Flipping Channels: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Fall TV (Watch Parenthood Edition)



The broadcast networks have seen their prestige and audience continually dissipate in the age of cable, YouTube and streaming video. Their primary audience continues aging, while the 18-49 crowd increasingly turns to Netflix and other alternatives for their programming.

So when they get anything remotely close to good news they celebrate it. As they head into the November sweeps, there are a handful of victories that the corporate broadcast types can celebrate. Things are far from perfect, but there's widespread consensus it's better than last season, at least so far. Here's a look at each network's good, bad and ugly for the first few weeks of the 2013-14 season.

CBS (WTVF-Channel 5)
The good: The Eye remains "America's most watched network," and if you didn't know, wait about 10 minutes and they will remind you once more. When you have the top-rated comedy (the still surging Big Bang Theory), drama (NCIS) and news/public affairs show (60 Minutes), some boasting is proably in order. No one other than the faithful likes such shows as Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods and NCIS: LA at this point, but they keep on rolling. CSI just hit 300 shows and doesn't look ready for retirement. Supposedly this year The Mentalist is finally going to catch Red John. About time.

The bad: The premise of Hostages didn't seem like it would work, even as a limited series. Instead, it's gotten about the same reaction as a failed film. The bell has tolled for Two and a Half Men. The numbers are much better than the critical reaction to Crazy Ones. Neither the viewership or the performance of Mom is acceptable, while the lack of Emmy nominations for The Good Wife is simply baffling.

The ugly: Monday night is a disaster area. How I Met Your Mother is departing on a down note audience-wise. 2 Broke Girls was never that great and now viewers are deserting it big time. There's hope for the return of Mike & Molly, but not even pumping repeat episodes of Big Bang Theory on a couple of Monday nights has been able to stop the bleeding.

ABC (WKRN-Channel 2)
The good: They're getting exactly what they want from S.H.I.E.L.D., strong numbers among the 18-49 crew (as well as plenty of online and sci-fi/geek chatter) and a Tuesday night anchor show. The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife aren't my thing, but they're generating decent ratings and better critical response (especially Trophy Wife). Castle has lost a little audience but still holds up well. Scandal just keeps exploding in popularity, no matter how bizarre its plots become.

The bad: Insert scratch-off ticket joke here for the creatively moribund Lucky 7, which came and went before anyone had time to either see or miss it. Dancing With the Stars is in no danger of cancellation, but the erosion that was noticeable last season continues.

The ugly: Modern Family keeps winning awards and is now making bucketloads of money in syndication. But it is one of several veteran ABC shows expericing audience dips, joining Revenge, Once Upon A Time and Grey's Anatomy.

NBC (WSMV-Channel 4)
The good: Sunday Night Football swamps its competition, even when the teams aren't that good. The Voice not only won an Emmy, now it's becoming a ratings hit. Law & Order: SVU is the last of that trilogy standing, but it seems primed to get at least one more season. Chicago Fire may be as generic as it gets, but it's also among a handful of second-season programs enjoying an audience bump. The Blacklist came roaring out of the gate and keeps building a steady following, even though The New Yorker called it "torture porn." I don't know who's watching The Biggest Loser but someone out there likes it.

The bad: Everyone loves Michael J. Fox the actor. Not very many seem to like The Michael J. Fox Show. The sophomore slump has affected Revolution, as well as a new night and no Voice lead-in. Parenthood is a wonderful show, but it just can't get any viewers. Critics have raved about Parks and Recreation since day one, but even fewer people watch it.

The ugly: Blair Underwood's Ironside reboot never had a chance. It did everything it could to separate itself from the legacy and memory of the Raymond Burr classic, but still ended up with the deadly combination of dreary numbers and a median audience age of over 62. It didn't make it to November.

Fox (WZTV-17)
The good: Sleepy Hollow makes Boston Legal at its most absurd look like Perry Mason, yet a broad viewership loves it and Fox has already renewed it for a second season. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has proven a decent satire; now it needs to find some viewers. Bones finally had its wedding. The Simpsons may run forever. The NFL gives them a nice Sunday afternoon boost and is an ideal lead-in as well. The Following will be back soon, and promises to top last year in both gore and impact.

The bad: Dads has proved even dumber than predicted, and the offensiveness isn't the type that generates response and return: it's just stupid.

The ugly: Big declines for New Girl, Glee, Family Guy and The X Factor. Fox historically doesn't put much stock in the early season, preferring to hedge its bets until after The World Series ends and they add American Idol to the lineup. But the show is coming off its worst ratings year ever, which means the network may not get the usual audience boost it has provided in the past.

The CW (CW-Channel 58) doesn't really operate as a traditional network, with most of its teen-oriented shows getting miniscule ratings. But Arrow and Supernatural remain exceptions to that rule — not from an audience standpoint, but from the perspective that someone over the age of 18 can watch and enjoy them.

HBO's bringing back Boardwalk Empire for a fifth season. The Bridge gets a second year on FX. The Hallmark Channel has given Cedar Cove (Andie MacDowell's showcase) a second season. CBS got good mileage from using Unforgettable as a summer-only vehicle and is bringing it back for a third season in the same manner. ABC's summer project Mistresses will also return for a second year.

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