Betty White is timeless and beloved. But there's evidence America's all-consuming 2010 love affair with her may not carry over into 2011: Her TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland returned last night, and the ratings were way, way down. Just 2.9 million people watched the Season 2 opener — a stunning drop of more than 40 percent from last summer's series premiere. Even if you compare Wednesday's premiere to the show's August season finale, Hot is still off 25 percent. Worse, younger folks are escaping Cleveland at an even faster clip: The show's 1.1 rating with adults 25-54 is barely half the score of the Season 1 bow.
While Ms. White has enough goodwill (and, we assume, money) to brush off this disappointing news, execs at TV Land have to be seriously bummed. Most hot cable shows (True Blood, Sons of Anarchy) tend to go up in their second seasons. These numbers suggest that Hot may have simply been the beneficiary of a pop-culture-powered Betty bump, rather than a sign that TV Land had found a magic formula for luring viewers to something other than repeats of classic sitcoms. It also didn't help that TV Land rushed Hot back on the air barely four months after its finale: Whatever marketing the network did for Season 2 (we saw one embarrassingly bad spot that tried to make the cast look like sex symbols) was drowned out by all the hype over American Idol's return. That may be the one silver lining for TV Land, however: Perhaps viewers simply forgot Hot was back, and the numbers will creep up in coming weeks.
The Hot crew can also take solace in knowing that some other high-profile cable shows are doing even worse. FX's Lights Out, for example, sadly fell even further this week. After a so-so premiere, the boxing drama attracted just 921,000 viewers in its second outing Tuesday — a decline of more than 35 percent versus last week. BET's The Game also softened a tad in its second week on cable, but it still did very, very well overall: It drew about 6 million viewers Tuesday, down from 7.7 million the week before but still enough to dominate the night's cable averages (and beat NBC's Parenthood). Since BET and TV Land are both owned by MTV Networks, perhaps the producers of Hot could engineer a crossover episode. We already know Betty White can rap.