TV in 2011: Comedy came back, Oprah struggled

Earlier, I put my TV top-10 list here (see previous blog) and promises to add an overview of the TV year. Here's the the story I sent to paper:


For TV viewers, the new year started
with a new network and new hopes.

The Oprah Winfrey Network was born Jan.
1. Five days later, talking to TV critics, Winfrey discussed “how
absolutely extraordinary it is that I can (have) my name on a
network, coming from a little town in Mississippi … and growing up
without a television and begging my grandmother for a television.”

It was a giddy start to what would be a
mixed 2011. Viewers soon learned that no one could match what Winfrey
has done – not even Winfrey herself. Here's a glimpse of TV's year:

NEW NETWORK: After its big start, OWN
sagged. Its ratings barely topped the obscure network (Discovery
Health) it had replaced. Leaders were shifted; morning host Gayle
King left for CBS.

Still, there were strong efforts from
Rosie O'Donnell, the monthly “Documentary Club” and the weekly
“Our America With Lisa Ling.” Next, the weekly “Oprah's Next
Chapter” debuts at 9 p.m. Jan. 1.

TALK SHOWS: Winfrey ended her 25-year
daytime reign in May and the scramble for viewers began.

Newcomers, including Anderson Cooper
and Lisa Gibbons, had slight impact. Some “Oprah” viewers tried
Ellen Degeneres or Winfrey-produced shows “Dr. Phil,” “Dr. Oz”
and “The Nate Berkus Show.”

More contenders are on the way. They
include Katie Couric, Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst in September of
2012, then Queen Latifah a year later.

THE SOAPS: There was more daytime fuss,
when ABC announced the end of two soap operas.

After 41 years (all with Susan Lucci),
“All My Children” left on Sept. 23, replaced by “The Chew.”
After 43 years, “One Life to Live” will end Jan. 13, replaced by
“The Revolution.”

There was talk that both soaps would
continue Online, but the financing fell through. Soon, ABC and NBC
will have only one soap apiece; CBS will have two. ABC even plans to
shut down its SoapNet cable channel as soon as its replacement
(Disney Junior, expected in February) is ready to go.

COMEDIES: When Jerry Seinfeld left,
situation comedies seemed to fade. The number of non-cartoon sitcoms
went from 52 to less than a dozen.

Then the comeback began. This fall, ABC
and NBC each launched a second comedy night. The sitcoms grew in
quantity (21), quality (“New Girl,” “2 Broke Girls,”
“Suburgatory”) and ratings.

“Two and a Half Men” survived the
Charlie Sheen implosion to top the Nielsen ratings. In a recent week
(Dec. 5-11), there were four CBS sitcoms in the top 10. In the age
range (18-49) advertisers prefer, the top 10 has five CBS comedies,
plus ABC's “Modern Family” and Fox's “New Girl.”


– Dramas have sagged lately.
“Desperate Housewives” is in its final season; “House” and
“Grey's Anatomy” might be. ABC has finally mastered the crime
genre with “Castle” and “Body of Proof,” but other
big-network shows are mixed. Instead, quality drama has come from PBS
(“Masterpiece”) and cable. This year saw the end of great shows
on cable (“Rescue Me”) and satellite (“Friday Night Lights,”
rerunning on NBC) and the start of good ones on cable (“Boss,”
“Hell on Wheels”).

– Fox polished up “American Idol,”
to cover up the loss of Simon Cowell. The result was often too
chipper, but produced a worthy winner (Scotty McCreery) and strong
ratings. The copies – “The Voice,” “Sing-Off,” Cowell's
“X-Factor” – prospered, but none matched the killer power of

– Other reality shows dominated
tabloids and blogs and such. There was little revolt over the fact
that there are no marriages from “The Bachelor” and a 72-day one
from the Kardashians.

– In latenight, it began to seem like
Conan O'Brien should have stayed at NBC. It was a big deal when his
show debuted on TBS in November of 2010, but the attention faded.
George Lopez – who moved to midnight to make room for the “Conan”
show – didn't get a boost; his show ended in August.

– In news, Scott Pelley skillfully
took over when Katie Couric left CBS on May 18. Couric was soon doing
primetime specials on ABC and preparing her talk show. And at a time
when news magazines are content to tell crime stories, NBC's new
“Rock Center” offers a wide range of quality reporting.

– PBS showed skill at news, drama and
more. This fall, nine Fridays had performers – from ballerinas to
banjo players, from Placido Domingo to Pearl Jam. It was a strong way
to end a mixed year.