Predicting the success of TV shows based on a pilot is a tough job. If TV producers could do it, every show made would be a decades-long hit, and nothing would ever be canceled. But every year, critics wade into the fray with their predictions, based on pilots that are often in flux, actors who've been recast, time slots that may change, and other factors.
At MSNBC.com, we play this prediction game, too. Sometimes we're right. ("Help Me Help You" needed more help than viewers could muster.) Other times, shows we like just don't catch on. ("Studio 60," we hardly knew ye.)
Here's a quick look back at what we said last fall, and how accurate we were with our predictions. And here are quick links to 2006's and . Oh, "Happy Hour," we hardly knew ye, and really, that was just fine.
Shows we got right:We knew "Ugly Betty" was more beautiful than her title suggests. Our reviewer admitted that the title character "can seem a little ingratiating at times," but noted that "after she locates her backbone, she’s worth following." We cautiously noted that "it may live up to the hype," and like any ugly duckling,the show found its way to swanhood with aplomb.
We gave "Jericho" a cautious thumbs-up. One one hand, we noted that the nuclear drama "starts with a bang, but it’s the resulting fallout that will keep audiences tuning in." On the other, we worried that the aftermath of nuclear war might be too depressing to acquire a regular audience. Turns out we weren't the only ones who were unsure: CBS yanked the series, only to bring it back after a lively grassroots campaign involving tons of peanuts being sent to the network revived the show's chances. But CBS has warned fans that the renewal is only for a partial season order, and if more fans don't find the show, it could bite the dust again. The battle of Jericho is not over yet.
Viewers' response to the plea in the title of Ted Danson's "Help Me Help You" was a resounding "not on your life." Danson played a shrink we described as "so absorbed in his own midlife crisis, it’s a wonder he’s still licensed." He was no Bob Newhart or even Frasier Crane; instead, our prescription for Danson's Dr. Hoffman was "no follow-up visit required." Indeed — the show was canceled three months after its premiere.
Shows we got wrong:Of the two "Saturday Night Live" shows that debuted last fall, we got both wrong. Our reviewer thought Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" had the potential to be a hit, saying it "looks able to deliver on its strong initial buzz." That same reviewer wasn't as fond of Tina Fey's comedy "SNL" takeoff, "30 Rock," noting that it didn't share the biting humor of fellow NBC comedy "The Office," and saying that "the pilot relied more on farce and slapstick for laughs." But "30 Rock" quietly found its pace, thanks to hilariously deadpan Alec Baldwin as a delusional executive, while "Studio 60" swung between serious lectures on blacklisting and romances that no one cared about. Live, from New York, we're sticking with the funny.
The pilot of crime drama "Smith," with Ray Liotta leading a criminal team, felt like a short movie. We called the show "intriguing" and appreciated that, despite flashbacks and a hefty cast, it "never bogs down in backstory." And then we went out on a limb, saying with confidence: "Expect “Smith” not only to survive its freshman season but to give NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” a run for the ratings on Tuesday nights." Boy, were we off. "Smith" was canceled after just three episodes. "Law & Order: SVU" had nothing to worry about.
We weren't exactly toasting to the success of sitcom "Happy Hour," but thought it might last longer than it takes to consume a martini. Instead, it tanked almost instantly. We noted that "there are characters to laugh at, not relate to," but really were hoping for more than one laugh. The "Hour" lasted all of a whopping two hours, airing four of the nine episodes that were ever produced. We'll drink to that.
Shows we got partially right:We were on the fence about serial drama "Six Degrees," created by J.J. Abrams of "Lost" fame. Our reviewer noted that this drama of mismatched people whose lives intertwine on Manhattan island wasn't that different in premise than "Lost's" mismatched people whose lives intertwine on an equally mysterious island. But we also pointed out that "while 'Six Degrees' isn’t as hard to follow as it sounds, Abrams ain’t making it easy for an audience to suspend disbelief." Nope, but he sure did make it easy for ABC to suspend this drama's life.
The biggest hit from last fall's new shows? "Heroes." We recommended that viewers TiVo the show, but weren't able to use our powers of prognostication to predict its enormous popularity. Oh, don't get us wrong: Our hopes were high, but we found the pilot "slow-moving" and wished for a little more "colorful comic-book zing." Viewers found it had plenty of zing, and the excitement about this show's second season is flying as high as Superman.
It's been a tough game for "Friday Night Lights," the character-driven football drama based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book. While the show drew critical raves, it didn't garner giant audiences, and hung on the fence between cancelation and renewal for a nerve-wracking overtime. Our reviewer didn't find that hard to believe, praising the show's "teen relationship drama" and the performances of leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, but assessing a penalty for "predictable" dialogue and plots. That said, we're glad as anyone that the show will be kicking off a new season this fall.