Jan 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Critics have always had a reputation for being a cynical bunch, but in TelevisionWeek’s Winter Critics Poll, their frustrations over the fall crop of broadcast network scripted series boiled over.
“I have been participating in this poll since the beginning,” said Tom Jicha, TV critic at the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel. “Never have I had less enthusiasm. In the past I have written columns in my own paper referencing the poll and how hard it was to limit the best in TV to only 10. This year, I scraped to come up with 10.
“The networks in their pursuit of the elusive 18 to 49 demographic seem to have adopted Jimmy Carter’s national malaise strategy of accepting that the best days are gone; now it’s time to settle for what you can get. ABC is particularly guilty of this, renewing a boatload of shows that aren’t close to the top 50 and have almost no artistic aspirations.”
Bill Brioux of The Toronto Sun didn’t even pick a No. 1 show in his top 10 list. “Nothing deserves to be No. 1,” he said. “This has been the year the networks all sat it out creatively. No guts, no glory.”
The Buffalo (N.Y.) News’ Alan Pergament lamented the fact that even when a network puts on a quality show, it doesn’t always support it and give it time to find an audience.
“The fact that `Average Joe’ is returning to NBC and `Boomtown’ only got a few Fridays to succeed says it all about the state of network TV.”
Asked which network most improved its schedule, critics overwhelmingly chose CBS. NBC, UPN and The WB didn’t get a single vote in this category.
“Forget the PR disasters like `The Reagans’ and Michael Jackson,” said Charlie McCollum of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. “[CBS is] the only network that’s actually gaining viewership. Only one of its new shows, `Brotherhood,’ tanked, and it got some legitimate hits, if not breakout hits, in `Two and a Half Men,’ `Joan of Arcadia’ and `Cold Case.”’
Said Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle: “It added strength to strength and quality to quality. Hard to argue with that. And now it’s just going to continue to stomp everybody else.”
While CBS has been No. 1 in total viewers last season and this season, until recently the network has never received much critical support for its shows. The tide seems to be turning as the network tied Fox for the most shows in the top 10 of the critics poll with three. CBS also won 18 Emmy Awards this year.
“In past seasons, we’ve built this momentum being able to introduce new series that have gotten a lot of traction, and certainly the audience has reacted unbelievably positively to shows such as `Without a Trace’ and `Cold Case’ and `CSI: Miami,”’ said CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem. “We always had the audience validation, and it is really wonderful to receive the critical validation. When they both converge at the same time you can’t ask for anything better.”
On the flip side, NBC, which has traditionally dominated the critics poll with such favorites as “The West Wing,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “Law & Order,” “Will & Grace” and “ER,” didn’t place a single series in the top 10 this time around and was voted least-improved network by the critics.
“NBC is in a freefall,” said Jay Handelman of the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune. “Its comedies are mostly a bust; it goofed by placing the agreeable `Miss Match’ on Friday; it wasted Rob Lowe in `The Lyon’s Den,’ which never recovered from its bland premiere; and the idea that they may bring back `Frasier’ when it should be allowed to go out in some sort of style shows how bad things have become.”
The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall didn’t have any better an assessment. “The `SVU’ move weakened Friday and hasn’t drastically boosted Tuesday,” he said. “`Miss Match’ and `Lyon’s Den’ are flops, and `Coupling’ is long dead. And if [NBC Entertainment President Jeff] Zucker had improved the schedule, why would he feel the need to keep changing it every two weeks?”