Just two years ago, MTV was struggling to find its footing. Network staple TRL had ended, onetime hit The Hills was on its way out, and ratings were in a downward spiral. MTV faced its biggest identity crisis yet — then along came Snooki and Co.
Now, led by the crass stars of prime-time phenomenon Jersey Shore, MTV can easily be crowned the biggest winner of the summer of 2011. Jersey Shore's Season 4 premiere averaged 8.8 million viewers, and the show landed five of the top seven cable telecasts of summer. "Thank God for Jersey Shore," says MTV programming head David Janollari. Those ratings translate to big advertising bucks for MTV, notes Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate. "I think in the 30-year history of MTV, this has been the strongest they've ever been," he says. "For a network that has to constantly reinvent itself, that's quite an accomplishment."
And it's not just The Situation making things ab fab at MTV. Other reality franchises, like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, as well as The Challenge: Rivals, are powerhouses in their own right. And MTV's aggressive entry into scripted programming is paying off, via new hit series such as Awkward and Teen Wolf. The network capped the summer on August 28 with its most-watched telecast ever, the 2011 Video Music Awards (12.4 million viewers). Next up, MTV is plotting a major return to animation, via the heralded revival of Beavis and Butt-head and new entry Good Vibes.
"We're on a roll," Janollari says. "Our goal is to be the entertainment destination for this young core audience of ours." Adds Adgate: "They have certainly, at least for now, gotten into the zeitgeist of teens and young adults." Here are the rest of the summer's winners and losers.
Steven Spielberg and aliens remain a successful combination. The TNT drama, which stars Noah Wyle as a resistance fighter struggling against an invasion of extraterrestrial creatures, was cable's top-rated new scripted series this summer. Falling Skies averaged nearly 7 million viewers an episode and added the term "skitters" to sci-fi's alien lexicon. Several returning scripted series, such as TNT's Rizzoli & Isles and The Closer, and USA's Royal Pains and Burn Notice, also fared well.
Broadcast's summer reality veterans
Big Brother is watching you — and you are watching Big Brother. Season 13 of CBS' claustrophobic reality hit, promoted as "The Summer of Double Trouble," is
averaging 7.5 million viewers, up 4 percent from last year. (The show's adults 18-49 ratings are up a strong 12 percent.) And over at NBC, the America's Got Talent gang also isn't missing a beat. The latest edition averaged 12.2 million viewers, up 11 percent from last year. With plenty of original competition out there this summer, that's a remarkable accomplishment for two aging shows.
History's reality brand
Docuseries like Pawn Stars and Swamp People have ticked off fans of History channel's old programming. But the network's makeover has paid off big time. Pawn Stars was cable's No. 2 reality show, behind Jersey Shore, averaging 7.6 million viewers. History's American Pickers and Swamp People were not too far behind, along with Storage Wars on sister network A&E.
Phineas and Ferb
In its first airing, Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension ranked as the most-watched TV movie on cable so far in 2011. The movie's adventurous tykes continue to rake in viewers via numerous runs across several networks, while the show's cocreators inked a deal to turn Phineas and Ferb into a full-length feature film.
A year after TBS bumped Lopez Tonight to midnight to make room for Conan, low ratings bumped it off the schedule altogether. Daily talk shows are expensive, and TBS felt it couldn't justify keeping it on the air. And with BET also pulling Mo'Nique's talk show, diversity took a huge blow in late night.
New broadcast reality shows
Try as they might, the broadcast networks are still struggling to come up with a new wave of summer reality hits. While staples like America's Got Talent perform well, new shows aren't making a dent with viewers. Among the underperformers: ABC's Expedition Impossible, NBC's Love in the Wild and CBS' Same Name.
Men of a Certain Age/HawthoRNe/Eureka/The Protector
Cable giveth and taketh away. Despite fan outcry, TNT pulled the plug on its little-seen Ray Romano dramedy Men of a Certain Age after just two seasons. "They tried mighty hard to justifiably keep it," says executive producer Mike Royce. "I wish we delivered more on the audience end." A few weeks later, it also said goodbye to Jada Pinkett Smith's HawthoRNe. In a bizarre move, Syfy renewed, and then canceled, Eureka. And Lifetime never got traction with the quickly lost The Protector. Says Adgate: "Cable has been a little more aggressive in canceling shows that aren't generating viewers."