Monday, September 05, 2005

That Was The Summer That Was

Since just about everyone recognises Labour Day (or Labor Day) as the end of Summer, I thought it would be appropriate to have a look at what worked and what didn't in terms of summer programming, based on ratings and general feeling.

We Make Like The Donald But We Hate The Fakes: This summer season saw four shows based around the basic format of The Apprentice. Of those only the Gordon Ramsay series Hell's Kitchen on Fox had anything like ratings good enough to be deemed a hit, although the sometimes funny I Want To Be A Hilton (NBC) started reasonably well but it soon became apparent that Kathy Hilton's style had little ratings substance. The Cut on CBS, which featured Tommy Hilfiger started on Thursday, was moved to Wednesday by Big Brother and then was bumped to Fridays for some reason where it was taken of for at least one week thanks to pre-season football - and no one noticed! But the booby prize has to go to the David E. Kelly created reality show The Law Firm which featured "court cases" (really arbitration cases) which would have been laughed out of Judge Judy's TV court. It ran for two disastrous episodes before NBC decided it would be better off with reruns of Will & Grace and Scrubs and consigned The Law Firm to the dustbin of Bravo. What made Hell's Kitchenwork of course was that Gordon Ramsay was always right down there with the contestants, berating them and constantly being in their faces. On the whole however the performance of the faux Trumps was disappointing and should probably serve as a warning to Martha Stewart and her new show.

Now Fake American Idol We Like: Three series took the basic ideas behind American Idol and made them work: So You Think You Can Dance, Rock Star: INXS and Dancing With The Stars. All the elements are there: live performances, a jury of experts, and audience voting. They all drew at least good ratings, even Rock Star: INXS.

Controversy Is Fine As Long As It's Not Too Controversial: The summer season had ABC promising two controversial reality series. In Welcome to the Neighborhood we were promised a look at people who would have the opportunity to choose their new neighbours in an upper class area of Houston. In Brat Camp we had the chance to watch a group of troubled teenagers undergoing the rigours of an extreme camping experience to scare them straight. Brat Camp made it to air despite complaints from psychologists and critics who felt that the the whole thing was at best voyeuristic and at worst damaging to the future prospects for the unwilling participants. Welcome to the Neighborhood didn't even make it to air because not only did the Left complain about the notion of people getting to choose who they wanted living next to them, but the Right complained because they were certain that "Christians" would be portrayed as the bad guys.

We Wanted Bad Ass Kids Not Good Kids: The aforementioned Brat Camp featured a group of underachievers and disciplinary nightmares. It was one of the ratings successes of the summer. Meanwhile ABC also had a show called The Scholar in which a group of teens that any parent would be proud to call theirs competed to win a full-ride scholarship to the college of their choice. The Scholar started low and sank lower. That may in part be because the show was, well kind of dull, but it's still disappointing that Brat Camp did as well as it did. I liked the kids on The Scholar and was rooting for them, while I couldn't care less for any of the people (event he parents and counsellors) on Brat Camp.

If The British Like It, It Must Be Okay: Setting aside the shows based on American Idol for a moment, it seems as though series concepts imported from Britain were really working this summer. Brat Camp was originally a British series, while Gordon Ramsay did a show which was similar to Hell's Kitchen in Britain. Dancing With The Stars had it's roots in the British Strictly Come Dancing which also spawned series in Australia and New Zealand, while the British also did Hit Me Baby One More Time first. Of these the worst ratings performer was probably Hit Me Baby One More Time which had a strong start but faded over the next few weeks. The major attribute of these series was that they were the sort of ideas that hadn't really been seen on American TV of late, perhaps suggesting that U.S. TV is too blinkered and unwilling to try new ideas.

If It Was Any Good Why Did They Save It For Summer? By comparison viewers really didn't want new scripted program on network TV. Consider ABC's miniseries Empire and the Fox produced series The Inside (sorry, I can't tell you anything about Bad Girls except that it's on UPN - enough said). Empire which had the disadvantage of not being historically accurate as well as not very good finished second in it's debut episode but thereafter was third in a three horse race. More disappointing for me was the failure of Tim Minear's The Inside which I found fascinating. Unfortunately it ran into Dancing With The Stars and Brat Camp ... not to mention the executives at Fox. I don't know that it was born to die, because I think that on any other night it would have been successful. Unfortunately no one at Fox thought to try it on another night.

It Helps If Someone Knows Your Name: Consider the fate of two shows, Princes of Malibu and Tommy Lee Goes To College. Now setting aside the fact that David Foster and Linda Thompson had filed for divorce before this show actually aired (it only became known after the second episode aired) who knew the Foster-Thompson-Jenner menage before they got their own Osbornes clone? Now everybody knows Tommy Lee, if only as that tattooed freak who was divorced by Pam Anderson. Tommy Lee at college is a funny concept but would it have been as funny if we weren't aware of who he was?

Funny Is In The Eye Of The Beholder: I didn't particularly like the CBS series Fire Me Please, but it seemed to do reasonably well in terms of ratings, despite taking what was at best a half hour format and trying to run it for an hour. I thought that the show was at times inordinately cruel to the people who were being tricked by the people who wanted to be fired, but that's me. On the other hand I found the Ashton Kutcher "social experiment" Beauty And The Geekfunny and not particularly cruel at all. Maybe I just identified with the guys a bit too much. In terms of ratings, Fire Me Please had higher ratings than Beauty And The Geek but then again it wasn't on The WB and wasn't going up against a bunch of dancing celebrities. The WB liked the results well enough to renew Beauty And The Geek for another season.

We Like To Watch People Dancing. Who Knew? Biggest hit of the summer was Dancing With The Stars, a show where six 'C' List celebrities went ballroom dancing with six professional partners. It was fun and entertaining, and if some of the dancers weren't particularly good (like Evander Hollyfield, even if he showed a ton of charisma) well who cared. Everyone involved was having a ton of fun and that at least was obvious. So You Think You Can Dance? with its professional or talented amateur dancers hasn't been nearly as big a ratings success as Dancing With The Stars, but it has shown consistently strong ratings which win its time slot and is outperforming any new programming in the week including the veteran Big Brother.

And that was the summer that was. Bring on the new fall shows - PLEASE!!!!!

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