It's been a cruel summer for original network programming, and Sunday was no exception based on preliminary results, as two of reality TV's most prominent producers — Mark Burnett and Mike Fleiss — went to battle against each other and were both sacked by a preseason football game.
Burnett's ABC series "Shark Tank" averaged a mere 4.2 million viewers coming out of the premiere of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," which at 7 million looked a bit bitter but didn't exactly exhibit a Midas touch. On CBS, Fleiss' latest "There Goes the Neighborhood" (5.1 million viewers) outperformed "Tank" but slipped further off its 8 o'clock lead-in from "Big Brother."
A quick capsule review of "Millionaire," by the way: Regis Philbin remains quick and fresh as the host, but few of the stylistic changes helped matters, including a silly celebrity segment at the end with Katy Perry. And the new "phone a celebrity" lifeline left poor Sam Donaldson looking like he was orbiting the Earth in a space shuttle — which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea.
One more artistic note: ABC's space soap "Defying Gravity" (which clearly didn't live up to its title, with 2.8 million viewers) tanked even worse than "Shark Tank," which is sort of a shame. The third episode (after a two-hour launch) continues to drag too much in terms of its storytelling, but the show boasts a solid cast and the premise is intriguing. Too bad the series appears unlikely to fulfill its summer run, much less a "six-year mission."
ABC's 10th anniversary edition of "Millionaire" still seems like a good idea, especially because Sunday's hour was filled with promos for the network's new fall series. If ABC can gain any traction with the gameshow, in other words, that will assist its marketing campaign heading into the fall.
Still, as ABC Entertainment Prez Stephen McPherson acknowledged last week, the major networks are still fumbling for the right programming balance (original, both scripted and unscripted, and reruns) during the summer. And despite the get-rich themes of "Millionaire" and "Shark Tank," nobody's gonna retire off the kind of numbers they posted on Sunday night.