Summer TV's Winners and Losers: What People Were Watching This Season
MTV was among cable networks to score big with audiences, while AMC and USA earned critical praise for their original programming.
With the broadcast networks' scripted divisions hanging out their "Gone Fishing" signs, cable stalwarts from AMC's Breaking Bad to USA's Royal Pains are continuing to snap up viewers and critical praise this summer.
"Our audience loves smart, escapist fare, and the summer is the ideal place for that," says Michael Wright, executive vp programming at TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies, which count The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles and new entry Falling Skies among their summertime hits. The success of these shows only will increase the noise network executives make about the need to program 52 weeks a year, though reinventing the network model is easier in theory than in practice.
While USA and MTV also scored big this summer, not all networks fared so well. Below, The Hollywood Reporter sounds off on which shows got it right in 2011 while others fail to make the cut.
Falling Skies (TNT)
The Steven Spielberg-produced alien-invasion drama ended the season as basic cable's No. 1 new series of the summer, averaging 4.2 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. The finale proved the season's biggest draw, luring 5.6 million to the Noah Wyle vehicle. Skies, which also has hit big overseas, will be back for a 10-episode season next year.
The series about a high school misfit has proved a hit with both viewers and critics, a claim not even MTV's megahit Jersey Shore can make. The younger-skewing show has averaged 1.7 million viewers since its mid-July debut and recently was picked up for a second season of 12 episodes. Creator Lauren Iungerich has sold MTV another comedy pilot, Dumb Girls.
Switched at Birth (ABC Family)
The new drama quickly has become ABC Family's No. 2 series of all time in the 18-to-49 demo (behind The Secret Life of the American Teenager), averaging 1.8 million weekly viewers. By early August, Switched was granted an additional 22 episodes, bringing the first season to 32 hours --the cable network's biggest first-season order ever. The series will return in January.
Love Bites and Friends With Benefits (NBC)
Once a highflying prospect in a plum Thursday night slot, Love Bites lost momentum and favor at NBC. After holding the anthology series off the schedule for a year, the net burned it off this summer with little to no promotion. No surprise that only 2.5 million total viewers tuned in on average,. Similarly themed Friends With Benefits also found itself dumped in TV's graveyard, where it was viewed by even fewer people (2.1 million).
Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
Despite critical raves, TNT's dramedy failed to catch on with a broad audience. Men wrapped its second-season split run in July, averaging fewer than 2 million total viewers on a weekly basis. While the diehards will chalk it up to confusing scheduling, the net cited its unimpressive ratings.
The sci-fi series about a town of geniuses suffered a big blow in early August when Syfy reneged on its public decision to order a sixth season of a series still able to lure 2 million-plus total viewers. The net called the move a "painstaking" business decision but still plans to air the increasingly pricey fifth and now final season, which is in production.
TOP 5 NETWORK SHOWS OF THE SUMMER
Among 18-to-49 demo
- America's Got Talent (Perf.)* NBC: 4.8 million
- Big Brother* CBS: 3.5 million
- The Bachelorette ABC: 3.3 million
- So You Think You Can Dance Fox: 3 million
- MasterChef Fox: 2.8 million
* Including results shows and additional evening airings, AGT and Big Brother would have occupied the No. 2, 4 and 5 slots, respectively.
Source: Nielsen live-plus-same-day primetime data from May 30 to Aug. 14.
TOP 10 CABLE SHOWS OF THE SUMMER
Among 18-to-49 demo
- Jersey Shore MTV: 5.3 million
- Pawn Stars* History: 2.7 million
- Teen Mom MTV: 2.4 million
- Swamp People History: 2.3 million
- WWE Raw* USA: 2.2 million
- Deadliest Catch Discovery: 2 million
- Falling Skies TNT: 2 million
- American Pickers History: 1.93 million
- Royal Pains USA: 1.92 million
- Burn Notice USA: 1.9 million
* Including additional time-period airings, Pawn Stars and WWE Raw would have occupied No. 3 and 7 slots, respectively. Excludes programs with fewer than three telecasts.
Source: Nielsen live-plus same-day primetime DVR data from May 30 to Aug. 19.