Mr. TV: Answer Man

As a follow up to Mr. TV’s Midseason Update Webcast, this week’s column is devoted to answering the questions we didn’t have time to address. So, on that note…

Does the relative success of unheralded Surviving Suburbia suggest audiences are seeking a return to “comfort food” sitcoms during this recession? The networks (ABC and NBC, in particular) might benefit if they retuned to the cookie-cutter comedy formula: wise mom, dumb dad, a couple of smart-mouth kids, sassy maid, wacky neighbor, you know the drill. So, yes, I do think audiences seek shows of a comforting and familiar nature when times are turbulent. But before you give a “thumbs up” to Surviving Suburbia, keep in mind it is losing more than half of its Dancing With the Stars lead-in. I doubt it will be back.

Do you feel the networks are failing in their marketing of programs? Yes, I do. I vividly recall when each network would open the season with a fun slogan and a catchy tune. And NBC, of course, went to town for years with its once formidable “Must See TV” theme, which could be the best branding in the history of television. What happened to that creativity?  

What criteria does a network use when it determines whether or not to renew a show? For any series you must look at the individual ratings, the show’s history, retention out of the lead-in (unless the show leads off the evening), the prior time-period performance and recent trending. If the ratings are low but the network has faith in the series, some patience should be on the agenda too.  

Do you agree that ad-supported cable networks are leading the way in the scripted genre department? At present, yes.  Witness product like AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad; FX’s Damages and Rescue Me; Sci Fi’s Battlestar Galactica; and TNT’s The Closer and Saving Grace. But don’t forget, fewer shows and fewer episodes ordered per season gives cable the advantage of being more selective.  

Of the 22 new midseason series, which are your favorite and least favorite? Critics will cringe, but I choose NBC failure Howie Do It as my favorite. I always loved Candid Camera, and there’s nothing wrong with a few silly laughs to end the work week. Sadly, though, no one watched. As for my least favorite, there is a lot to choose from. But the last thing I needed to see was a group of silly bachelorettes seeking the approval of possessive mothers on NBC’s Momma’s Boys. Truly nauseating.

Why is ABC’s The Unusuals on the fence? Doesn’t it drop heavily from Dancing With the Stars? And shouldn’t it be canceled? The Unusuals is regularly scheduled out of Lost, and, yes, the audience retention is not good. Nor is it an improvement over failed time-period occupants Life on Mars and Dirty Sexy Money. So, from a ratings standpoint it should be axed. But since “quirky” is never an easy sell, ABC will have to be patient if it wants the show to succeed.

Is there any chance we will see a third season of The CW’s Reaper? No. Since the ratings are down year to year from an already low-rated first season, this is no reason to think The CW will remain committed to Reaper. Two seasons is more than enough time to see if a show will catch on.  

Where do you think Fox’s Glee will air? Well, it debuts for one airing out of American Idol in the Tuesday 9 p.m. hour on May 19. Where it goes when it returns next fall is anyone’s guess, but any of the 9 p.m. hours on Monday through Thursday are the logical choices. If I were programming Fox, I would roll the dice and air it opposite Grey’s Anatomy and CSI on Thursday. Both dramas are down and viewers might be looking for an alternative. By the way, although you didn’t ask, I think airing Glee once and taking it off the air for four months is just plain dumb.