Critic's NotebookSeason wraps up-- now it's grading time
By Tim Goodman San Francisco Chronicle
Television Critic Monday, May 28, 2007
As we put the 2006-07 television season in the books and head off to summer (and cable fare), it's that time again: final grades.
Now, first, you have to throw out everything you know about grades -- grading on a curve, average mean, whatever. It doesn't matter. Consider this artistic merit. And I'm the Russian judge. There will be no grading based on hits as judged by the Nielsen ratings. That's for bean counters and network execs who are waiting for their pay packages to kick in. Me? I just want to break something.
No, these grades aren't given out because you've got a No. 1 show or finished No. 1 in the 18-34 demo. Or because your audience was more educated or affluent. Or because you won the night in teen girls or African American households or boys who previously bought a Nintendo Wii online and have now pre-ordered a Scion with their parents' line of credit.
No, I'm judge and jury for one simple reason: It's my job. No, wait, there's another reason. I had to watch all the shows, no matter if I wanted to or not. In some cases, that was cruel. In a few cases, that was unusual. In more than I care to remember, that was punishment.
So here, based on whether the network gave the world anything of value, real entertainment or actual interest, are the final grades of the season.ABCGrade: B.
For all networks, let's start with the freshman class. At ABC, "Ugly Betty," "Men in Trees" and "Brothers & Sisters" were the fall shows that survived. In midseason, "Notes From the Underbelly" immediately became ABC's best sitcom and was renewed. Against better judgment, "October Road" also hit a chord with viewers and was renewed. Because of the small sample from the latter two, we don't know exactly how they'll pan out, though "Notes" has loads of potential. Although the network bungled the end of "Men in Trees," the series still worked. "Ugly Betty" was one of the fall's most talked-about new shows -- a grand surprise -- and "Brothers & Sisters" benefited from ABC's patience, becoming somewhat of a surprise hit. It's an adult drama with a great cast and stories that are well told.What went right:
"Dancing With the Stars" was a major hit. "Grey's Anatomy" survived its homophobia scandal and managed to retain its audience. "Lost" fell victim to a scheduling scheme designed to help it, plus lethargic scripts early on, but rallied in fantastic fashion for a superb close to the season, re-establishing it as one of broadcast TV's finest shows. "Desperate Housewives" was slightly less insufferable than the prior year, though it lacked real buzz. And, if you are as generous as can be, ABC finally managed a decent comedy in "Notes From the Underbelly." Plus, in late night, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" has become a real jewel.What went wrong:
The network really botched "Lost" in the early going and pulled it for what was supposed to be 13 weeks of another serialized drama, "Day Break," but that show, with its illogical rules and "Lost" viewer resentment, never had a chance. ABC is woefully behind both NBC and CBS in developing quality sitcoms. It didn't know what to do with "The Knights of Prosperity" and the promising series withered. The network also mishandled the number of series it had -- with failure to launch being an epidemic for all networks. "Six Degrees" got lost in the shuffle; perhaps the best pilot of the season, "The Nine," never lived up to its first hour.Canceled:
"What About Brian," "The Knights of Prosperity," "Help Me Help You," "The Nine," "Six Degrees," "Big Day," "Day Break," "According to Jim" and "George Lopez."CBSGrade: B-.
Fall series that made it include, uh, "Shark." Not a great fall, but CBS benefits from having an existing lineup littered with hits. The midseason sitcom "Rules of Engagement" also got renewed. The relatively high grade comes from the fact that CBS doesn't have much room on the schedule, because it has consistently been loaded with successful shows. This network has staples all across the week. It was nice to see returning comedies "How I Met Your Mother" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" grow.What went right:
Consistency. CBS may not have a lot of dangerous right angles or a schedule that takes risks, but it delivers.What went wrong:
"Survivor" is over the hill, though CBS is trying to goose it. The "CSI" franchise seems creatively tired. The network pulled the plug on "Smith" too quickly and mishandled "Jericho."Canceled:
"The Class," "Smith," "Jericho," "Close to Home," "3 Lbs." and "The King of Queens."FOXGrade: D.
Where to start with this mess? Yes, the Death Star, "American Idol," continued to be a huge hit (though it showed the slightest bit of a dent), and "House" remains one of the most popular dramas on TV. But after that -- what? The fall launch was a total failure and though Fox returned " 'Til Death" for next season, the network has a history of renewing series without merit to avoid total embarrassment. Fox is stuck in a rut. It stumbles through fall and rallies in midseason, but much of its success is tied to a couple of megahits. It hasn't developed a quality sitcom since "Arrested Development," and, worse, it just hasn't made a series in a long time that's compelling.What went right:
Despite what many considered to be the worst "Idol" season yet (complete with Paula Abdul making a lot of headlines for loopy off-camera behavior), the franchise is still unstoppable. "Prison Break" kept itself viable. And the good news ends right there.What went wrong:
A lousy development season was heavily influenced by the viewing public turning its back (and hiding its eyes) from serialized dramas. "24" became a joke. There was little to laugh at -- intentionally -- on the network, and it lacked buzz aside from "Idol."Canceled:
"Vanished," "Standoff," "Justice," "Happy Hour," "The War at Home," "The Winner," "The Wedding Bells," "Drive" and apparently "Nanny 911" and "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy." The network had also renewed "The Loop" but chose to essentially burn it off after the season.NBCGrade: B+.
Not only did NBC develop a huge hit (and potential franchise given next fall's minor spin-off) in "Heroes," it stayed patient with "30 Rock" and allowed that sitcom to become one of the funniest shows on television and arguably the biggest surprise of the fall. (A toss-up, maybe, with "Heroes"? Or perhaps even a three-way surprise with the renewal of ratings-challenged "Friday Night Lights"?) Either way, some good came out of that freshman crop. Getting NFL football and creating "Football Night in America" were pluses, as was the continued excellence of Conan O'Brien in late night. But NBC is in a precarious spot. It needs more and better dramas. Its "Law & Order" franchise is creaky (to say nothing of derelict "ER") and there's still some worry on this end about taste issues (someone green-lit "Twenty Good Years" but let "Andy Barker, P.I." die with absolutely no support?).What went right:
"Heroes," obviously, and "30 Rock." For some reason that escapes all logic, "Deal or No Deal" continues to enrapture the nation. The network earned viewer gratitude by continuing a loyalty streak that started with "The Office" and extended to "Friday Night Lights."What went wrong:
Let's start at "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." That was a pilot, along with ABC's "The Nine," that was extremely impressive. And yet, neither show lived up to that hour again. Like all networks, NBC got stung by the serialized drama backlash, but it gave up far too early on "Kidnapped." For a network that needs dramas to work, "Raines" could have been better nurtured. The network also needs a reality franchise.Canceled:
"Kidnapped," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Twenty Good Years," "Crossing Jordan," "Andy Barker, P.I.," "The Black Donnellys," "Raines" and "The Apprentice."[size=5] THE CWGrade: C-.
The only reason this grade isn't lower is that as the CW tries to figure out what it is, a little slack should be let out. Plus the network has, once again, renewed "Everybody Hates Chris," perhaps the most underappreciated series on television. And the fledgling network has shown some smarts in keeping "Smallville" and "Supernatural" paired. If you're a "Veronica Mars" fan who might be annoyed that the run is over, remember that the CW showed an awful lot of patience with it, given the numbers. There's a worry that the CW is going to find its niche with reality shows, since "America's Next Top Model" is the big prize at the network and "Beauty and the Geek" has lived on. Going in that direction is just the kind of thing that allows the "Pussycat Dolls" projects to slink in the door. The CW needs to ramp up its quality on all fronts and prove, in the process, that it's a viable and valuable network.What went right:
Unfortunately, after selling the series as "aspirational" for women, "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll" worked quite well. "Top Model" continues to be a franchise series. "The Game," despite being lousy, was also renewed.What went wrong:
The network still had trouble launching scripted fare, as "Runaway," the CW's entry in the serialized drama hootenanny, didn't attract viewers and not enough people are watching shows like "Chris" or "Supernatural" that might attract a wider audience. With so few hours to program, an argument can be made that the CW isn't trying hard enough. But again -- new networks take time to find a foothold and understand what they need to be to survive.Canceled:
"Runaway," "Veronica Mars," "Gilmore Girls," "7th Heaven," "All of Us" and "Reba." The network is essentially burning off "Hidden Palms."http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...type=printable