Media Watch: What is WNY watching?
The cast of the "Big Bang Theory."
Mobsters, precocious kids, country singers, and anxiety-ridden and insecure young adults are preparing to take over the new TV season. But before we look ahead at what new series Western New Yorkers can opt to watch this fall, let’s look back at what they have been watching.
When it comes to broadcast television, WNY definitely is CBS territory. Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate, wins big in an area that is loaded with older viewers who enjoy the network’s large menu of crime and comedy, so much, in fact, that some joke that the C in CBS should stand for one of those two words. During May sweeps, the top three rated programs in WNY were NCIS, The Big Bang Theory, and Person of Interest, all CBS shows. And of the top fifteen, eleven were carried here on CBS: NCIS: LA, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, Two and a Half Men, CSI, Hawaii 5-0, Rules of Engagement, and Mike & Molly. ABC got the remaining four slots in the top fifteen with two editions of Dancing with the Stars, Grey’s Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives in its final string of episodes.
You might wonder where that leaves Fox’s American Idol, which used to be hugely successful here and which, come January, will be without judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. WNYers have cooled to the singing contest, with its two weekly versions finishing sixteenth and seventeenth in May, one spot ahead of NBC’s clone, The Voice (and two spots ahead of the canceled Harry’s Law).
Many shows that get critical buzz aren’t supported by local ratings. Tina Fey’s Emmy-winning 30 Rock and NBC’s critically-loved Community get deadly ratings here, lower than the CW’s Vampire Diaries. Critics’ darlings Parks and Recreation and The Office barely make our top sixty. The Office is known to attract viewers with salaries of $100,000-plus, which makes it attractive to advertisers.
Once upon a time, Fox’s House was a local smash. It ended its run in May with a lower average than Smash and the same average as NBC’s freshman dark fairy tale series, Grimm. They both finished ahead of last season’s soapy pleasure, Revenge, which ABC moves to Sundays this fall. And then there’s Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice. In WNY, it barely cracked the top fifty in May. If you really want to upset the Donald, you might tell him that basic cable’s Jersey Shore was in the ratings neighborhood of Apprentice. Maybe he’ll get Snooki to appear in the next edition. The Thursday night Jersey on MTV finished third among basic cable programs here behind ESPN’s Monday Night Football (number one, with almost a double-digit rating) and AMC’s zombie series, The Walking Dead.
The top fifty basic cable programs here are dominated by TNT, TBS, and USA Network programs. TNT’s The Closer, the Kyra Sedgwick series that ended its run in August, is number five and Rizzoli & Isles is number seven. TBS scores with reruns of The Big Bang Theory and USA scores with reruns of NCIS. The top nonscripted series include Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush and the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, which are tied at number eleven; American Pickers is close behind. More than fifty basic cable shows get higher than a three rating, which means MTV’s Teen Mom and ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, Nickelodeon’s Fairly Odd Parents and Syfy’s Ghosthunters all get higher ratings here than 30 Rock. Notably absent from the top fifty is AMC’s Mad Men, another critical darling that attracts viewers coveted by advertisers.
As the strong ratings for the long-running Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives indicate, WNY is a community that sticks with what it loves and that makes it difficult for new series to instantly make it here. In addition, the DVR, On Demand, and online streaming make it even harder for new shows to break through established viewing habits. And if viewers are going to be selective, may we suggest avoiding almost all of the new broadcast network shows? It could be the worst collection of new crime shows and comedies in years. And that’s saying something.
In the new NBC comedy Go On, Matthew Perry plays a sports talk host who gives losers in his therapy group five seconds to impress upon him why their situation is worse than a fellow member of the group. It’s a funny moment in a mildly amusing pilot that only looks good when compared to other losers like NBC’s Animal Practice, about a vet whose boss is his ex-girlfriend; NBC’s routine fire department series Chicago Fire; CBS’s Vegas, starring Dennis Quaid as a sixties cowboy-cum-sheriff who battles a mobster played by Michael Chiklis; and the new Reba McEntire comedy Malibu Country, in which Reba plays a former country music star and mother of two teens trying to kickstart her career after a divorce. Even J. J. Abrams’s (Lost, Alias, Person of Interest) latest series, NBC’s Revolution, set in the future after a blackout changed the world, makes a disappointing start.
After a while, I decided to follow Go On’s model and give pilots five seconds to impress me.
So far, the only series that have passed the five-second test are CBS’s Elementary, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes starring British actor Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone) as a drug-addicted Holmes; Fox’s The Mindy Project, which stars Mindy Kaling of The Office as a doctor struggling with personal issues; the aforementioned Go On, which might suffer from too much similarity to Community; and ABC’s 666 Park Avenue, a creepy series in which Terry O’Quinn (Lost) plays a devilish character who hires a young couple to manage an old New York apartment building that may be haunted.
I had some fondness for Ryan Murphy’s (Glee, Nip/Tuck) exaggerated and outrageous NBC comedy The New Normal, which seems partly inspired by Modern Family. I also saw some potential in the ABC country music and political soap Nashville, more because of my fondness for star Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) than for country music or Taylor Swift (who appears to be an inspiration for a secondary character).
But most of the new series look like they could have premiered twenty years ago. Maybe that’s a good thing for older WNY viewers, whose unrequited love of broadcast TV shows certainly will be tested in a season of new shows that gives me some anxiety about the future of network TV.
Former Buffalo News television critic Alan Pergament blogs at stilltalkintv.com.