In cable TV, summer is the new fall. For the broadcast networks, it's "Let's throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" time. So what's working as we wait for the curtain to rise on the fall schedules?
Canada American networks can get Canadian-made series for as little as 25 percent of what they pay for Hollywood shows. Of course, it only makes economic sense if you can get somebody to watch them (which wasn't the case with CBS' quickly axed The Bridge). Now that ABC's Rookie Blue is averaging 7 million viewers, you can bet there will be a lot more imports next summer.
Rizzoli & Isles The female buddy cop drama has built on its audience lead-in from The Closer—a strong sign that it's a real hit on its own. It's also another demonstration of how TNT and USA (which opened Covert Affairs to strong ratings) have become seasoned pros at getting viewers to seek out new fare during the summer months.
CBS Repeats Procedural dramas such as NCIS and The Mentalist continue to draw respectable audiences in their second (or third) runs. Maybe that's why you'll see a lot of shows like them on the other networks in the fall. But the rerun may be doomed in the long run. DVR playback (up 16 percent this summer) and online viewing mean you no longer have to wait for something to run again.
The Decision Yes, critics said they were appalled by ESPN's LeBron James special, an exercise in celebrity narcissism. But 10 million people watched. What's wrong with a little manufactured spectacle during the summer months? Tell the haters to go watch The Mentalist.
New Dramas While ABC is doing better on Sundays with Scoundrels and The Gates than with repeats of its serialized dramas, the ratings are still not good enough to justify the cost of making new scripted shows for the summer. Fox's The Good Guys is struggling to get just over 1 percent of the viewers in the 18 to 49 age group. Yet broadcast executives say they have to start somewhere to prevent viewers from abandoning them after Memorial Day. "We need to do this," a Fox insider says. "And there will always be advertisers who don't want to be in unscripted programming."
Downfall Viewers are flocking to the unscripted favorites (Big Brother, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent, The Bachelorette, Hell's Kitchen) and not giving a chance to new entries such as ABC's new game show. Maybe throwing prizes off the edge of a 10-story building doesn't play so well when the unemployment rate is hovering near 10 percent.