As we approach the end of March, it seems to me like a wonderful time for taking stock, seeing where we are in the television world. There are only about two months left before the end of the season, and almost assuredly, nearly half that time will be filled with repeats. Some favorites will not be back next year and some drivel certainly will.
This season has seen Lost continue to dwindle in the ratings, even as it returns, in my opinion, to better times creatively. ABC’s strategy of running it sans repeats, doesn’t seem to have mustered a return to the season one cultural phenomenon that the show once was.
What of ABC’s other one-time mega-hit, Desperate Housewives? Many would claim that this season has proven to be far better than the second one. Yet, there are still so many inconsistencies, plot flaws, and meaningless annoyances that it seems deserving that the show isn’t the ratings draw it once was (though it still does perform solidly). Creatively, one of the best episodes this whole season was where they stepped away from their established pattern, and Mary Alice Young’s voice was never heard. Rather, the audience was treated to a voiceover by Rex Van De Kamp. The new perspective that the change provided was incredibly welcome, and the entire episode took on a fresh look that was hugely appreciated. It actually made me hope that Marc Cherry and the rest of the producers would look into making such a change in voiceover a regular thing on the show.
What of NBC? Some would argue that their numbers are moderately improved over last year, though much (if not all) of that is attributable to running pro football on Sunday nights. They’re using a ton of reality TV to plug holes in the schedule and even when they seem to end up on the right foot creatively, the ratings don’t follow. It may be true that “the quality shows are on NBC,” but where that once made for good ratings, it no longer seems to and NBC is still struggling with that disconnect. Of course, “quality” is a relative term, and where a show like ER was once groundbreaking and wonderful, it has turned into recycled material over the past few seasons. Just because a plotline in season three made for a quality show, that doesn’t mean you can repeat it now. Maybe Raines and The Black Donnellys will suddenly catch fire and the ratings will return, but it doesn’t seem likely.
And CBS? For whatever reason, their lineup rarely has any interest for me. I really enjoy How I Met Your Mother on Monday nights, but the ratings for that and the rest of CBS’s comedy lineup this season are nowhere near what they were in the past, with Everybody Loves Raymond anchoring the night. CBS may soon find itself in a parallel to NBC’s post-Friends Thursday night Must See TV conundrum. Will they work it out? Who knows?
As for Fox, well, they have Idol and that covers up a lot of sins, including the diminishing ratings for Prison Break and lack of creativity plaguing this season of 24. But, a show like Idol can give something like ‘Til Death, which hadn’t seen good ratings all season, a sizable number and that provides a great platform to launch other things (seriously, look at House, which only turned into a hit after getting a post-Idol timeslot or this year’s Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader). Idol’s a monster, and as long as it keeps chugging along, Fox will do just fine.
What will next year bring? I could guess, but there’s a pretty decent shot I’ll be wrong, especially as we don’t know yet what’s going to air where and when. Over the next few months things are going to start to take shape and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.