Truly, these are magical times. We can store music in clouds, discover new, life-supporting planets and, here on Earth, we can marvel as a simple movie about a vampire eating a newborn baby out of a womb can charm and bewitch a nation. So, in light of this, you’d think we’d have a better way to calculate television ratings by now. But no: while Google knows what you had for dinner last night the Nielsen company still relies on hardware lifted from the Knight Rider set to track the nation’s viewing habits. Even worse, the most important time of the year for the networks, the quarterly “sweeps” period that can make or break shows (not to mention corporate bottom lines), casts a wider net by going even more old-school: during November, February, May and July the company collects hand-written paper diaries from pre-selected households. That’s right: paper diaries. Not even the earnest dullards of Terra Nova went that far back in time. But the fact remains: the ratings fate of Community is being decided the same way your baby sister decides which boys are cute enough to invite to her sweet sixteen party. (“Dear Diary, NCIS: Los Angeles took a real hit in the core 18-49 year old demo last night. Totally uncool. XOXO! Nielsen Girl.”)
Old Tom Eliot had it wrong: April isn’t the cruelest month, it’s October. As the final blasts of the shofar fade into memory, television’s brightest hopes find themselves adrift in an unfamiliar landscape, dotted with returning giants and buffeted by the cruel winds of fate, audience indifference, and the dreaded over-run of NFL games. And after a sleepy start, this month the 2011 TV season has finally started to stack bodies like Chris and Snoop let loose in an abandoned tenement. First fell The Playboy Club, the victim of a brutal, boring high-heel to the throat. Then Free Agents was sacked and How to Be a Gentlemanlost its duel at ten paces (and two episodes). At the end of the day on Friday, Charlie’s Angels was mercifully dispatched to the afterlife. It’s unclear what’s more damning to the networks: that all four of these heavily hyped newcomers were knocked off before Halloween or that there most likely won’t be a single soul who misses them. (I’m beset by visions of NBC boss Bob Greenblatt trapped in his office, drowning in an avalanche of mailed-in bunny tails like so many low-rent, porny tribbles. I’d make a joke about similar save-our-show campaigns for the other recently deceased but I honestly can’t think of a single memorable moment from any of them.)
The early going of a baseball season is often slow: Teams need extra time to gel, personalities need to mesh, and scoring is down. The inaugural Grantland Fall TV Cancellation League is no different: two weeks in and action, as well as the pickings, are slim. There is only one out-of-the-box breakout hit — Fox’s The New Girl — and all six of us were smart enough to leave it undrafted. Meanwhile, despite all evidence to the contrary, there are no spectacular disasters, no Lone Stars burning brightly with promise and then incinerating in the heat the hopes and dreams of a million changed channels — although Free Agents is coming tantalizingly close. (Friday-morning update:Drop the Zen schtick, Greenblatt! When a horse — or, say, a bunny — breaks its leg, you don’t stroke your chin, you act! Savagely!) To date, there have been no cancellations, no tepid votes of confidence, no showrunner firings, and no emergency castings of John Stamos. This lack of movement, this uncharacteristic patience on the part of network executives, is reflected in our first scoring update: There are two teams on top and a whole bunch of Seattle Mariners. For 3/4 of the league, the standings are grim — and we don’t mean overall No. 1 pick Grimm, which doesn’t debut for three more weeks.
It’s unfair to NBC’s new The Playboy Club to compare it to Mad Men just because the two are both set in the early sixties, showcase copious amounts of smoking and boozing, and feature Naturi Naughton as a self-proclaimed “chocolate bunny." It’s a lazy and simple comparison, even if frequent Mad Men director Alan Taylor shot Playboy’s pilot and the show is built around a bullet-headed dapper don who has a thing for both the ladies and maintaining a double life. In fact, it’s best if we never mention Mad Men again when discussing The Playboy Club. It’s reductive and demeaning. Because, honestly, The Playboy Club is perfectly capable of being a terrible show all on its own.
“Not especially promising!” is how critic Alan Sepinwall anti-raves about the season’s new network television offerings — bad news for the suits in Hollywood but great news for the sweatsuits participating in Grantland’s first-ever Fall TV Cancellation Fantasy League! As teased in our autumn forecast/draft guide, our in-house league launched this week with a slightly disorganized draft, some mild-trash-talking, and the exciting news that the premiere of Free Agents already managed to lose half of its lead-in audience. And the lead-in starred Will Arnett!
For those playing along at home, the concept of the League is simple: We cheer failure and fear success. Each team manager has drafted four new network TV series with the hope or expectation that their chosen roster will bomb in a variety of exciting or catastrophic ways — because, let’s face it, whether critically acclaimed and audience-ignored or universally reviled, the points are the same in the FTVCFL. What follows is a list of all League-sanctioned scoring opportunities. (NOTE: For the sake of clarity and intern sanity, the League hereby declares Nikki Finke’s Deadline.com as the only recognized source for show-related quotes.)
The dawning of the fall television season is a time of great hope, expectation and, if you’re Will Arnett, inevitable, crushing disappointment. Every autumn, as the leaves turn, the big four and a half broadcast networks (we see you, CW!) unveil their latest offerings, the result of years of development and countless all-nighters bearing a strong aroma of flop-sweat in their wake. And yet despite the well-intentioned efforts of many, the great majority of these new programs fail, some with a bang, some with a whimper, and some with a WTF. In fact, the only seeming guarantor for television success these days is to have "NCIS" in your title.