Hot List 2012: Television Winners


Hottest Network for Drama


Five years after beguiling critics with the gin-soaked Mad Men, the net that once offered an endless loop of Jaws IV: The Revenge has reinvented itself as a mirror held up to the zeitgeist. If there’s a smarter indictment of our healthcare system and insatiable appetites than Breaking Bad, we haven’t seen it. (Since Walter White first started cooking up meth in 2008, the show has snagged five Emmys.) Then, of course, there’s the phenom that is The Walking Dead, TV’s highest-rated scripted show, which boasts an average unit cost of $275,000 per spot.




Show that keeps us on the edge of our seat;
Biggest social butterfly

The Walking Dead

It’s blind-sided viewers with some of the most shocking TV moments since The Sopranos faded to black. In recent episodes, a major character died in childbirth only to be shot by her son before she could reanimate, while the central villain ministered to the ambulatory corpse that is his 7-year-old daughter. Forget “edge of your seat”—this is TV to watch from behind the screen of your fingers. Plus, the season-two finale scared up more than 217,000 social-media comments—second only in tweet bait to the final episode of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

The Walking Dead

Creative of the Year
Glen Mazzara
executive producer, The Walking Dead

Fanboys geeked out when AMC replaced original exec producer and showrunner Frank Darabont with the lesser-known Mazzara, but The Walking Dead is now a far superior program. Season 3 has had more WTF moments than any five broadcast series combined, as Mazzara has displayed an almost giddy willingness to kill off any character that can still be classified as human. While still awaiting official word on renewal, AMC essentially let the zombified cat out of the bag in September when it hosted a sweepstakes offering a Season 4 on-set visit.



Best Reason to Watch TV Now


While it shares the dimensions of a standard sitcom, Louis C.K.’s idiosyncratic FX series is almost impossible to classify. A profoundly human meditation on what it’s like to be a sentient being in post-everything America—call it Portrait of the Artist as an Effed-Up Man—Louie may not be everyone’s cup of chamomile. But besides transforming what it means to make great comedy, the show is also turning the business model on its head. Foregoing the seven-figure budget of the average network sitcom in exchange for complete creative control, Louis C.K. has created what is essentially the first artisanal television program.

The Walking Dead


Favorite Late-Night Host

Stephen Colbert

The Colbert Report

From the moment Ohio was called for Barack Obama in November 2008, Colbert has been trying to wipe that goofy grin off his face. And since then, the satirist has deftly inserted himself into the American political conversation, bringing the yuks to millions with his Comedy Central show while pranking the political establishment with a Super PAC that raised $1.23 million. Whether skewering the clunky Apple Maps or creating a pro-mayo spot that helped entice Miracle Whip to run ads during every commercial break, Colbert straddles the intersection of mirth and mammon like no other.

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart



Executive of the Year

Charlie Collier
president, AMC

AMC’s zombie-apocalypse drama The Walking Dead, being the Little Engine That Could Eat Your Brains, initially had media buyers heading for the hills. But eyeballs are everything—even when they’re being gouged out. The Walking Dead lags only NFL broadcasts in the dollar demo. Scatter rates for a :30 spot near a whopping $400,000, putting most broadcast series to shame. If all that weren’t reason enough to crown Collier king of the tube, he also has Mad Men and Breaking Bad in his portfolio.



Guiltiest Pleasure

American Horror Story

Watching Ryan Murphy wrestle with the bugbears of his youth (the showrunner was 15 when he came out to his Irish-Catholic parents) is like being chased by bloodthirsty ghouls through the Recovery section of Barnes & Noble. The second incarnation of FX’s American Horror Story is even more nuts than its first season, with fans of the show’s camp noir eating up Jessica Lange’s sadistic nun, Chloë Sevigny’s nymphomaniac amputee and an ex-Nazi scientist who looks like kindly Farmer Hoggett from Babe. Crazy good fun.

True Blood


Show That Always Makes Us LOL

The Big Bang Theory

To be sure, there are funnier shows, but nothing tickles the funny bone quite like money and ratings. Now in its sixth season, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory is the most-watched, highest-rated sitcom, averaging 13.9 million viewers and a 5.0 in the 18-49 demo. It’s also a cash machine. The cost of a spot alongside Sheldon, Leonard and the rest of the Caltech crew: $285,000.



Best Prime-time Lineup


Given the sorry state of broadcast, a victory in this category is a dubious distinction, on par with being voted the most handsome member of the Stones. While CBS is in second place in the 18-49 demo, it remains broadcast’s most reliable reach vehicle, averaging 11.7 million viewers per night through the first eight weeks of the season. While NBC is the only network to grow ratings YOY, CBS has bragging rights to two of the top new dramas (Vegas, Elementary) and broadcast TV’s highest-rated scripted show (The Big Bang Theory). NBC’s star will almost certainly dim once The Voice and Revolution go on hiatus, which should send still more GRPs to Black Rock.



Hottest Network for Comedy


From a creative standpoint, FX boasts arguably the strongest comedy lineup in recent memory, with scripted gutbusters like Louie, Archer, The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia bringing laughs alongside the recently renewed variety offerings BrandX With Russell Brand and Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell. If FX gained notoriety with its slate of original punch-a-guy-in-the-face-first-and-ask-questions-later series (The Shield, Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, Justified), the giddy lunacy of The League and Archer help make the argument that FX is perhaps the most well-rounded network on cable, if not all of television. And media buyers have taken notice.

Comedy Central


Best Reason to Stay Home All Day (Syndication)

The Ellen DeGeneres Show

This talker may lag well behind Judge Judy, Dr. Phil and Live With Kelly and Michael in the ratings, but there’s no question Ellen remains one of the most appealing personalities in daytime. Now in its 10th season, the show not only has taken home a whopping 38 Daytime Emmys but continues to draw A-list guests like Rihanna, One Direction and Andrew Garfield.

Anderson Live


Best Reality/Competition Series

The Voice

Rival network execs once snarked that the only thing The Voice has going for it is its spinning-chair gimmick. Those detractors are now dining on crow. Moving The Voice from the spring cycle to fall is the smartest move Bob Greenblatt has made since taking the reins as entertainment chairman, and the proof is in the deliveries. Through the first nine weeks of the season, NBC is tops in the dollar demo, averaging a 3.2 rating in adults 18-49, a 60 percent bump versus last year. Almost all that growth is attributable to The Voice.

The Voice


Hottest Sports Network


NBCUniversal and News Corp. are seeking to develop a viable alternative to the dominant sports brand. Good luck to them. Not only does ESPN/ABC Sports hold the rights to every meaningful college football bowl game, it also enjoys a cozy relationship with the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Along with ratings hegemony, ESPN also generates revenue like a steroidal cash machine, charging a princely $5.13 per month carriage fee for each of its 100 million subscribers (the industry average is about 25 cents per sub) while it generates an estimated $1.75 billion in ad business per year. ESPN isn’t the 800-pound gorilla of sports—it’s Mighty Joe Young standing on the shoulders of King Kong.



Best Network for Family Programming

The Hub

The Bronies have spoken. Moments after posted the Hot List Reader Poll, a cadre of My Little Pony enthusiasts flooded the zone, voting with such frequency and fervency for the show’s home network that we rewarded them with their very own poll. (Rainbow Dash won in a landslide, taking 30.5 percent of the votes.) Though the Bronies left their mark, the Hub was the favorite of our readers (with 42 percent making it top dog)—and the same goes for TV viewers and advertisers. In Q3, the Hub grew deliveries in its target demo by a staggering 62 percent, while free cash flow is expected to soar from just $350,000 in 2011 to a projected $37 million this year, per SNL Kagan.

The Hub


The Comeback Kid

James Van Der Beek

Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23

Krysten Ritter’s merry sociopath, Chloe, is the glue that holds ABC’s daffy comedy together, but former Dawson’s Creek heartthrob/mope James Van Der Beek turns in the performance of a lifetime as a vapid and egomaniacal actor named ... James Van Der Beek. It’s the sort of exaggerated self-parody that made Neil Patrick Harris a huge TV star for the second time (“The Doogie line always works on strippers”). It also allows Creek diehards to dream of a reunion. (So far, only Busy Philipps has taken the bait.) Unfortunately, the Beek’s meta-performance is likely to be short-lived: The most recent episode of the B---- drew a lowly 0.9 in the demo.

Matthew Perry, Go On


Hottest Newcomer


The only new broadcast series that even remotely qualifies as a hit, Revolution has bolstered the Monday 10 p.m. slot previously inhabited by Smash. Since premiering Sept. 17 to 11.7 million viewers and a 4.1 in the dollar demo, Revolution has flagged a bit, but it still remains the only new drama that flirts with a 3.0 rating. (The average for the most recent episode of all freshman dramas is 1.4.) Early sponsors ponied up a mere $90,000 per spot, making it one of the most frugal broadcast buys. After a three-month walkabout, Revolution returns to NBC on March 25.



View Print and Digital Winners

View this year's Hot List winners


Recommended articles