Mr. TV: 10 Years After

As I celebrate 10 years at Mediaweek, I thought I would take a look at the small screen over these last 120 months, pinpointing some of the highs and lows. Needless to say, a lot has changed.

When I arrived on June 14, 1999, NBC’s then five-year-old ER was the top-rated show (in household ratings), followed by two other “must see” Thursday Peacock occupants: Friends and Frasier. ER, of course, recently ended and NBC continues to air comedies in the Thursday 8-10 p.m. block. But The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation are not mass-appeal hits like their predecessors. And ER overstayed its welcome by about three years.  

The stars of Friends and Frasier, meanwhile, have amassed a slew of failed series since their big hits, including (deep breath) Courteney Cox Arquette in FX drama Dirt, Lisa Kudrow in HBO comedy The Comeback, Matt LeBlanc in NBC’s Joey, Matthew Perry in NBC’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Kelsey Grammer in recent sitcom Back to You and Kelsey Grammer Presents The Sketch Show, both on Fox. This fall, Grammer (ABC’s Hank) and Arquette (ABC’s Cougar Town) will try again.

Ten years ago today I was dreading the summer programming landscape because I thought there would be nothing worth watching. But the two-week strip of a little game show called Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on ABC was about to premiere, while the big new summer entry in 2000, CBS’ Survivor, is now heading into its 18th edition. Also debuting in the summer of 2000 on CBS was my go-to guilty pleasure, Big Brother.  

The nontraditional season, meanwhile, has become the home to several scripted cable hits over the years thanks to nets like FX, HBO, Lifetime, Showtime and TNT. I remember it like it was yesterday when Turner Entertainment bigwig Steve Koonin asked me to look at the pilot of The Closer to see what I thought. Four years later it’s still a huge success for Koonin and Co.

When I started The Programming Insider, I wrote about veteran series like NBC’s Law & Order and Fox’s The Simpsons. The Simpsons is now officially the longest running scripted prime-time series, while Law & Order is about to tie Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted drama.

My first fall season at Mediaweek, I wondered if a spinoff from Law & Order was a good idea. Ten years later, SVU and Criminal Intent are still alive. I vividly recollect when one of my favorite sitcoms, Malcolm in the Middle, began (Jan. 9, 2000) and ended (Aug. 6, 2006). That ’06 season also witnessed ABC blowing up what could have been a huge hit in Commander in Chief. My biggest error in judgment? In 2000, I thought the remake of The Fugitive on Fridays would be a hit and leadout CSI would flop. Oops.

Many of the truly good shows were not afforded the time to find an audience, including Fox’s Get Real, which featured a young Anne Hathaway; ABC’s Life With Bonnie; The WB’s Jack & Bobby; and CBS’ Moonlight. Some, like ABC’s Men in Trees and Fox’s Arrested Development, were moved around so often the audience could no longer find them. Still others like The Drew Carey Show, According to Jim and, currently, Scrubs, all on ABC, never knew when to end. And the trend of dumping popular shows because they skew too old (CBS’ The Guardian, Close to Home and Without a Trace, to name a few) unfortunately lives on.

Over these last 10 years, I have seen six nets morph into five, with pretenders like ION (formerly PAX) and MyNetworkTV claiming to be full-service broadcasters. I have watched Saturday, historically one of the best nights, fade to black (I’m afraid the same will happen to Friday).  I have seen personal favorites like HBO’s Sex and the City and The Sopranos end too soon. I watched in awe as creative giants like ABC’s Lost and Desperate Housewives found new ways to tell stories. And I have witnessed the way we watch television change via cable, DVRs and the Web.