TV or not TV?

Summer shows fail to excite viewers
The chill hasn’t been for lack of trying. Through June and July, broadcast and cable networks generated a blizzard of premieres. Yet combined, they’ve created only one true blockbuster: ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
Granted, getting even one hit the size of Dancing is no small accomplishment. But while Dancing was huge while it lasted, it lasted only six weeks, and there’s been precious little to sustain viewers’ interest since it exited in July. What’s missing are longer-running, midlevel hits like Amazing Race and Simple Life, which were top 10 performers last August.
Instead, this year we’ve been treated to a dismal array of reality shows that either start well and then fade, such as Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, or start badly and vanish, such as Fox’s Princes of Malibu and NBC’s The Law Firm. And, of course, there’s ABC’s Welcome to the Neighborhood, which didn’t start at all. Who can blame viewers for sitting the summer out? (Related story: Summer of TV’s disconnect)
Nor has reality provided the only disappointments. Fox failed with The Inside, a dark drama that went dark after a handful of episodes. ABC flopped with Empire, a huge project that was perceived as a desperate summer dump. And to make matters worse, the network bungled the repeat run of Lost, chasing viewers away by skipping episodes.
In other summers, you could have turned to HBO for relief. But this year, the network crashed with The Comeback. And it lessened whatever momentum it might have gotten out of the final season of Six Feet Under by starting the so-over Under on Monday before moving it back to Sunday.
Things on TV are never all bright or all bleak. TNT’s The Closer may not be a blockbuster, but its 6 million viewers have put it on top of the cable ratings. And you have to give FX credit for Over There, a wonderful series that probably was ill-timed.
So what went wrong? For starters, too many networks gave us too much of the same thing, as everyone from ABC to VH1 clogged the airwaves with variations on The Apprentice and The Osbournes. On some nights, it seemed as if every camera that wasn’t recording the faux life of some C-list celebrity was helping some fame-seeking contestant compete for a job. Next summer, leave the want ads to newspapers.
To be fair, we all may have been a little bit spoiled by success. In June, we had just come away from a wonderful season, climaxed by the much-discussed finales of 24, Lost, Desperate Housewives and American Idol. Many viewers apparently needed a rest, and those who didn’t probably had unfair expectations of what summer could provide.
So we’ll make the networks a deal. You don’t have to be hot next summer. Just try not to freeze us out.