Jennifer Armstrong
June 04, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Surprise twists, unexpected star turns, rules that were constantly being rewritten — this past TV season felt a lot like a reality show. Young men ditched their remotes en masse, while an old man named Trump became a breakout star. A sitcom staple’s farewell amassed a huge audience (53 million bade goodbye to ”Friends”), while most new comedies crashed (only five of last year’s 19 freshmen — ”All of Us,” ”Arrested Development,” ”Eve,” ”Hope & Faith,” ”Two and a Half Men” — will return). And after dismissing reality as a fad a year ago, networks are betting next season’s success on it (with a whopping 16 hours of unscripted fare scheduled for fall). This night-by-night guide explains what flourished and what flopped (remember, winning and losing are relative terms, depending on the network) and looks at how each net will try to better its fortune next season.


WINNERS Although CBS scored the season’s biggest new comedy with odd couple Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer in ”Two and a Half Men” (No. 16), NBC’s hodgepodge lineup was the real surprise. ”Las Vegas” (No. 27) and ”Average Joe” (No. 24 for the first installment, No. 34 for the second, No. 46 for ”Adam Returns”) combined with reliable ”Fear Factor” (No. 19) to help the Peacock win the night in young adults for the first time in eight years. ”It’s just a fun, hot, sexy lineup,” NBC Universal TV Group president Jeff Zucker crows. ”It’s an escapist night of television.” True — especially if you were trying to flee Fox’s ”Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” (No. 12). LOSERS CBS’ ”Yes, Dear” (No. 41) lost 2.6 million viewers, prompting the net to push it to midseason next year. A revolving schedule made for wild fluctuations on Fox — and an overall 26 percent drop in ratings. A stunning 16.2 million viewers refused a second date with ”Joe Millionaire” (No. 110), and hyped porn-industry drama ”Skin” (No. 133) didn’t titillate. And while ”The Swan” (No. 62) managed only middling numbers, its plastic-surgery-pageant premise stoked plenty of passionate watercooler chatter. WHAT’S NEXT More controlled chaos. Fox’s three distinct schedules (summer, fall, and spring) have the new ”North Shore” and ”The Swan 2” on Monday in the fall, warming the bench for ”Athens” (from ”The O.C.” creator Josh Schwartz) and the return of ”24” (moving from Tuesday) in January. Since ”Joe Millionaire” showed that a big scam works only once, don’t expect another ”Fiance”; ”The Swan,” though, is another story: ”We think that might be a franchise,” says Fox exec VP Preston Beckman. Can’t wait for ”The Swan: All-Stars.”


WINNERS ”American Idol.” Television’s No. 1 show boosted lead-out 24 (No. 48) and stood among the few shows that increased their audiences. In fact, we’ll count anything a winner that survived the ”Idol” onslaught — we salute you, CBS, for going after the older crowd with ”Navy NCIS” (No. 26). UPN’s highest-rated program, ”America’s Next Top Model” (No. 119), looked as fierce as ever, drawing 2.6 million more viewers than last season. ”It’s hard to overstate what that meant to the network,” says CBS exec VP Kelly Kahl, who also oversees UPN’s programming. ”It has UPN playing with the big boys.” Next season, ”Model” catwalks to Wednesday night. MIXED VERDICT The WB’s freshman drama ”One Tree Hill” (No. 166) started slow but managed to grow in an otherwise dismal season for the net. ”It’s been following the growth curve of shows like ‘Buffy’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘7th Heaven,”’ says The WB CEO Jordan Levin. ”It started out under the radar and caught on with teens, then caught the public’s attention.” On NBC, ”Law & Order: SVU” (No. 22) lost a chunk of viewers (2.1 million) after moving from Friday — but it locked up the 10 p.m. hour against CBS’ ”Judging Amy” (No. 40) and ABC’s ”NYPD Blue” (No. 53). LOSERS Comedy blocks took the biggest beating from Simon Cowell and Co., with ABC’s ”8 Simple Rules…” (No. 51) and NBC’s ”Whoopi” (No. 89) and ”Happy Family” (No. 92) getting bruised. ”They just could not compete, and I didn’t have any other time periods,” Zucker says of his sitcom casualties. WHAT’S NEXT NBC will woo viewers in the fall with a fourth installment of ”Average Joe,” and when ”Idol” returns in January, it’ll counterprogram with its highest-profile reality show, boxing contest ”The Contender.” ”We’re not going to roll over anymore,” Zucker says. ABC will reshuffle, sending younger-skewing ”8 Simple Rules…” to Friday and sticking with family comedies like ”My Wife and Kids” and ”George Lopez.” Says ABC Entertainment exec VP Jeff Bader: ”It’s just a better way to package the night.”


WINNERS The 9 p.m. hour featured the week’s most contentious battle: NBC’s revamped ”The West Wing” (No. 29) versus ABC’s ”The Bachelor” (No. 21) versus CBS’ relocated ”King of Queens” (No. 33) versus Fox’s sunny soap ”The O.C.” (No. 59). Though the ”Bachelor” franchise and ”The West Wing” lost some viewers, NBC’s Zucker says, ”The competition was much tougher this year.” Next season will only get worse, with Fox moving its half-hour ”Idol” results show to 9 p.m. and sending ”The O.C.” to compete in Thursday’s post-”Friends” free-for-all. ”I’d much rather have ‘The O.C.’ against ‘The Bachelor,”’ Bader laments. After years of faltering, ABC finally had some luck in the 10 p.m. hour by implanting ”Extreme Makeover” (No. 56). LOSERS NBC stalwart ”Law & Order” (No. 14) lost 1.3 million viewers (the second consecutive year of declining ratings) and could suffer more against CBS’ second ”CSI” spin-off in the fall. ABC flopped with high-profile efforts like the second ”Bachelorette” (No. 32), down 5.1 million viewers from Trista’s reign, the gay-dads sitcom ”It’s All Relative” (No. 68), and short-run drama Stephen King’s ”Kingdom Hospital” (No. 109). ”I don’t think it was broadly commercial,” Bader says of King’s frightfest. ”It’s one of these shows that’s a cult favorite.” Speaking of, The WB’s ”Smallville” failed to soar in its move from Tuesday to Wednesday, falling from No. 103 to 135 — though it performed better there than ”Dawson’s Creek” did in its final season. ”With the retirement of ‘Dawson”s, we needed a show that could open the night,” Levin says. ”Ultimately we’ve shown gains in that time slot.” WHAT’S NEXT The WB could count on Clark Kent to launch its new Oliver Hudson-Barbara Hershey serial, ”The Mountain.” ”There’s clearly an opportunity in that time slot for a young-adult relationship drama,” Levin says.


WINNERS CBS’ ”Survivor” stayed strong against ”Friends”’ final season with its ”Pearl Islands” (No. 6) and ”All-Stars” (No. 4) editions. And despite losing some 400,000 viewers this season, ”Friends” (No. 5) finished big with its much, much, much-hyped finale. But the surprise of the night was ”The Apprentice” (No. 7), which got the job of network savior — and broke up the 20-year-old Must See comedy lineup. ”What matters is whether you put all your best shows together,” Zucker says. ”It doesn’t matter whether they’re drama or comedy or reality.” LOSERS All the critical praise and divine intervention in the world couldn’t save Fox’s ”Wonderfalls” (No. 163). And pity Joseph Lawrence, whose ”Run of the House” on The WB (No. 197) was the lowest-rated sitcom of the season. (All together now: Whoa!) WHAT’S NEXT Fox gambles on ”The O.C.” at 8 p.m. ”This is a show that’s like heroin for its audience,” Beckman explains. ”I don’t think we’ll beat NBC, but we’ll make it harder on them.”


WINNERS ”Joan of Arcadia” (No. 50) blessed CBS with a 16 percent increase for the night — and exorcised everything in its path. ”It’s great for us to have a show that’s not yet another crime drama,” Kahl says. ”It gets a little buzz, it gets people talking.” Sister act ”Hope & Faith” (No. 71) also had a good freshman run on ABC’s revamped TGIF block. LOSERS Viewers weren’t wed to ABC’s ”Married to the Kellys” (No. 106), nor did they fall for Alicia Silverstone’s sweet dramedy ”Miss Match” (No. 117) on NBC. ”It just wasn’t broad enough in its appeal, particularly for men,” Zucker says of ”Match.” The WB shuffled its comedy-block time slots, only to see ”Reba” (No. 155), ”Grounded for Life” (No. 179), and ”What I Like About You” (No. 184) plummet when mixed with the now-canceled ”Like Family” (No. 185) and ”All About the Andersons” (No. 182). WHAT TO EXPECT The WB will move its comedy vets back to their old time slots, with Mark Burnett’s autobiographical sitcom ”Commando Nanny” joining them at 8:30 p.m. NBC gets all ”CSI” with ”Medical Investigation,” following ”Third Watch.” ”It’s a show we really believe in,” Zucker says. ”It’s got a great franchise at its center.”


WINNERS Well, those ”Law & Order” repeats (Nos. 74, 103, and 122) do a bit of business for NBC. And Fox is always in the game with ”America’s Most Wanted” (No. 88) and ”Cops” (Nos. 99 and 111). LOSERS Everything else. ”To put something on that people have to make a point to watch doesn’t work,” Bader says, noting that ABC will continue with its ”Wonderful World of Disney” (No. 98) movie series. WHAT’S NEXT Not one net will air original scripted programs next season. The last remaining holdout, ”The District” (No. 64), arrested an okay 9 million viewers, but CBS still handed the Craig T. Nelson drama a death sentence in favor of ”48 Hours Mystery,” ”The Amazing Race,” and a rotating slate of crime drama repeats. ”The cost of original dramas with the return we were getting was not working out for us,” Kahl says. ”’The District’ was good, but it really was one of the oldest-skewing shows on television.”


WINNERS Chick crime solvers were hot. NBC’s ”Crossing Jordan” (No. 22) returned after 10 months off the air and was welcomed by 2.1 million more viewers than last year, showing absence can make the audience grow fonder. CBS was up 25 percent on the night as ”Cold Case” (No. 17) tracked down the season’s best drama debut. ”That was probably our biggest shot in the arm this year,” Kahl says. ”Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (No. 35) built an audience for ABC, bolstered by its teary reveals. ”It genuinely makes me cry,” Bader gushes. ”If you look at the last quarter hour of the show, the ratings are enormous.” LOSERS Another 800,000 fans abandoned cult fave ”Alias” (No. 79), which won’t return until January. Fox’s funniest night faltered, with stalwart ”The Simpsons” (No. 42) slipping 2.8 million viewers and sliding from No. 17 to No. 28 among its core audience, 18- to 49-year-olds. WHAT TO EXPECT Fox attributes the downturn not to the much-discussed disappearance of young men from prime time but to a stale lineup. So ”King of the Hill” and ”Malcolm in the Middle” will fill the 7-8 p.m. hour, and ”Arrested Development” will get a chance to prove itself with a post-”Simpsons” spot. At 9 p.m. the ”Apprentice”-with-lawyers show ”The Partner” finishes the night starting in November. ”When you’re trying to put these good little shows on week in and week out, people feel like they don’t have to be there all the time,” Beckman says. ”We decided we need to go with something that could really become an event.” Thus proving the biggest lesson of the season: When in doubt, make like Donald Trump.

You May Like