The Summer TV Report Card: Which Shows Were Hot and Which Just Got Burned?

It used to be that the best viewers could hope for between June and September was some unintentionally funny bit of Summer Burn-Off Theater too awful to air during the regular TV season (like the WB’s 2000 dud Young Americans). Now the post–Memorial Day programming landscape is packed with original options, but in many ways it resembles the community pool on a 98 degree day: You have to really search for a refreshing spot where you can enjoy yourself amid a crowded area that’s smelly and filled with things nobody really wants to see. Now that all of the shows have begun, it’s time to take a step back and see how viewers reacted to the all-you-can-watch TV onslaught. Read on for Vulture’s report card of the summer’s winners and losers.

Alan Ball’s True Blood continues to take a big bite out of the Nielsens, regularly drawing more than 5 million weekly viewers to make True one of the biggest shows on cable. Its audience is actually bigger than many first-run summer shows on the broadcast nets, despite the fact that HBO is only available in a relatively tiny portion of U.S. homes (less than 30 million, vs. more than 100 million for the Big 5). No wonder HBO has already renewed it for a fifth season. It’s also provided a big boost to Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has nearly doubled its viewership (to north of 2 million) after moving behind Blood. Entourage, in its final season, has held steady in the ratings (not bad given how the show has digressed from buzzy favorite to comedians’ favorite target over its run).
Here’s all you need to know about Wilfred: A show about a dude in a dog suit is the No. 1 scripted comedy on basic cable this year among folks under 50, and it’s been renewed for a second season. And thanks in part to its healthy Wilfred lead-in, Louie is up 50 percent in adults 18-49 vs. its first season, and it’s also been renewed. Score one for non-hacky comedy! (Another high-grade Thursday half-hour, Comedy Central’s Futurama, is also doing well this summer). Photo: © 2011 FX
With their veteran summer tentpoles aging, some of the broadcast nets tried to launch some new, easy-to-sell shows this summer. Unfortunately, nobody really cared about Expedition Impossible, Take the Money and Run, Same Name and Love in the Wild (though the latter actually did OK thanks to its America’s Got Talent lead-in). Another show that’s title says it all, Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, actually did very well, capitalizing on its post -Bachelorette lead-in to become the No. 1 new reality show of the summer on the broadcast nets. Also doing nicely: 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show, which boosted ABC’s Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ratings by 25 percent over last summer. Photo: Mike Weaver/? 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
While cablers are swimming with first-run dramas and comedies during the summer, the broadcast nets are still squeamish about investing their dough in scripted programming this time of year. The only semi-success remains ABC’s lower-budget Rookie Blue, which does a decent adults 18-49 rating on Tuesdays but dropped 15 percent vs. last season due to a move into the much more competitive 10 p.m. timeslot where cable puts its biggest guns. It’s already been renewed for a third batch of episodes, however. Much less likely to return is ABC’s other first-run drama this summer, Combat Hospital, which tanked. NBC never had any hopes for summer burn-offs Love Bites and Friends with Benefits; those low expectations were met! Photo: ? 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Season four of AMC’s meth drama roared out of the gate last month to the show’s biggest ratings ever. It’s dropped a tad since then but overall the show is up 28 percent in total viewers. From now on, however, ratings don’t have much bearing on its decided future: The network just announced a final order of 16 episodes, most likely to be divided over two seasons. As for basic cable’s other major Sunday-night dramas, Lifetime tried two new shows (The Protector and Against the Wall); both have failed to make much of an impact with viewers. Season two of A&E’s The Glades is down vs. last year but still doing respectable numbers for the network. Photo: Ursula Coyote
After debuting to 1.1 million viewers last summer (the best bow for a Showtime series in nearly a decade), Laura Linney’s cancer comedy The Big C has shed audience at a rapid clip: Its overall ratings to-date are off 24 percent vs. last summer (and that’s counting viewing on DVRs and video on demand; same-day viewing is down even more). The most recent episode drew just 527,000. Showtime notes that many more folks watch via on-demand, DVRs and other platforms, which is true; but even taking all that extra viewership into account, The Big C is still down vs. its freshman season. Of course, it doesn’t help that lead-in Weeds, now in season seven, is also down double digits (14 percent, to be exact). On their end, Showtime notes that it premiered the two shows much earlier in the summer this year vs. 2010, pitting them against tougher early summer competition. In addition, Weeds and Big are Showtime’s No. 1 and 2 top-rated comedies, respectively, and network suits seem to be happy with their performances. Renewals seem likely (although we’d be shocked if Big C lasts beyond three seasons). Photo: Copyright: Showtime 2011
Early ratings were pretty much disastrous, particularly given the brand name associated with this reality series and the extensive marketing Oxygen put behind it. But the network stuck with the show, doubled down on promotion and let viral buzz spread. Result: Last Sunday’s penultimate hour drew nearly 1 million viewers, almost double the show’s debut. And among young folks 12-24, Glee Project has risen a jaw-dropping 217 percent since its little-seen debut. While still a bit of an underdog compared to other cable stalwarts, the show is a legitimate hit by Oxygen standards. Assuming there’s a fourth season of Glee, there will almost certainly be a second season of The Glee Project. Photo: Matt Sersion/? NBCUniversal, Inc.
So, first the bad news: Things didn’t work out for Men of a Certain Age. The best-reviewed show on TNT was canceled after a disappointingly low-rated summer run of six episodes. When TNT hewed closer to its middle-of-the-road formula, however, it did much, much better this summer. New sci-fi hour Falling Skies started big, and while it lost a bit of Nielsen steam in the middle of its run, it rallied back and ultimately averaged nearly 5 million viewers per week (and that’s not counting DVR viewership, which for this show was impressive). It’s been renewed for a second season. TNT’s other female-friendly, CBS-esque crime dramas (The Closer, Leverage, Rizzoli & Isles, Memphis Beat, Franklin & Bash) all rolled along with healthy tune-in. RizzIsles (catchy, right?) is poised to become TNT’s top show once The Closer closes up next year; Memphis Beat took a bit of a dip in season two. The biggest laggard on the TNT schedule is Hawthorne, which, despite the addition of Marc Anthony, averaged under 2.5 million most weeks this summer, down about 20 percent from season two. Photo: TM & (C) TURNER NETWORK TELEVISION. A TIME WARNER CO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
If we dug deep enough, we could probably find something negative to say about the ratings performance of USA’s signature blue-sky summer series. We actually did that in June when we noted that the season premiere of Burn Notice was down about 20 percent from summer 2010 and that newcomer Suits didn’t bow as big as Royal Pains did two years ago. But, frankly, we were nitpicking: USA will once again end the summer as cable’s dominant network in overall viewership, and it will do so with the most dependable lineup of dramas in cable. The aforementioned Suits has already been picked up for a second season, and while newbie Necessary Roughness does lose a noticeable chunk of its supersized Royal Pains lead-in, its average audience is well over 4 million — numbers most cable dramas can only dream of. Also regularly pulling in 4-5 million viewers this summer: Covert Affairs, White Collar and In Plain Sight. The juggernaut rolls on. Photo: Barbara Nitke/? USA Network
The season premiere of Jersey Shore didn’t break any records, but with more than 8 million viewers, nobody at MTV is crying. At all. It’s still too soon to say how this season will do in the ratings, but as of yet, there’s no sign the series has lost its grip on the under-35 set. That other group of ill-behaved party people, the K-clan of E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians could be showing some signs of age, however. Last season, the series averaged around 3.5 million viewers; this season, that number is down more than 25 percent to 2.6 million. Of course, with big wedding episodes still to come, we’re not about to bet against the sisters. Photo: Jeff Daly/MTV/PictureGroup
Despite, or perhaps because of, the presence of the most annoying two players in Big Brother history (this would be the duo known as Brenchel), the CBS reality show is having an amazing season in the ratings. All three weekly editions are in Nielsen’s top 10 shows among adults 18-49, the show’s finished No. 1 every time it’s aired and episodes are equal to or up vs. last summer. NBC’s long-running America’s Got Talent is also doing well overall this summer and will finish as the No. 1 show of the summer (unless you count The Voice, which we don’t, since it started back during the regular season). While AGT is currently having its top-rated season even, recent weeks have seen a sharp fall-off in ratings for the show. Over at Fox, So You Think You Can Dance is still doing solid numbers, though ratings for its performance show on Thursdays dipped as the season wore on. It remains a top 5 show in adults 18-49. ABC’s The Bachelorette continues to win the hearts of fans, earning its second-biggest summer numbers ever (though it was down 12 percent vs. last summer. Second-year spinoff Bachelor Pad is also doing nicely. ABC’s Wipeout still does OK on Thursdays, but the decision to air the show just about all year round has caused some viewer erosion. Hell’s Kitchen is also down a tad vs. last summer but still heats things up for Fox on Mondays.
It’s been a mixed bag for this, the third Gordon Ramsay cooking show on Fox. Its ratings this season are down about four percent vs. last summer among viewers under 50. But its finale soared 30 percent from summer 2010 and earned the show’s best numbers ever. It seems a safe bet to return next summer.
The network has historically taken the summer off and lived through the predictable low ratings. But yikes, things really got bad this year: The network is averaging just 800,000 viewers in primetime this summer and is down 25 percent among folks under 50. New chief Mark Pedowitz has made rumblings about finding ways to get the network into the summer game; these ratings only underscore why that’s a good idea. By the way, the C-Dub wasn’t the only network down this summer. ABC, CBS and Fox also slid vs. 2010. The only gainer was NBC, which got a big boost early in the summer from spring holdover The Voice. Overall, ABC and Fox are currently tied as the No. 1 network of the summer with viewers under 50; CBS is tops overall. Photo: Giovanni Rufino/©2011 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
CBS’s summer schedule has a far smaller percentage of first-run programming in the summer than ABC, NBC or Fox. But guess what? Its crime drama repeats still draw a crowd: 9 of the 20 most-watched series on broadcast this summer were Eye repeats. Clearly David Caruso’s sunglasses only gain power when they are weather-appropriate for the entire country. Photo: ROBERT VOETS/?2011 CBS BROADCASTING INC. All Rights Reserved.
MTV’s Awkward. and Teen Wolf did well enough to merit renewals by the network, though neither broke any records. ABC Family’s Switched at Birth is a huge success — a top 5 show among women 18-34. By contrast, the just-debuted The Lying Game is looking like a dud, with ratings 60 percent below what Switched did last June. It joins another new ABC Family loser from this summer, the little-watched Nine Lives of Chloe King.
So Teen Nick dug up some old half-hours from the ‘90s, put them on in late-night with minimal promotion and immediately became competitive with some of the talk shows on other networks. Guess you can do that on television! (That last reference is for the neglected Gen Xers still pining for their kiddie nostalgia).
Oxygen’s The World According to Paris was dead on arrival, with barely 400,000 viewers. Lifetime’s Roseanne’s Nuts debuted with more than 1.5 million numbers, a weak number for Lifetime. Recent episodes have slumped to less than half the premiere audience. Viewers are clearly over Paris Hilton’s shtick, and reality is clearly the wrong format for Roseanne: Her 2003 attempt, The Real Roseanne Show, was yanked after two airings. Perhaps her old fans will only be happy if she returns to her sitcom roots.
The scavenger reality genre still remains red hot. History’s Pawn Stars remains strong as ever, reaching 5 million-plus viewers each week (and some weeks more than 7 million viewers); it also regularly scores higher adults 18-49 ratings than some NBC comedies. Its Monday-night History Channel companion, American Pickers has also done big numbers this summer, sometimes breaking the 5 million viewer mark. A&E’s Storage Wars, which also features a focus on junk, is dominant on Wednesdays with numbers in the same range as Pawn. All three shows are regularly in cable’s top 20 shows.
So, yeah, there really is a show with this title. And, while it’s only been on two weeks, it’s doing big numbers for Animal Planet: Its debut audience of 1.5 million viewers was the network’s best premiere ever. Episode two held up nicely in the ratings, and if the wave of pawn knock-offs is any indication, watch your TV listings for Hicks and Halibut, Redneck Red Snapperin’, Yokel Yellowtail Yankin’, and Yeeehaw, I Done Grabbed Me a Fish!.
This show failed in its first season last year, so its renewal was almost certainly the result of the following four words: Executive Producer Jerry Seinfeld. Airing on Sundays this summer, Ref has averaged a mere 3.3 million viewers. How bad is that? Something called Karaoke Battle USA drew more eyeballs with its debut last week on ABC, so we think NBC will call off the fight on Marriage Ref. While we hate to callously speak of someone being imminently out of work, we have a feeling that Seinfeld may have a nest egg. Photo: Patrick Harbron/? NBCUniversal, Inc.
Last summer, TV Land’s sitcom could do no wrong, and rode Betty White mania to record-breaking ratings for the channel. But TV Land rushed the show back for a second season in January, forcing it to compete against big network shows. Ratings dipped but they’ve fallen even further this summer as the show airs the second half of season two. Instead of hitting 3 and 4 million viewers as it did last summer, Hot now frequently brings in less than 2 million — a 30 percent decline in less than a year. Not so Hot! Photo: ? 2010 VIACOM INTERNATIONAL, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Summer TV Report Card: Which Shows Were Hot and Which Just Got Burned?