The smallscreen has dominated the summer pop culture landscape in recent years with warm-weather phenoms like “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The O.C.”
Not this year.
While several networks made a lot of noise about launching a summer programming revolution, the results have been mixed at best, with viewers largely yawning at new and returning fare.
Usually reliable reality has taken the biggest hit.
With so much original, non-scripted fare hitting the airwaves this summer, the genre’s stellar survival rate has plunged. Several entries have already failed to impress, including ABC’s “Ultimate Love Test,” Fox’s “The Casino,” and NBC’s “Next Action Star.”
The relationship genre has been hit particularly hard, as viewers continue to flock to more comedic reality entries (“Simple Life 2”). The returns of franchises “For Love or Money” and “Who Wants to Marry My Dad,” for example, haven’t lived up to their predecessors.
Even cable, traditionally a summer sizzler, has failed to wow this summer.
But despite a dose of June gloom, all’s not lost as TV heads into July and the rest of the summer.
NBC is giving its Olympics coverage a huge promo push. Several big-ticket reality skeins have just returned (“Big Brother”), which should boost overall ratings for the season.
And the nets have even been handed a few summer surprises:
Quintuplets: A hit is born
Few comedies have been savaged as mercilessly as this Fox half-hour starring Andy Richter as the father of five 15-year-olds. Viewers don’t care: The show is now a top 15 smash among young adults, even improving upon its lead-in of “That 70s Show” repeats.
The early success of “Quints” is a sweet salve for Fox, which has taken a beating in the press this summer. The brickbats aren’t entirely undeserved: While the network is clearly serious about year-round programming, many of the net’s new shows haven’t met the daring, distinctive or different credo that’s always been Fox’s formula for success.
It’s also hard to rally to the defense of Fox when the network would rather put on sleep-inducing dramas like “The Jury” rather than schedule thought-provoking fare such as “Still Life,” a compelling family hour that will likely sit on the shelf forever.
That said, Fox has some solid excuses for its so-so summer perf — as well as some reasons for hope.
CBS and NBC have a slew of popular anchor shows that repeat well, including the “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises. By contrast, Fox’s two biggest hours — “24” and the Tuesday edition of “American Idol”– don’t repeat at all, leaving the net with an inordinate amount of holes to fill during the warm weather months.
Fact is, without the new summer fare, it’s not hard to imagine Fox falling completely off the map this summer had it not moved aggressively to launch fresh fare. And the good news is that, save for “Method and Red,” Fox’s summer shows are generating stable ratings rather than falling off sharply since their premieres.
And Forget April in Paris: It turns out summertime is the best time for Ms. Hilton and her “Simple Life.” Second installment of the skein is summer’s top-rated show in adults 18-49.
If Fox can go into summer with two or three shows with respectable numbers, its summer gambit might have been worth it.
Doing Les is sometimes more: CBS/Viacom honcho Leslie Moonves has stuck with a summer strategy that’s the complete opposite of Fox.
Save for the “60 Minutes” interview with Bill Clinton and an AFI special, the Eye didn’t air a stitch of fresh fare between Memorial Day and July 4.
Instead, it stuck with repeats of its popular dramas and comedies — and focused its promotional muscle on hyping just two new reality shows “Big Brother 5” and “The Amazing Race.”
Moonves’ reward? A No. 1 rank for CBS in both adults 18-49 (tied with NBC) and viewers.
It’s not a complete surprise CBS is doing well, given its strong perf during the regular season and the fact that it’s had the same basic summer formula for the last three or four years. What’s Eye-opening is how well CBS has countered original fare on both Fox and NBC, making it harder for both those webs to establish hits.
NBC gets the last laugh: The controversy surrounding the Peacock’s “Last Comic Standing” — four words: it’s rigged (sort of) — didn’t hurt the show, which has become a top 5 hit after an OK performance last summer.
Peacock has taken a page out of the CBS playbook, giving a reality show time to find its sea legs.
CBS’ “Big Brother” was something of a creative disaster its first season out, yet new producers and new ideas turned the show into a summer stalwart. Likewise, the Eye has kept faith with “The Amazing Race,” enduring some less-than-sizzling numbers and waiting for fans to find the show (which they finally seemed to have done this summer, thanks in part to a “Big Brother” boost).
This year’s “Last Comic Standing” is a much better show than the first outing, with producers having nearly as much fun with reality conventions as Spike TV’s underappreciated “Joe Schmo 2.”
In fact, if NBC’s still struggling to find comedy hits next spring, an early in-season return for “Last Comic” might not be such an idea.
“Summer” lovin’ gives WB a blast: Even execs at the WB were surprised by the strong launch for drama “Summerland.”
At best, the show was a mild diversion, a chance to throw some original scripted fare on the air in the summertime. The Frog has never had much success in the warm months, when its young viewers are out at the beach or pursuing other outdoor activities.
But, as its title suggests, “Summerland” and its breezy, Malibu setting were the right fit for this time of year. The Spelling TV series has scored big with younger viewers in particular, making it the Frog’s top-rated show this summer among adults 18-49.
Show got a head start on some of this summer’s other original fare, debuting on June 1 to a solid 4.6 million viewers and 2.0 rating/6 share with adults 18-49.
WB was also able to capitalize on the show’s unusual auspices. The original concept was pitched by series star Lori Loughlin; the actress came up with the idea of centering the show on a thirtysomething woman and her carefree friends, who become surrogate parents when her sister and brother-in-law die.
WB initially ordered 13 segs of “Summerland”; net is now expected to pick up the back nine and return the show next spring.