Networks are still toying with viewers

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

2 May 2007

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip 

I have good news and I have a gripe. The good news: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will be back on the air starting May 24, though it’s still a long-odds bet that NBC will renew it.

And the gripe? The show has been off since Feb. 19 and NBC has told viewers exactly nothing about if or when the show would be back.

cover art

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Cast: Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, Timothy Busfield, D.L. Hughley, Steven Weber, Nathan Coddry
Regular airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET

US: 18 Sep 2006

Review [18.Sep.2006]


Series Premiere
Cast: Courteney Cox, Ian Hart, Josh Stewart, Jeffrey Nordling, Laura Allen, Rick Fox, Shannyn Sossamon, Timothy Bottoms
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET

US: 2 Jan 2007

Review [8.Jan.2007]

That kind of gripe isn’t aimed at just NBC, it’s at all of them—all the broadcast big boys and cable nets and pretty much everyone who seems to have a freaky view of the people who watch TV. What that view is I cannot fathom, but it does not include telling those people what’s happening to their shows or helping them watch TV.

TV critics don’t even know what’s happening half the time. NBC didn’t announce Studio 60‘s return. They didn’t even bury it inside the usual scheduling press release that requires you to know every detail of the current lineup to see a change. This one just showed up on the Studio 60 page of the NBC Web site last week, saying “returns Thursday, May 24” (at 10 p.m.).

A short digression, but I promise it will have a point: May 24 is the day after May sweeps end, and a week after NBC will have announced its new fall lineup. This has all the signs of being the last curtain call for Studio 60.

So NBC, apparently, wants to do this quietly—honestly, I’m not sure why—and never mind that the show was still drawing about 7 million viewers, some of them crazy in love with the series.

It’s hard to believe that network programmers are trying to tick you off, I guess, but they really are good at it. Take a look at NBC’s Thursday schedule this week:

My Name Is Earl: 8-8:36 p.m.
The Office: 8:36-9:19 p.m.
Scrubs: 9:19-9:53 p.m.
ER: 9:53-11 p.m.

Who ends a show at 9:53? Who starts one at 8:36? What could possibly be the point, besides messing with your mind and your recording devices?

The supersizing—as bad an idea as it is—is at least understandable. NBC is trying to stretch three comedies over two hours. But, jeez, give them round numbers for start times.

I don’t want to just kick NBC. ABC ended Tuesday’s Dancing With the Stars results show at 10:01. That was supposed to keep viewers from switching channels and to lead them into Boston Legal. It was also designed to artificially inflate the ratings for that first quarter hour.

It’s likely some people set their recorders for the normal time and missed who got booted. Yeah, whatever. That wasn’t ABC’s concern.

What the concern is, of ABC, NBC and all the other nets, is to do everything they can to manipulate viewers. Don’t admit you’ve canceled a show. Don’t make it easy to watch shows on different networks. Don’t let viewers record shows easily so they’ll have to watch the first run.

In essence, programmers are tricking people into watching their networks. Nice business model.

You would think all the networks would want to be consistent in their scheduling, and make it easy for viewers to come to them. You’d think they would be as public as possible about schedule changes and when shows might come back. And you’d think they would want viewers to enjoy their evenings watching TV and to, uh, like the networks they watch. Funny idea, huh?


And that’s why we bring you our weekly feature, What’d They Do to My Show? We’re all about open and accountable television. Here’s what we’ve got this week:

TNT finally announced when The Closer is coming back with new episodes: June 18. By then, the NBC playoffs should be over and it’ll be all about Kyra Sedgwick. The playoffs do end, right?

FX has not announced yet when Rescue Me returns. Lots of people have asked. The guess is late summer.

FX did announce that it’s renewing Dirt and The Riches for second seasons. The Riches is still on and Dirt just finished, so expect those second runs around early springish 2008.

Sci Fi Channel said last week that the quirky series Eureka will be back for its second season on July 10. That’s the show that’s part science fiction and part Northern Exposure about the small town that is the secret home for government-employed geniuses.

Sci Fi also said the goofy-but-adorable reality show, Who Wants To Be a Superhero, will start its second run on July 25. This is good. There can never be enough superheroes around.

Fox already canceled Drive. You probably didn’t notice since it was averaging just 5.6 million viewers.

And since a few people still ask, Fox canceled Standoff last fall. Easy to see why. The hostage-crisis episode is always the worst episode of any show, and this was a whole series about them.

Finally, a programming note that may not exactly fit our format, but here it is, anyway. The two-hour spin-off pilot for Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursday (at 9 on ABC) and repeats Friday (at 8).

The potential new series will be built around Addison (Kate Walsh), who leaves Seattle and heads for Los Angeles because, well, it’s just easier for L.A. to play L.A. in a TV show. It also stars Taye Diggs and Tim Daly.

//Mixed media