Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Flops and Breakout Hits Equally Rare on TV This Fall

Special to the Director's Cut
by Gary Levin, USA Today

Five weeks into the new TV season, it's clear that few new shows are tanking in the ratings. But breakout hits are elusive, too.

The top new show is CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles." The spinoff follows the original "NCIS," which has eclipsed CSI to become TV's No. 1 drama.

"L.A." and "The Good Wife," also on CBS, Fox's "Cleveland Show" and "Glee," and ABC's "FlashForward," "Modern Family," "Cougar Town" and "The Middle" are doing well enough to earn full seasons. (Cleveland has already been renewed for next season.) CW's "The Vampire Diaries" also is expected to keep going.

"All in all, the networks are in decent shape" with new series, says CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl. "It feels a little more optimistic to me than it has" in the past.

That's not to say TV doesn't have its clunkers; far more series fail than succeed. ABC's "Hank" and "Eastwick," NBC's "Trauma," CBS' "Three Rivers" and Fox's "Brothers" and "Dollhouse" aren't likely to survive once initial 13-episode runs wrap up in January. But none seem in danger of imminent cancellation, a contrast to past years when itchy trigger fingers led networks to yank shows ahead of the November ratings sweeps period, which begins Oct. 29.

"There's a little more patience this year, just because of the lack of backups" to replace them, says Carat USA ad firm analyst Shari Anne Brill.

Only one new show has been canceled outright - CW's "The Beautiful Life," which lasted just two episodes - as fewer shows than usual have completely tanked. "There don't seem to be as many shows falling well below what was expected," says ABC scheduling chief Jeff Bader.

New shows typically get 13-episode test runs; if successful, they get the go-ahead by November for nine more, enough to last through May. The same applies to returning shows unveiled last spring: ABC's "Castle" won a full season Tuesday, while Fox's "Lie to Me" awaits word. NBC canceled "Southland" before the second season began.

Still other shows, such as NBC's "Community" and "Mercy" and ABC's "The Forgotten," probably will stick around despite lower-than-hoped-for ratings because newly patient programmers hope they'll gradually attract more interest.

Some freshmen "have gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but we see in many of them good internal signs," NBC's Mitch Metcalf says.

Also safe for now: NBC's "Jay Leno Show." The network says it's meeting expectations, even as some affiliates complain about the effect of the low ratings on their local newscasts.

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