpour says. "Even more so in this complicated world that we are trying to navigate right now."
In light of the Newtown shootings, will viewers be willing to stomach upcoming shows about serial killers?
In the days after the Dec. 14 elementary-school shootings in Connecticut, broadcast and cable outlets preempted anything that might have seemed inappropriate. But the networks are about to launch a wave of new midseason dramas that range from dark to pitch-black. Fox's serial-killer drama The Following contains shocking moments such as an ice pick penetrating an eye. The CW's show-within-a-show on the new drama Cult focuses on a Charles Manson-like madman. And this spring, NBC will premiere a new take on the Silence of the Lambs supervillain, called Hannibal. Terence Carter, Fox's senior vice president of drama, says The Following is more thriller than horror. "We can't pull our punches here," he says. "We try to focus on creating a really intense and thrilling experience without crossing the line into something distasteful. If you back down from those more intense moments, it's going to feel false."