November is report-card time for the TV season. The month-long sweeps period is the networks’ initial chance to showcase their new winners to the advertising community while attempting to hide all the losers.
Three months a year — November, February and May — are when broadcasters set their ad rates, all of which are determined by ratings. So the higher the Nielsen number, the more money networks can charge GM, Citibank, Budweiser and their corporate brethren.
As with any new class, some of the kids are fitting right in with the popular crowd. Whereas others haven't mastered the art of being liked, and could possibly flunk out sooner rather than later.
‘The Nine’ is no ‘Lost’
ABC probably spent more money marketing this bank-robbery aftermath drama than any of its other new shows, hoping for another drama hit to complement “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost.” With “The Nine” scheduled in the post-“Lost” 10 p.m. Wednesday slot, ABC executives hoped that viewers would want to remain in the heightened state of tension brought on by the island drama. Didn’t work for “Invasion” last year and it’s not working now. Viewership is much lower than anticipated (as it is for “Lost” too) but ABC did order four more scripts, so there’s hope yet.Ratings: C-Quality: BChance for season two: 30%
Who you callin' ‘Ugly Betty’?While floundering NBC is quick to remind everyone that the 8 o’clock hour of the near future should be set aside only for reality, ABC's “Ugly Betty” wasn’t listening. Along with “Heroes,” “Ugly Betty” looks beautiful -- it's one of the breakout series of the fall. Star America Ferrera’s innocent charm is wooing both parents and their kids, in one of those ultra-rare shows that families can actually watch together without embarrassment. The comedy is a bit broad — does Vanessa Williams really have to be that evil? — but the adapted Colombian telenovela is working wonders on America audiences.Ratings: AQuality: B+Chance for season two: 100%
Sunday dinner with your ‘Brothers & Sisters’Calista Flockhart hasn’t hid her disdain for episodic television. The “Ally McBeal” experience wasn’t enjoyable for her in the least, and she doesn’t look like she’s having all that much fun with ABC's “Brothers & Sisters.” But viewers are glad to have her back. Ratings are strong, and that’s a huge relief to ABC, which positioned the show in the “Grey’s Anatomy's” former Sunday spot. The family angst and turmoil isn’t anything especially captivating, but in the “thirtysomething” and “Once and Again” mold, it’s chock full of whining, wishing and whispering. Flockhart’s conservative bias is an interesting character study but it always somehow feels like she’d rather cuddle back at home with Harrison Ford than read policy from George Bush.Ratings: B+Quality: BChance for season two: 85%
Caplan classes up ‘The Class’CBS should retitle “The Class” as “Class Action Suit,” to handle any viewers contemplating legal action after being swindled in this blatant bait-and-switch. Show us a good pilot with intriguing characters and then ruin it with ridiculous storylines and awful stereotypes — the flamboyantly gay man worrying about his souffle has been kind of overdone — with no spark of comedic invention. Set up, joke … set up, joke. The initial pitch from CBS was that “The Class” was from the producers of “Friends.” Yeah, except “Friends” was usually funny. This is not, except for Lizzy Caplan, who gets a get-out-of-bad-sitcom-jail free card and clearly deserves something better.Ratings: C+Quality: C-Chance for season two: 40%
‘Shark’ stays afloat
A successful procedural crime drama on CBS, home of “CSI” and its minions? Hmm, who would’ve thought that was possible? Unlike “The Class,” “Shark” delivers on its original intentions: James Woods plays a feisty defense attorney who ends up as an L.A. prosecutor. The cases aren’t all that different from any other legal drama, but Woods’ charisma makes up for any deficiencies. His character's relationship with his teen daughter is complex and smart, showing off a human side not seen in the courtroom. This “Shark” has some teeth.Ratings: B+Quality: BChance for season two: 100%
‘Jericho’ is da bomb
Of CBS' four new shows, “Jericho” is the one its executives would’ve probably given the least chance to be a hit. The premise of nuclear blasts going off in the States is grim, episodes don’t wrap up neatly every week, and there wasn’t an A-list star attached. That’s why producing winning television shows is such a crazy business; it’s impossible to predict the public’s taste. Yet, it seems audiences this fall were yummy for Skeet Ulrich. Who knew?Ratings: BQuality: B-Chance for season two: 80%
Future is sketchy for ‘Studio 60’Here’s the biggest problem with NBC's “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”: Who cares if the fictional show gets bad ratings? Why does it matter if Matthew Perry’s Matt can’t reconnect with Sarah Paulson's Harriet? Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing” had gravitas — decisions made by President Bartlett or policies enacted by the Administration affected millions of citizens. There’s just nothing at stake on “Studio 60” and viewers know it. NBC thought it had the next great thing and all they have now is a very expensive series that’s falling flatter than one of the fictional show's sketches.Ratings: D+Quality: C+Chance for season two: 25%
‘30 Rock’ is best show no one's watchingBoth “Studio 60” and “30 Rock” are new NBC shows centered on “Saturday Night Live”-type comedy shows. “60” got the buzz, but “30,” by never taking itself too seriously, is the one living up to it. Alec Baldwin’s deadpan humor in his role as a network executive is so spot-on, so uproariously funny, that the 48-year-old and “Betty’s” Ferrera are the breakout stars of the season. After the pilot drew a decent amount of viewers, ratings have slipped, so NBC is moving the show to Thursdays. The network is hoping for an “Office”-like success story, with a slow build of viewer awareness, critical buzz and then, presto, a grassroots hit. But for now, “30 Rock” is the best show you’re not watching. Ratings: CQuality: AChance for season two: 50%
Super ‘Heroes’Not since “The X-Files” has a sci-fi series caught on like NBC's "Heroes" has. Series creator Tim Kring (“Crossing Jordan”) has won over millions of viewers by expanding on the premise of ordinary folks dealing with extraordinary powers, all uniting for a common goal — though most don’t even know the goal or, even, each other. They will at some point soon, which is when the series should really fly. The requisite bad guy is menacing enough to keep the drama taut and those Japanese fun-loving friends remind viewers that every scene in every episode isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a life-and-death situation.Ratings: AQuality: B+Chance for season two: 100%
A gridiron battleSports series are a tough sell. Conventional wisdom says that most women won't tune in and hardcore sports fans will quickly point out what's not authentic, rather than shower with praise. And how tough is it to create a series after it was a book — and a movie? So props to showrunner Peter Berg, whose "Friday Night Lights" has made audiences care about the failure and success of the Texas high school Dillon Panthers, and especially to Coach Kyle Chandler. Balancing the town's gridiron passion while trying to be a good husband and father can wear on the most seasoned coach, and Chandler rarely fumbles his family responsibilities.Quality: ARatings: C-Chance for season two: 20 percent
Fox comedies flunk out
While other networks were promoting the out-of-the-box sitcoms, Fox stuck with more traditional comedy fare, offering new sitcoms “Til Death” and “Happy Hour.” Both were terrible from the get-go, and one especially has to feel sorry for “Everybody Loves Raymond” vet Brad Garrett, who learned the hard way it isn’t very often you’re blessed with writers of that show's caliber. (Note: "Happy Hour" indeed got the unhappy news of as this story was published.)Ratings: FQuality: FChance for season two: 0%
As for other shows that are either already dead or on life support — “Kidnapped,” “Smith,” “20 Good Years,” “Runaway” — maybe there’s a small but fanatic fan base willing to waste their precious time or hard-earned money to start a campaign, hoping for a resurrection. And if not, the abbreviated season one DVD box set can't be far away.
Stuart Levine is a senior editor for Variety. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org