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Networks fail to field new hits; even vets falling

By Michael Storey

This article was published February 28, 2013 at 2:35 a.m.

— What’s going on with broadcast television? The networks just can’t seem to buy a hit.

One of the concerns at the recent TV critics’ winter press tour in Los Angeles was the lack of any buzz-worthy breakouts from this season’s crop of freshmen.

As reported last week in the Los Angeles Times, the problem seems to run even deeper. Not only are the newcomers pulling sluggish numbers, only a handful of veteran shows are doing better this season than last.

The freshman class does have a few bright spots, including CBS’ Sherlock Holmes re-tooling, Elementary, and Fox’s serial-killer saga, The Following, starring Kevin Bacon.

But the casualty list more than matches that. Already getting the ax are NBC’s Do No Harm (after two episodes) and CBS’ The Job (two, and out).

CBS’ Made in Jersey was the season’s first casualty after only a couple of episodes. NBC followed by pulling the plug on Animal Practice (that was the one with the monkey). That sitcom lasted all of three episodes.

Fox yanked The Mob Doctor (a waste of the talents of Jordana Spiro) after allowing 13 episodes to run, and The CW canned Emily Owens, M.D. (starring Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer) after its initial order of 13 episodes ran out.

How bad do you have to be to get canceled on The CW?

Also kicked to the curb so far this season have been Fox’s delightful Ben & Kate, ABC’s 666 Park Avenue, Don’t Trust the B--in Apartment 23, and Last Resort; and CBS’ Partners.

Ending their runs this season (leaving holes to fi ll) are veteran series 30 Rock (NBC), Fringe (Fox), Gossip Girl (CW), The Offi ce (NBC) and Private Practice (ABC).

NBC’s Up All Night has had star Christina Applegate leave the show and star Maya Rudolph announce she’s pregnant. Its future is in doubt.

There are more shows in trouble, but you get the idea.

Among the few shows actually improving are NBC’s Grimm, ABC’s Shark Tank and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory.

Big Bang, now in its sixth season, continues to improve due to smart writing and a sterling castwith impeccable timing.

The networks can spin the ratings all they want, but the only demographic that counts in the end is the advertiser-coveted 18-49. Right or wrong, it’s the demo the networks brag about, what they cater to and what they fret over when it heads south.

Declining in the 18-49 demographic this season are last season’s CBS darlings Two Broke Girls, The Mentalist and Hawaii Five-O. Down at NBC are Law & Order SVU and Parks & Recreation.

ABC’s fantasy drama Once Upon a Time has seen double-digit declines as has Fox’s Zooey Deschanel comedy New Girl.

Even an outstanding drama such as CBS’ The Good Wife saw an all-time rating low last week.

It’s a rapidly changing TV world these days with the consumer much more in charge than in the past. Time-shifting viewing with DVRs and streaming video mean the viewer no longer need watch an episode when the network decides to show it. This has a◊ected ratings and has caused the industry to scramble to keep up.

The Times recently assembled a roundtable of cable TV executives and asked them “to discuss the dynamic technology-driven shifts that are rattling the industry.” The panel included Michele Ganeless, president of Comedy Central, who said it doesn’t matter much anymore how a program is viewed.

“For us, it’s not programs, programs, programs, as much as it’s hits, hits, hits,” Ganeless said. “The [viewing] platforms don’t matter unless you have a hit thatpeople want to see. We’re not a network, we’re a brand. So we’re a brand on your television. We’re a brand on your phone. And that’s what we develop with our viewers. They’re no longer viewers, they’re fans.

“My nephew’s in his 20s. When he watches sports, he’s got Gamecast going on his laptop, he’s checking scores on his cell phone, he’s watching another game. Is that the viewer experience now, just multiple screens?”

Ganeless added, “I do know what will always matter, and that are hits. If you don’t have Mad Men, if you don’t have Jon Stewart, it doesn’t matter what platforms you have. It doesn’t matter what your business models are.”

My question is, now that the TV business model is changing, will it simply cater to the multitasking twentysomethings? Are viewers dinosaurs who simply enjoy sitting on the couch and watching one program without texting and checking e-mail?

And what determines a hit? I don’t think TV programmers know anymore. Until they fi gure it out, we’re going to lose a lot of shows that should have been allowed to find an audience.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. E-mail:

Weekend, Pages 32 on 02/28/2013

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