by Ron Wynn
It's never been a ratings blockbuster by even cable TV standards, but AMC's Mad Men has earned a ton of awards and substantial critical respect over its past five seasons.
Still, the network and the show's creator and principal writer Matthew Weiner have not always been on the same page. AMC wasn't happy Weiner wanted such a long hiatus (the show's been off the air since last June) and there have been clashes over costs and content.
Fortunately for its faithful legions, new episodes return 8 p.m. Sunday, April 7. With this being the show's penultimate season, Weiner promises major revelations and changes. He's going to conclude a few items and extend others in the two-hour season opener.
As usual, Weiner refuses to be specific, declining even to tell The New York Times or TV Guide what year these episodes occur. He admitted Mad Men has moved into the latter end of the '60s, and that the storylines will incorporate some shattering events from that period.
This much is known: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce moves to the 38th floor of the Time-Life Building, and with the expansion, demands and pressures increase. But more importantly, with AMC's The Walking Dead just concluded (in a somewhat frustrating season-ender) and the networks entering a month-long hibernation in wait for May's sweeps, Mad Men revives just when viewers need it most.
No poke in The Eye
CBS, the only network enjoying a decent year, announced 14 more show renewals last week, giving it 18 returning shows. It should be 20 shortly: Criminal Minds seems poised for renewal upon completion of cast contract negotiations, as does Two and a Half Men.
The shows in cancellation danger are CSI:NY (prognosis: negative), Vegas (rolling snake eyes with demographics) and Golden Boy (having a hard time getting arrested on Tuesdays).
Golden Boy seems the safest, due in part to generally good reviews and OK ratings. Plus it's getting encouraging mileage out of its central gimmick, i.e., using flashbacks to document how its principal character became New York's youngest police commissioner.
With the strength of the rest of its lineup, however, CBS might win the 18-49 demo for the season. It's getting solid results from longtime tentpoles like CSI and NCIS, even from How I Met Your Mother. The Big Bang Theory exploded this season, and newer shows like Person of Interest benefited from its lead-in. It also has the biggest new show (Elementary) and is bringing back a previously dumped show for the summer (Unforgettable, whose name evidently fit better than anyone thought).
Proud as a sixth-place peacock
For a network that finished last week in sixth place during prime-time — behind both Univision and The CW, and probably within hailing distance of that channel that shows Green Acres reruns — NBC got a little good news.
The first item was the consistently good performance of The Voice. Though still not beating American Idol in total audience, its ratings keep rising while its rivals hit new lows. NBC plans to riding the horse, with another two-hour episode set for tonight and additional ones coming.
The second was a ratings surprise by venerable Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show has enjoyed a double-digit surge in audience among the 18-49 set over the past couple of weeks, and now looks to be a good candidate for returning next season. When Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler departed at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, many observers felt the show would also hand in its badge.
But SVU has retooled with new faces and moved remaining cornerstone character Mariska Hargitay to the forefront. Now it stands among the few NBC dramas that retains a faithful following.
It is doubtful SVU can hang around long enough to match Law & Order's 20 season, but the fact it hasn't yet vanished is impressive. Then again, it may just be a sign of how little NBC has been able to develop in terms of a replacement.
Finally, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno continues to beat all its rivals, even as the network considers giving the host the old Conan O'Brien hook in favor of Jimmy Fallon. Ratings have actually risen since Leno took his feud with NBC executives public on the show. Maybe the imminent death of his gig put some life back in his monologues.