Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ESPN and The Secret Life of an American Teenager

It's official now, because the Nielsen's confirm it. Broadcast TV and cable channels are competing equally for the same prime-time audience. And the Monday night competition clearly presents the picture. But before I deal with this Fall's Monday lineup, let me offer this "startling" fact that recently came to light.

The Tuesday mid-season finale of ABC Family’s "The Secret Life of an American Teenager" beat every show aired by ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW among 18-34 women and 12-34 year old women, and this includes the second week of The CW's "90210". In fact, it beat "90210" by double and triple digit percentages. "Secret Life" was watched by 4.5 million total viewers, "90210" by 3.2 million. Of course, Fox's premier of "Fringe" drew 9 million viewers. But "The Secret Life of an American Teenager" wasn't even on most media experts radar late last spring.

I wanted to know which among the hot industry media covered will be 2008's biggest TV industry news story, "The Secret Life of an American Teenager"? A Google News archive search turns up not one story before June. A search on Fox's "Fringe" turned up about 195 stories. (I probably didn't do the search right.)

Take it from this old guy, "The Secret Life of an American Teenager" is a good show particularly considering its target audience. It has strong character development, talented actors, effective direction, and is topical - the central character is a pregnant teen in a middle-class home. Look out broadcast TV, because it'll be back in January.

Now about Monday night....

This past Monday in the 8 pm time slot, the second-season premiere of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" drew 6.3 million viewers, NBC's "Deal or No Deal" 9.6 million, the CW's "Gossip Girl" 3.1 million and so on. Oh but when the broadcast numbers were totaled, there were 12.5 million viewers missing. They were watching the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game on ESPN. Yeah, that's right, cable's ESPN drew in the most viewers.

Here's the wrinkle as we approach the last week in September. As usual, and for reasons this writer cannot fathom, the broadcast networks have a huge investment in Monday night competition. At 8 pm we'll have to choose from Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", NBC's "Chuck", ABC's "Dancing with the Stars", CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother", The CW's "Gossip Girl", or we could and apparently will, watch ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

In the 10 pm slot, in addition to the ABC, CBS, and NBC fare, TNT has added to that mix Steven Bochco's "Raising the Bar" which drew 7.7 million viewers in its premier.

Of course, because the industry media, like the government, is still in 1958 instead of 2008, we still see dutifully reported the Nielsen's overnight's for broadcast TV as if it was a meaningful picture of what's going on. In fact, the declining broadcast TV viewership is part of a bigger picture which the industry needs to see.

For all intents and purposes, The CW's Tuesday lineup of "90210" and "Privileged" next week will be in competition with ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights" and "Greek", not with Fox's "House" and "Fringe".

And the Tuesday 10 pm lineup, CBS's "Without a Trace", ABC's "Eli Stone", and NBC's "Law & Order: SVU", isn't fairly reported without the numbers on FX's "The Shield".

In other words, the viewers have discovered that ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and The CW are just five channels among 20+ meaningful nationwide programming choices, not the hundreds of local channels rapidly abandoning their last local obligation (and only viewer attraction), local news.

Fringe - It's not about "what's out there", it's about us

It's been a long time since both my wife and I have been enthused about a show's potential after watching the pilot. But "Fringe" is that show.

Yes, the show is about a mysterious conspiracy and has been compared to the X-Files. But it isn't about aliens, it is about science; particularly the odd weapons research conducted in the 1950's and 1960's and 1970's amuck. Think Fort Detrick, Md., anthrax research scientist Bruce E. Ivins, but add in the fuzzy Homeland Security legal authority (oh yeah, like in the Ivins case), a super-sized ultra secret version of President Eisenhower's military-industrial complex (much like we actually have, hmmmm), a 1950's genius researcher locked up in a psychiatric unit after an accidental explosion, and so on.

Let's begin the pilot with Mulder and Scully declaring they are in love with each other and end the pilot with Mulder maybe "undead" and maybe working for "them."

Nope, that's not "The X-Files". It's better. It's us, now, with electronics for mind melds and no Spock.

Australian Anna Torv plays FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and if her performance in the pilot is any indication, she is a first class actor. We're really looking forward to watching her in upcoming episodes.

Desert Storm veteran Mark Valley, ("Boston Legal", "Swingtown") is the perfect choice to play her partner Agent John Scott. He plays the well-educated hunk perfectly. But this is more than a slightly different role the Mulder which bring us to....

Canadian born Joshua Jackson ("Dawson's Creek") as Peter Bishop, the disaffected genius con man who is conned by Dunham to help save her partner. To do that, Peter Bishop is her only access to his estranged hospitalized father....

Veteran Australian born (is there a pattern here?) actor John Noble plays Dr. Walter Bishop with his usual strong acting.

This team is managed by Homeland Security Agent Phillip Broyles ably portrayed by Lance Reddick ("The Wire") as an angry, focused investigative supervisor who already has a hate on for Dunham. Gee, Reddick is an American actor.

Rounding out this cast is veteran Blair Brown playing Nina Sharp, a cancer survivor with a creepy artificial limb and a corporate face that in no way resembles Molly Dodd.

Like all pilot's there were some weaknesses and inconsistencies. Why did she sit on the back bumper of the ambulance and snivel instead of securing the body? She knew they could talk to the dead. Oh, alright, it was critical to the show's plot.

Now if Fox were smart, they would move "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" to the Tuesday 9 p.m slot and let NBC's "Heroes" struggle with ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and ESPN's "NFL Monday Night Football". They'd end up owning Tuesday night.