Worthy shows struggle in this cutthroat era

Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News (MCT)
New Amsterdam

I've been getting a lot of e-mail lately from fans of CBS' "Jericho," some arguing that the network had unfairly canceled the show after airing the seven episodes it ordered for Season 2.

I don't like to further upset people who have the power to crash my inbox any time they want, but I'll occasionally take the time to explain that television is a business, and that I don't see the unfairness in canceling a show that had averaged fewer than 7 million viewers per week (which, for all I know, works out to less than one per peanut).

No matter how much its fans loved "Jericho," it was not a love they were able to pass on to enough people to make sense for a network like CBS.

Last week, I happened to mention to one e-mailer that I was worried myself about NBC's "Friday Night Lights," a show I consider better than "Jericho" but whose ratings this season aren't.

She suggested we agree to disagree.

A few days later, NBC announced that thanks to a deal with DirecTV, it had managed to get 13 more episodes of "Lights" onto next winter's schedule.

I'm not gloating, though.

For one thing, I liked "Jericho," as I've liked a number of shows this season that, for various reasons, are drawing audiences of a size that in the days before DVRs and downloads would have gotten them canceled after a few weeks.

Some of those shows will survive and some won't, as networks adjust their business models to deal with the reality of an increasingly fractured audience.

Right now, I'm watching the Nielsens anxiously, trying to gauge the chances of Fox's "New Amsterdam," a Monday night drama about a centuries-old cop in New York City.

Like "Journeyman," the NBC-canceled series about a time-traveling newspaper reporter, "New Amsterdam's" turned out to be more intelligent than it first sounded, with a main character compelling enough to encourage suspension of disbelief for an hour a week.

Some nights, that's all I'm looking for.

But though it's a Top 10 download on iTunes, the 6.6 million viewers Nielsen Media Research says "New Amsterdam" averaged last week against NBC's "Deal or No Deal" and the last half-hour of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" suggests that the company I'm in is no larger than that of the "Jericho" fan base.

And a look at the season-to-date Nielsens finds other shows whose viewers I know to be passionate struggling to find larger audiences: ABC's "Men in Trees" (6.1 million); NBC's "30 Rock" (6.6 million); and, of course, "Friday Night Lights" (6.2 million).

When people write or call me about these series, they often mention that Such-and-Such is one of the few shows on network television they still bother to watch. In fact, it's a point of pride - they're working to save the show that's the only one worth saving.

And maybe that's the problem: More than time-shifting and online viewing, it might be the very passion of some TV fans that's killing the very shows they say they care about, even as less-picky people are making hits of "Moment of Truth" and "Deal or No Deal."

If a rising tide truly lifts all boats, maybe the answer is for people who find a show they love to befriend another.

Call it the buddy system or merely enlightened self-interest: You watch my show, I'll watch yours.

So maybe the next battle for a "Jericho" won't have to be fought with peanut shells.





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