Network Report Cards

Who wowed the critics (congrats, Ryan Murphy), who misfired (sorry, Jeff probst) and the buzz behind the scenes as the TV press got its first big look at the fall schedule.

FOX

Fox might have finished the season atop the ratings charts again, but the network's cash cow American Idol is beginning to fray after 11 seasons. And shake-ups at Idol and X Factor -- with Demi Lovato and Britney Spears replacing Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger -- mean that executives must pay inordinate attention to its expensive unscripted franchises. That said, the network has fielded two promising comedies in the critically praised Ben & Kate and the more uneven but generally liked The Mindy Project. Drama, however, could prove to be Fox's Achilles' heel, with this fall's single hour entry, The Mob Doctor, mostly underwhelming critics.

  • Best Panel: Ben & Kate: Creator Dana Fox had the room in stitches with stories about her mettlesome brother, the "Ben" in the title.
  • Worst Panel: The Mob Doctor: After a morning filled with Mariah Carey and the always endearing Mindy Kaling, this drama panel lacked big reveals and much-needed energy.
  • Savviest Move: Closing Carey's roughly $18 million Idol deal before the presentation, which allowed Fox chief Kevin Reilly to phone her from the stage (and to defang reporters ready to pounce on the show's judge uncertainties and faltering ratings).
  • Biggest Misstep: Not finding a way to fly Simon Cowell and Spears in from Miami. Yes, they're busy with X Factor auditions, but this show needs viewers, and reporters need interviews.

NBC

With a slate that has been greeted mostly with critical shrugs, NBC might find its Super Bowl-induced reprieve from the ratings cellar to be temporary. Chairman Bob Greenblatt touted four returning shows (Smash, Grimm, Up All Night and Whitney), which isn't a total bust, but none is an out-of-the-box hit. In a moment of candor, he acknowledged that the network needs to be more inclusive, especially when it comes to its brand-defining Thursday night comedies, which "tend to be a little bit more narrow and a little bit more sophisticated than you might want for a real broad audience." To that end, Animal Practice, with its superstar monkey Crystal, could be just the type of crowd-pleaser NBC needs.

  • Best Panel: The New Normal: Love him or hate him, executive producer Ryan Murphy knows how to get a group buzzing. In his 30 minutes onstage, he dropped newsy tidbits about his life (he used to be a garden designer -- and NBC's entertainment president Jennifer Salke was an early client) and his plans for the show (the group One Million Moms, which announced a boycott of the series, will figure in the plot).
  • Worst Panel: Chicago Fire: The drama is straight from the Dick Wolf playbook: civil servants doing dangerous work. But Wolf insisted he's breaking the mold: "There are very few franchises that give you the opportunity to explore character." Is Wolf not familiar with the current golden age of TV drama?
  • Savviest Move: Enlisting Sarah Palin. Palin's husband, Todd, ostensibly was one of the "stars" on the military-themed Stars Earn Stripes panel. But the appearance of the GOP lightning rod -- dressed in a body-hugging olive-green dress and gladiator platform sandals -- turned the poolside afterparty into a battle for attention between her and the Animal Practice monkey.
  • Biggest Misstep: Not inviting returning stars. Yes, Friends' Matthew Perry was there for fall comedy Go On, but for all the carping the media does about NBC, the network isn't short on beloved stars: Nick Offerman, Amy Poehler, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, Joel McHale, Jimmy Fallon. A reminder of that stable of talent wouldn't have hurt.

ABC

ABC boasts several returning shows with distinctive profiles (sudsy thriller Revenge, fairy tale hit Once Upon a Time and edgy comedies Suburgatory and Don't Trust the B-- in Apt. 23), but none is the type of monster hit (Modern Family) that will cure ratings concerns. As with last season, ABC president Paul Lee will roll out a new slate of well-received series (Nashville, Last Resort) and head-scratchers (Reba McEntire's Malibu Country, aliens-next-door comedy The Neighbors). Although Lee stressed the need to add more "blocks" to his schedule, he sidestepped questions about his lack of reality hits since Dancing With the Stars premiered nearly 10 years ago.

  • Best Panel: The Emmy panel with host  Jimmy Kimmel, who gave critics reason to be excited by skewering FX's decision to call American Horror Story a "miniseries," Jay Leno's lack of "feelings" and a generally "shallow" Hollywood.
  • Worst Panel: The executive session with Lee: With no news to report in the since-concluded Modern Family cast salary negotiations, Lee found four different ways to say the same thing: "We're hopeful." The remainder was devoted to his "love" for nearly everything on his schedule.
  • Savviest Move: Trotting out the impressive collection of returning contestants -- truly, the A-list of the D-list -- who will compete on Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars. Bristol Palin's one-liners alone -- "I like gays" -- generated much-needed media attention.
  • Biggest Misstep: Not hosting an ABC comedy panel. It's never a bad idea to remind the media what you're good at. Modern Family's Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd attended, but were left to chat with reporters on their own.

CBS

Longtime chief Nina Tassler has proved the Charlie Sheen saga was but a temporary distraction at a network defined by stability. CBS heads into fall with three dramas and one new comedy. Newcomers Vegas (with Dennis Quaid) and Elementary have been relatively well-received by critics (which really doesn't mean much for CBS), while Made in Jersey mostly has produced eye rolls for evoking a stereotypical portrayal of the Garden State. Meanwhile, the Max Mutchnick-David Kohan comedy Partners -- about best friends, one gay, one straight -- raised questions about its own use of stereotypes.

  • Best Panel: Partners: Will & Grace creators Mutchnick and Kohan managed to get the room laughing (Kohan absolutely was not -- or absolutely was -- an athlete in high school, depending on who was talking). Now, the question is, can they get the room to watch?
  • Worst Panel: Jeff Probst: Mere weeks away from his talk show's Sept. 10 launch, the Survivor host failed to adequately explain what his new daytime effort is all about. (FYI, "Saying yes to the adventures in your life" doesn't mean anything.)
  • Savviest Move: Six months earlier, Tassler caused a stir when her team announced she wouldn't be presenting at TCA. The press corps revolted, and she capitulated. This time around, she not only willingly appeared for the Q&A but did so with a prop (a stuffed monkey) and humor: "It's been a TCA full of cell phone announcements from the stage, monkeys, Sarah Palin, renegotiations," she said, referencing the Modern Family situation. "I couldn't resist."
  • Biggest Misstep: Not ending the Probst session a few minutes earlier. From the man who noted "publicists hate when I open my mouth" came the story of how he got the Survivor gig over Phil Keoghan, who had interviewed with CBS minutes before him. "Phil made the mistake of going first," recalled a gloating Probst. "I sat there and thought, 'Never let me in that room after you leave because I will close the deal.' "

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OVERHEARD AT THE HILTON

Charlie Sheen opted against staying at the Beverly Hilton the night before his 9 a.m. Anger Management panel July 28. When he didn't arrive first thing Sunday morning, FX execs were said to be in panic mode. But Sheen showed up in the nick of time -- as he so often does -- wearing plaid shorts and house slippers.

Breaking Bad star-turned-emcee Bryan Cranston kicked off the TCA Awards on July 28 with a nod to the locale: "Welcome to the world-famous Beverly Hilton hotel. It's Hollywood's favorite place to die." The following night, CBS closed out its TCA bash with Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

"Thank God!" exclaimed a producer of ABC's critically praised Connie Britton drama Nashville when the network on July 26 switched its lead-in from the new aliens-next- door sitcom The Neighbors, which has left critics cold, to promising sophomore entry Suburgatory.

CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves held court at the network's bash July 29, doling out his fall picks -- on the other networks. Moonves is a fan of ABC's Nashville as well as NBC's Ryan Murphy comedy The New Normal.

At ABC's TCA party July 27, Steven Levitan ran over to Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars contestant Pamela Anderson, whose dress was as tight as it was short. The duo looked happy to see each other, chatting for 10 minutes. Reporters gawked (at least one broke TCA policy and snapped a pic on his iPhone), thrown by the pairing. Turns out, it was a Stacked reunion.

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