November 19, 2012

THE SKED’S NIELSENWAR – Fall TV Turkey Edition


As this is a week when turkeys are revered, celebrated, and then eaten, let’s take a look at what wisdom the network’s Fall feathered non-fliers have to impart to us.  In other words, What did this Fall’s canceled series tell us that we didn’t already know?

666 PARK AVENUE (ABC):  There are two lessons embedded in this glitzy horror soap that sank on ABC’s Sunday nights.  The first–and this, really, is an old truism that it seems the networks need to relearn each season–is that expensive casts have little value in a series no one wants to watch.  Terry O’Quinn, Vanessa Williams, Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable are all capable of starring in successful TV shows–and have done so in the past (in Taylor’s case, as a recurring guest star), but even combined, they didn’t sway many viewers.  The more important point, though, may be that broadcast network television is no longer capable of competing in the horror genre with what’s now available on both basic and pay cable.   Compared to The Walking Dead, True Blood, American Horror Story and their ilk, 666 was unshocking and unscary, two things a horror thriller can’t afford to be.  (The Vampire Diaries is a sort-of exception to this rule, but it’s only a CW-level hit, and more a supernatural romance than a true horror saga.)

PARTNERS (CBS):  As incredibly difficult as it is to create a hit network sitcom, it’s that much harder to pull one off a second time; that’s why people like James L. Brooks and, more recently, Chuck Lorre, are Hollywood royalty.  The producers of Friends found that out, and although Larry David has had a second life on HBO, it doesn’t compare to his gigantic success with Seinfeld.  Max Mutchnick and David Kohan had their moment of sitcom history with Will & Grace, and although Partners tried to tread some of the same gay-friendly comedy territory, this time the chemistry wasn’t there and the pop culture moment had passed.

THE MOB DOCTOR (FOX):  As with 666 Park Avenue, this was a network show that couldn’t compete with its cable counterparts.  Crime drama fans are now used to the hard liquor of The Sopranos, The Shield, Justified and their fellows.  Mob Doctor‘s sodapop mix of gangster drama and medical soap seemed like it could bring a new twist to the genre, but without the ability to go dark with the premise or the protagonist, it played out as weak and silly.

ANIMAL PRACTICE (NBC):  Well, “be funny” would be one of the lessons.  Animal Practice also demonstrated, though, that all the cutesy monkeys in the world would save a show that doesn’t know what it is.  Every episode seemed to be from a different series–now it’s a rom-com, now it’s a heartwarming workplace comedy, now it’s snide and sarcastic–and none of them were appealing.  Also:  it’s not enough to cast a good actor in a role that’s wrong for him, in this case the tremendously talented Justin Kirk, whose eyes seemed to be silently screaming for rescue whenever he was in close-up.

LAST RESORT (ABC):  Apart from the obvious problem that this was the wrong show on the wrong network airing on the wrong night, one that had no business in an 8PM slot on female-skewing ABC, Last Resort had creative issues it didn’t have time to solve.  The basic premise of the show, while arresting, also boxed itself into a corner almost immediately.  In every episode, someone (US soldiers, mysterious mercenaries, duplicitous politicians) would come thisclose to destroying the show’s all-important submarine and/or killing the main characters… but every week the plot wouldn’t quite work, because if the sub was destroyed, the protagonists died or, on the other hand, a solution was found to get them off their island, the show would be over.  Last Resort was a basically realistic drama that didn’t have the kind of mythology Lost was able to delve into for years, and it also lacked a procedural component.  Thus all it could do was chase itself in circles, week after week.  Each episode by itself was well-acted and interestingly written, but while the show could have been a terrific movie or miniseries, there was simply no open-ended series there.

MADE IN JERSEY (CBS):  Again, let’s sidestep the “don’t be unwatchably awful” lesson and look a bit more closely.  Made In Jersey was CBS trying to do a show that didn’t fit the rest of its line-up–it felt like a USA or TNT series that had lost its way, Sticking it between CSI Miami and Blue Bloods on Friday nights was–well, it was like making Last Resort the lead-in to Grey’s Anatomy.  With DVRs, people may not watch shows at the time they originally aired as they once did, but the place where a network puts a show still signifies something about it, gives it an identity that sticks with it.  Of course, even if it had aired on TNT with Rizzoli & Isles as its lead-in, Made In Jersey still would have suffered from miscasting and dreadful writing.  But at least it might have had a chance.

At the time of this writing, the remaining Fall bubble shows are ABC’s MALIBU COUNTRY and CW’s EMILY OWENS MD.  If Malibu continues to falter on Fridays and ends up gone, its failure–along with the disappointing performance by the back-ordered Nashville–may tell us something about the changing demos of network TV.  And Emily Owens would provide a lesson to all screenwriters and network executives that a series can’t systematically depict its own heroine as a barely-functioning imbecile and survive.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."