Leno experiment tops year in television

Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 1:13pm
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Leno

Seldom does a network decide to take itself out of the running, but that's precisely what NBC did this season when they decided to stop running episodic shows at 9 p.m. and give Jay Leno five hours of weekly prime time.

The move has changed the network landscape, though not exactly in the manner NBC envisioned.

After a strong early start, Leno has tumbled to the point some nights this season he's been losing the time slot to niche shows on cable. Meanwhile, new Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien suffered the worst November sweeps ratings since 1993, and Jimmy Fallon isn't wowing anyone in his new late-night spot either.

As a result, the fourth-place network became even weaker, something most people didn't think possible. The rationale for this was that NBC could make $300 million in profits with miniscule ratings in the 18-49 demographic.

But even though they've attained that break-even number, prospective new owners Comcast (whose purchase of NBC still must pass anti-trust muster) isn't happy about seeing its shiny new purchase devalued by eroding ratings across the board.

What impact they'll have is yet to be determined, but there's no question the NBC Leno move stands as 2009's most discussed and debated measure.

CBS fares much better

Coming in second was CBS' spinoff of NCIS, which supplanted CSI as network TV's most popular scripted program. Even Fox's American Idol, which during its half-year run usually tops all programs, didn't wipe out NCIS like it did all other competition, and during the opening months of the new season NCIS set ratings records for a show in its seventh year.

In turn, despite being not just a spinoff, but a rip-off, NCIS - Los Angeles quickly emerged as the top-rated new network program, even though the best new show on CBS this year from a creative standpoint was The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies.

A clever blend of courtroom theatrics, corporate politics and romance/soap-opera angst, The Good Wife has provided CBS with a fresh 9 p.m. program and a welcome relief from its armada of procedural programs.

ABC’s comeback

ABC, helped in part by NBC's abandoning the 9 p.m. slot, has enjoyed a comeback largely fueled by a comedies, particularly the single-camera, fake documentary Modern Family.

The show has reaffirmed Ed O'Neill's ability to excel in comedy and drama. That’s something that puts O’Neill in the rare company of Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith and Carroll O'Connor among others.

They've also continued to make inroads via the fantasy/sci-fi route, this season with Flash Forward and the remake of V (which was much better than expected).

Fox is Idol-ing

Fox continues to reap dividends from the aging American Idol, though its ratings dipped this season for the first time in years.

Their big surprise has been the animated Cleveland Show, which has succeeded in expanding the audience for their entire Sunday night lineup even as it also has gotten the network back in the crosshairs of censors and those who find Seth MacFarlane's comedy offensive.

Fox too has seen Castle emerge as a mild hit, and 24 remains viable. But House has been dreadful, and Lie To Me only mildly successful in multiple time slots.

Dollhouse and Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles are both either gone or going.

The CW gains Access

The CW continues to specialize in shows for the 20-something crowd, many of whom DVR or blog about the programs, but don't watch them enough to make either a ratings or sales impact.

However as long as shows like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries stay on the cover of EW and their stars get discussed on Access Hollywood, the CW's power brokers will be satisfied.

Still, the feeble audiences for the Melrose Place reruns should convince them that not every former teen hit can be remade.

All networks also discovered during the summer hours that viewers aren't nearly as enamored of reality shows as they think.

Audience levels hit record lows frequently during those weeks when they loaded up with disposable entries and retreads. It will be interesting to see if they attempt the same strategy next June.

Cable creativity thrives

Meanwhile cable continued in 2009 to be the medium for adventurous, ambitious programs that thrive in an environment of lessened regulation and creative freedom.

HBO's True Blood blossomed into a legitimate hit, while Showtime's Dexter, TNT's The Closer, FX's Damages, Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad and USA Network's Monk (final season) and Psych, as well as Burn Notice and newcomer While Collar continued the run of basic cable programs that enjoy the same reputation and acclaim as their network counterparts.

At any rate, here are my 10 favorite shows from 2009.

  1. Battlestar Galatica (Syfy)
  2. Dexter (Showtime)
  3. CSI (CBS)
  4. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  5. Castle (ABC)
  6. Mad Men (AMC)
  7. NCIS (CBS)
  8. The Good Wife (CBS)
  9. Modern Family (ABC)
  10. Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Filed under: Lifestyles

1 Comment on this post:

By: cmarcus45 on 12/29/09 at 3:38

Not a fan of Leno or Conan, but Fallon is friggin' hilarious!