Earlier this year, on the heels of the lowest-rated drama debut in television history, I asked a relatively straightforward question: Is the CW even a network anymore? Harsh, yes, but not entirely unwarranted. At times it seemed that the broadcaster — cobbled together six years ago out of the froggy bones of the WB and its rival UPN — was less a commercially viable competitor to the traditional Big Four and more of a very public investigation into the possibilities of absolute zero. In June, the second half of a rerun of the putatively youth-oriented net’s retread 90210 garnered a 0.0 rating in the much-coveted 18–49 demographic, a number roughly on par with Mitt Romney’s projected percentage of the African American vote and my level of surprise when I learned that the CW’s most-watched show this summer was an “extreme” version of musical chairs hosted by Jamie Kennedy. Even the formerly zeitgeist-y Gossip Girl — now entering its sixth and final season as a world-weary Gossip Woman — only averaged a little over a measly million viewers per original episode. For those counting at home, or in Greendale, that’s one-fourth the audience of a mid-winter installment of the permanently beleaguered Community. So I ask again: If a tree fell in the woods on the CW — assuming the tree was underage, sipping an appletini, and listening to Sky Ferreira — would anybody even see it?
With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the main business of the fall: schoolfootball television! All week, Grantland will be previewing the new TV season, one network at a time, and evaluating the first efforts of each incoming freshman. Today: NBC.
Not losing isn’t necessarily the same thing as winning. Despite all the chaos, change, and Chelsea marring what proved to be an inauspicious debut for entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, NBC didn’t finish the 2011-12 television season in last place. Well, OK, it did — but that’s only if you count all of the viewers. If you pour yourself a healthy tumbler of Canadian Club and consider the situation only as an advertiser, then NBC actually bested ABC in the sexiest of relatively meaningless demographics, 18-to-49-year-olds. Screw you, ABC! Enjoy life in the basement! The Peacock flies again!
With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the main business of the fall: schoolfootball television! All week, Grantland will be previewing the new TV season, one network at a time, and evaluating the first efforts of each incoming freshman. Today: CBS.
It’s not hard to joke about CBS. With an average audience age a dozen years older than Fox’s, it’s easy shorthand to dismiss the network as safe haven only for the aged, the infirm, and those otherwise incapable of changing the channel. (Remotes are so complicated these days!) Its highly rated, easily digestible shows are shrugged off by tastemakers as laugh-tracked, lame, and out of touch, all aggressive acronyms and simple resolutions. In a youth-obsessed society, it’s never super cool to be the one onstage arguing that “54 is the new 49.” The enduring image of the network suggests an elderly Ouroboros: Andy Rooney crankily lecturing an audience of Andy Rooneys, themselves either nodding in agreement or gently nodding off to sleep.
With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the main business of the fall: schoolfootball television! All week, Grantland will be previewing the new TV season, one network at a time, and evaluating the first efforts of each incoming freshman. Next up: ABC.
Oh, ABC. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. (Or, more accurately, always The Bachelorette.) Over the past few decades, the Alphabet has had good years and bad years, but has rarely risen to the dominant, zeitgeist-defining heights of NBC in the '80s and '90s. Then again, neither has it sunk to the squelchy bottom of, say, NBC not in the '80s and '90s. ABC — which, it must be noted, shares a corporate parent with Grantland (Disney) — often seems generally content, as the cliché goes, to stay in its lane: mixing broad, family-based comedies with a pert and glossy selection of what I prefer to call body washes. You know: like soaps, but classier. So it’s been a steady diet of sarcastic moms rolling their eyes at kids in the 8 p.m. hour and sexy doctors saving them at 10 p.m. It may not always be a world-beating strategy, but it's a dependable one.
With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the main business of the fall: schoolfootball television! All week, Grantland will be previewing the new TV season, one network at a time, and evaluating the first efforts of each incoming freshman. Leading off: Fox.
It’s been 26 years since Fox first burst onto the airwaves with a refreshing blast of salty language and embalming fluid. The network is now old enough to drink in a bar, rent an automobile, and even watch certain shows on CBS, yet it’s still considered some sort of punky upstart — the shorts-eating Bart Simpson of the stultifying and staid broadcast scene. (Never mind the fact that Bart himself could be in graduate school by now; one imagines an entire dissertation written on a chalkboard.) This reputation has stuck even as Fox has gone from striver to champion, winning the much-coveted 18-49 demographic in each of the last eight seasons. Those with nits to pick — or those like CBS with ratings to parse (the former Tiffany Network wins in total eyeballs nearly every year, even if the majority of those retinas are rheumy and cataract-ridden) — like to suggest that Fox’s Poochie-esque success with the kids is a product of its programming strategy: packing the schedule with tweet-friendly fare like American Idol (and, more recently, Idol’s boring replicant cousin, The X Factor) and consistent (and consistently cheap) cartoons like Family Guy and Glee. This may be true — even CBS would agree that hewing to an identity, even an age-specific one, is the first step toward long-term prosperity — but it’s also only part of the story. Fox isn’t on a roll because it chooses to play such a highly specific game. It’s because it’s playing by an entirely different set of rules.