May 17, 2022

Another Promising Night for Fox and Its Early Start to TV Season

On its second night of jump-starting the new television season a week before its network competition, the Fox network again got some positive results.

A new comedy, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” got some promising ratings; another, “Dads,” fared well enough to hold out some hope, and one returned comedy, “New Girl,” showed some renewed strength.

Only one comedy, “The Mindy Project,” generated disappointing numbers, probably disappointing as much to critics as to Fox executives because “Mindy” had been widely extolled before its second-season premiere. The premiere also featured a guest appearance by James Franco.

Even so, Fox will probably take the overall performance on a Tuesday night, where it struggled badly last season. Probably the best news was the strong showing for “Brooklyn,” another favorite of critics, which drew six million viewers and a solid 2.5 rating among the group Fox sells to advertisers, viewers between the ages of 18 and 49.

The other new series, “Dads,” which had been excoriated by critics for what they charged was racially insensitive humor, managed a 2.1 in that 18-49 group and 5.6 million viewers, both respectable numbers for a newcomer. “New Girl” returned with 5.6 million viewers and the best 18-49 rating of the night, a 2.9. Both numbers were up slightly from the show’s premiere episode a year ago.

“The Mindy Project” however, showed what may be a worrisome falloff from “New Girl,” dropping to just under four million viewers and a 1.9 rating in the 18-49 group. Fox, which is also offering projections of how its shows will fare when delayed viewing is counted, offered some hope for “Mindy,” suggesting it could eventually reach more than six million viewers and climb to a 2.7 rating among those younger adult viewers.

That would still be a sizable falloff from “New Girl,” which Fox thinks could get as high as more than 10.5 million viewers and perhaps a 4.7 rating in the 18-49 category.

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A Calculated Push Into Entertainment Lifts ‘Duck Dynasty’ Family’s Fortunes

And that was true even before they were television stars.

They certainly are stars now — the subjects of the biggest reality show hit in the history of cable television, “Duck Dynasty,” which has shattered ratings records this summer, reaching a high of 11.8 million viewers for the season premiere this month.

But in the more contained world of ducks, guns and camouflage gear, the Robertsons were already celebrities thanks to the family’s core business: sales of duck gear, especially duck calls.

Now the range of merchandise attached to the Robertson name is so vast — shirts, caps, coolers, books, edibles, hunting gear of every kind — that keeping track of it has become almost impossible, said Willie Robertson, scion of the Robertson clan and president of the Duck Commander company.

Last week, he was at the corporate headquarters of Walmart and was surprised to see his face on a garden gnome. “I knew I had a Chia Pet and a bobblehead and an action figure,” Mr. Robertson said by phone. “I didn’t know I had a garden gnome. That’s awesome. I guess Pez dispenser is the last weird thing I have to see myself on.”

Chances are that pitch will come shortly. “Every day I get pitched on this, pitched on that,” Mr. Robertson said. “It’s like you’re living in a movie.”

That movie is mostly a creation of Mr. Robertson and his family, a conscious dive into the entertainment world that has lifted a regional business into an international phenomenon. The show is seen in more than 100 countries, drawing strong ratings on networks from England to Latin America.

The show does well across this country, though as might be expected, it fares best in the South, with Atlanta, Knoxville, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C., and Birmingham, Ala., among the top locations in ratings.

“I thought we were booming before,” Mr. Robertson said. “Booming is a relative term.”

The family-owned business has private sales figures, but Mr. Robertson offered some indications of the level of growth. “I’ve seen figures of 2,200 percent growth,” he said.

“You couldn’t chart it as far as where we have had business growth. It’s bursting at every level, every store.”

Sales of duck calls to actual hunters are now a minority, he said, with the dominant buyers being people who “put it on their desk and toot on it.”

Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said the company’s stores across the country stocked “Duck Dynasty” merchandise in six separate departments.

T-shirts featuring “Duck Dynasty” characters are now the top sellers, Ms. McKinney said, among women and girls as well as men. And sales of “Duck” back-to-school material have soared this year, she said.

“Duck Dynasty” began on the AE network after some members of the family appeared for three seasons on an Outdoor Channel show tailored more specifically to actual duck hunting. David McKillop, the general manager of AE, said the network viewed a tape and realized the potential for his channel was in the family interaction.

After what he called “a vision meeting” with Mr. Robertson, AE commissioned two pilots. The second ended with a scene of the family gathered around the dinner table.

That clicked. AE saw an overarching theme: “A cross between ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘The Waltons.’ ” A family dinner would cap each episode, Mr. McKillop said. “It would be like, ‘Goodnight, John-Boy.’ ”

Willie Robertson is not reticent about his own role in building what is now an imposing duck-centric empire. The family business was started by his father, Phil, a Louisiana football standout who translated an obsession with hunting ducks into the now enormous duck-call business.

Willie Robertson credits some of his business acumen to experience he gained in his 20s after he left the family company to run a children’s camp business.

“I was able to watch the family business from afar,” he said. “I was able to come in with a lot of energy and a vision for growing it even bigger.”

When Mr. Robertson returned to Duck Commander, he realized his father had created a strong brand, but “he had pretty much run out of ideas,” Mr. Robertson said.

“He didn’t know how to take it to the next level, and it might have started a downward slide, like a lot of family businesses do.”

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Blacked Out in 3 Cities, CBS Still Wins Ratings Race

Last week, the first full week of blocked service for more than three million Time Warner customers, the network topped its competitors in total viewers and in all the ratings categories important to advertisers.

One reason perhaps: RadioShack reported Monday a “double-digit” increase in sales of high-definition antennas in the three big cities being blacked out — New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. (The company provided no specific numbers.)

Time Warner Cable has been suggesting that customers try watching CBS the old-fashioned way – on a broadcast signal to an antenna — since it removed the network from its cable systems on Aug. 2 in a dispute over what are known as retransmission fees.

CBS has maintained that it is seeking fair value for its content, but at the same time said the loss of Time Warner viewers would have minimal impact on its ratings – an assertion that was surely meant to reassure its advertisers.

Last week’s ratings would seem to bolster that argument. For the week, CBS averaged 5.51 million viewers, which was up 34 percent over the same week a year ago. Two weeks ago, before the blackout, CBS averaged a similar number, 5.78 million viewers; but August weeks traditionally are lower than July weeks.

CBS also ranked first last week among the broadcast networks with a 1.2 rating in viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 (up 20 percent over 2012) and a 1.6 rating among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 (up 23 percent.) Those age categories are the two most attractive to television advertisers.

Much of the network’s improvement this summer has been tied to the drama “Under the Dome,” which continues to win its hour every Monday, though this week it declined to its lowest performances so far.

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An Emerging Hispanic Voice Defends Her ‘Maids’

Instead, the spotlight fell on one of the executive producers, Eva Longoria, better known for her own role as the wealthy Gabrielle Solis on “Desperate Housewives.” She worked the room like a politician, making grand introductions punctuated by a bright smile and a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and holding barely audible conversations.

Her biggest priority was to check in on each of “the girls” — as she called the five actresses — to see how they had fared on the red carpet. Nine years ago Ms. Longoria was a young, relatively unknown actress in the cast of “Desperate Housewives.” But then she changed the script, positioning herself as a Hollywood power player on Latino issues and a highly regarded political advocate.

Now she finds herself in a position of having to defend her latest project against critics who say the show relies too much on the cliché of the Hispanic maid.

“When people talk about stereotypical maids, these maids are anything but,” Ms. Longoria, 38, said over a long lunch at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood two days before the premiere party. She said future plot points would reveal more developed people.

She was eager to counter the negative reactions to the show. “I think it’s important for us to have a dialogue of identity in our culture, and even though this show may not be your experience, it is a lot of people’s experience,” she said. Latinos, she added, “over-index in domestic workers: that is a fact, that’s not an opinion.”

The ratings for the premiere of “Devious Maids,” at 10 on Sunday night, were modest. Going up against the season finale of AMC’s “Mad Men,” the show attracted 2 million viewers, slightly below the Lifetime show that preceded it at 9, “Drop Dead Diva” (2.2 million).

Ms. Longoria’s rise as a media force has been paralleled by her political ascent. She stumped for President Obama in 2012, helping round up critical Hispanic voters, and she was a founder of the Futuro Fund, which raised $32 million for the campaign. She recently spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago; left a few days later for Colombia to film a documentary for the Half the Sky Movement, an international women’s advocacy group; and signed on to a fund-raising drive for the political group Battleground Texas, whose goal is to raise money to “put Democrats back on the map” in the state, in the words of her message on the group’s home page.

And in May she completed a master’s degree in Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge.

“I’m a little in awe in terms of how she’s transformed herself,” said Marc Cherry, an executive producer of both “Devious Maids” and “Desperate Housewives,” who cast Ms. Longoria in 2004. “She was just an actress that had done a couple of prime-time shows and had done some daytime.”

Before its debut, the criticism of “Devious Maids” included an open letter in The Huffington Post from Michelle Herrera Mulligan, the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, who called the show a “wasted opportunity.” (Ms. Longoria had been on the magazine’s spring cover months before Ms. Mulligan’s letter was published online.)

Alisa Lynn Valdes, a former journalist and author of the novel “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” wrote a critical online opinion piece on about the show. “It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid,” she wrote, “but there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.”

Most maids, however, don’t sleep with their bosses. The show’s first episode begins with a whopping, albeit campy, dose of classism, with an employer threatening to deport her maid for having sex with the employer’s husband.

“They are five strong, female, Latina characters, so it’s like the three hurdles we had to overcome to get this on the air in Hollywood,” said Ms. Longoria, who added that the show also has two Latina writers out of five. “You’re never the lead, then if you are the lead, you are usually a lead that services the main character, which is a white male actor.”

Ms. Longoria grew up far from Beverly Hills, in Corpus Christi, Tex., a daughter of Mexican-American parents. Her mother was a special-education teacher, and her father was a tool engineer in the Army. “I took out loans to pay for school,” Ms. Longoria told the Democratic National Convention in 2012 during a speech that made much of her working-class roots. “Then I changed oil in a mechanic shop, flipped burgers at Wendy’s, taught aerobics and worked on campus to pay them back.”

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Dan Harmon Will Return to NBC’s ‘Community’

But then “Community” has never been your usual television show.

On Monday, Sony Pictures Television, the studio that produces “Community,” announced the return of that NBC comedy’s prodigal creator, Dan Harmon, who will be its show runner for the coming season after being pushed out of the top job a year ago.

In a statement Sony said that Mr. Harmon would return to “Community” for its fifth season, as would Chris McKenna, a writer and producer who has worked on previous seasons of the show. Each will have the title of executive producer, the studio said. Sony and NBC declined to comment further on Monday. Mr. Harmon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under Mr. Harmon, a creator of “The Sarah Silverman Program,” “Community” evolved over its first three seasons from a show about the mismatched members of a college study group to a rapid-fire satire of science fiction, alternate realities and paintball contests gone awry.

But the audience for “Community” never grew much beyond its core fan base, whose members blogged and tweeted about it passionately; at the end of its third season it was drawing fewer than three million viewers for broadcasts of new episodes.

Even so, for NBC, a struggling if recognizable show like “Community” was evidently worth holding onto. While the network has had its overall problems in recent years, its prime-time comedy lineup — once an NBC hallmark — has been a particular challenge, and it has lost signature series like “30 Rock” and “The Office.”

Over the seasons Mr. Harmon has tested the patience of studio and network executives with what could be seen as a relentless pursuit of perfection or an unwillingness to adhere to deadlines. And he feuded publicly with the “Community” co-star Chevy Chase, who is not known as a retreating personality.

In May 2012, NBC renewed “Community” for an abbreviated 13-episode fourth season, but just as its devotees exhaled their sighs of relief, Mr. Harmon announced in a post on his personal blog that Sony was removing him as show runner.

In the post Mr. Harmon vented his frustrations at Sony, NBC and the network’s entertainment chairman, Robert Greenblatt, who had said that Mr. Harmon might continue on “Community” in some other capacity.

“That’s a misquote,” Mr. Harmon wrote. “I think he meant to say he’s sure cookies are yummy, because he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC.”

Seeming to slam the door on any future involvement with the show, Mr. Harmon added, “I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of ‘Community’ without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying, ‘it has to be like this or I quit’ roughly 8 times a day.”

In its fourth season “Community” was run by the producers David Guarascio and Moses Port, who work as a team (“Happy Endings,” “Just Shoot Me”). They were criticized for trying to duplicate Mr. Harmon’s frenetic pop style without matching his wit or his heart. Reviewing the season for The New York Times, Mike Hale wrote, “Apparently the new producers know what we want, but they won’t, or can’t, give it to us.”

It did not help matters that NBC delayed the season premiere of “Community” to Feb. 7 from Oct. 19 of last year, resulting in Halloween-, Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed episodes that were shown months after those holidays. Mr. Chase left the series in November, and ratings for the season fell from the year before.

Even so, NBC announced in May that it had renewed “Community” for another 13 episodes. A few weeks later Mr. Harmon told audience members at the recording of his “Harmontown” podcast that he had been asked to return to “Community.” After several more days of teasing fans with the possibility, Mr. Harmon wrote on his Twitter account: “Yes yes yes! I’m back I’m back I’m back.”

Before his reconciliation with “Community” had been confirmed, Mr. Harmon made it known that he was immersing himself in his work. Last weekend he tweeted: “I have a LOT of scripts to read today so you’ll be seeing even more twitter activity than when I’m supposed to be writing them.”

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The Media Equation: ‘Walking Dead’ Helps Solidify AMC’s Ratings Success

When a show about the walking dead on basic cable beats every network show in the ratings demographic that advertisers care most about, you have to wonder who the real zombies are.

A zombie, after all, is something that continues to roam, and tries to devour all in its path even though its natural life is over — a description that does not sound that far-fetched when it comes to broadcast networks.

During its run last fall, “The Walking Dead” was the highest-rated show among viewers 18 to 49, the most-sought age group, with a bigger audience than network winners like “The Big Bang Theory,” “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Modern Family.”

Now the zombies are back for the second half of the show’s third season, and they continue to gnaw on everything in their path, including the broadcast networks’ historical claim to being the only place to find a mass audience. Three weeks ago, the zombies owned Sunday night, attracting 7.7 million viewers in the 18 to 49 range, more than any broadcast show in the land.

It gets better (or worse, if you are a network). AMC has a spinoff chat show about zombies called “The Talking Dead,” and even that is making waves. That same Sunday three weeks ago, “The Talking Dead” drew almost 2.8 million viewers ages 18 to 49, trumping NBC not just for the night, but for all of February.

Being a cable network, it’s clear, is less of a disadvantage than it used to be, as broadcast networks become just one more click on a seemingly infinite dial.

A couple of things are at work here. For years, inertia kept viewers locked on the big broadcast channels, but these days, consumers are roaming omnivores, hunting down whatever has heat and water-cooler value. And network appointment viewing has given way to foraging and bingeing.

AMC, along with its studio partners, has always made sure that if someone wants to catch up with America’s favorite zombies, or “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men,” two of its other hits, then past seasons are readily available — on demand, on Netflix or on iTunes. As a result, the audience for “The Walking Dead” is up 51 percent overall last year, and it is one of the most consistently talked about shows on social media.

It’s worth noting that the gap between basic cable and broadcast television has gradually shrunk as satellite and telecommunications companies have joined the fray. There are about 115 million television households in America, and some 99 million of them have access to AMC. On the networks, old franchises are tiring, new efforts are flopping in record time and a show like “The Walking Dead,” whose audience grew slowly and steadily over three seasons, is just not in the playbook.

“AMC sold the show to Netflix early, so when people started talking about it, it was there for the watching,” said Alexia Quadrani, a media analyst at JPMorgan.

Last Thursday, I visited Josh Sapan, the chief executive of AMC Networks, at his office across the street from Madison Square Garden. You might expect him to be celebrating his zombies’ success, but you’d be wrong. Mr. Sapan has been at AMC for 25 years and he is too superstitious to tempt the gods like that. As a collector of lightning rods — he has acquired more than a hundred, two of them on display in his office — he knows that sticking out has a cost.

“I would have put big odds against a cable show winning over network five years ago,” he said. Still, he warns, “People’s taste in what is popular can be very fleeting and short-lived. There is some alchemy at work here that is hard to diagnose and replicate.”

“It’s a big moment to those of us who are in the business,” he added, “but I don’t think the general public, especially young people, even think about where programming comes from.”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 3, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of years Josh Sapan has been at AMC. It is 25 years, not 24.

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Media Decoder Blog: Answer in Sight for ‘How I Met Your Mother’

It will take, in total, nine years, but yes, there will be an answer to “How I Met Your Mother” — and it will be revealed in spring 2014.

That’s because all the show’s key players, from its cast members, including Jason Segel, Neal Patrick Harris and Josh Radnor, to its creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, agreed to a new deal on Wednesday with CBS and the production studio 20th Century Fox Television. The agreement will bring the comedy to a close after one more season.

“HIMYM,” as the show is known, continues to be one of the top-rated comedies on television this season, averaging almost 10 million viewers — when delayed viewing is included.

The series has managed to survive despite a premise that teased viewers into wondering whether it would ever introduce the character who would be the mother of the two children in the show. They were first introduced in 2005, supposedly listening to their father in 2030 recounting his many romantic encounters until he met and married their mother.

The producers even took the precaution of shooting, several years ago, the final scene with the two actors who have played the children, David Henrie and Lyndsy Fonseca, so they would not be near adulthood when the series ended.

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Media Decoder Blog: Ratings Drop for Season Premiere of ‘Dallas’

The ratings for the two-hour premiere of season two of “Dallas,” the revival of the fabled soap on the TNT cable channel, are not going to do much to relieve the down mood left after the death of the show’s central star, Larry Hagman.

Monday night, the show attracted an audience smaller than any episode in its first season, and one significantly lower than the show’s premiere had in 2012.

For the first time, “Dallas” fell below three million viewers, with 2.97 million for the premiere. Last season, the show averaged about 4.2 million viewers, and its least-watched episode attracted 3.24 million.

The premiere episode last season pulled in more than twice as many viewers with 6.86 million. And the finale last season was also a success, with 4.28 million.

The news was equally grim among the viewers whom TNT is looking to reach to sell to advertisers. Monday’s show was lower than only one episode last year in its ratings for viewers in the two groups of most interest to advertisers, those between the ages of 18 and 49 and 25 and 54.

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Media Decoder Blog: Kimmel Gains in Coveted 18-49 Age Group

On his third day as an 11:35 p.m. late night host, Jimmy Kimmel took his biggest step yet to separate himself from the two titans of that time period, David Letterman and Jay Leno. He started pulling away, at least for one night, among the most important audience in late night.

Those would be viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, who are most desired by late-night advertisers. On Thursday night, Mr. Kimmel put distance between his ABC show and those on NBC and CBS. He attracted 1.24 million viewers in that category, giving him a substantial margin over both Mr. Leno, who had 938,000, and Mr. Letterman, who had 929,000.

In moving Mr. Kimmel up to 11:35, ABC’s chief goal has been to seize control of the younger portion of the late-night audience. Mr. Kimmel, who is 45, is 20 years younger than Mr. Letterman and 17 years younger than Mr. Leno. In displacing the long-time news show, “Nightline,” ABC was seeking to increase its revenue in late night by bringing in more young viewers.

Mr. Kimmel managed to do that Thursday, even though he continued to trail slightly in terms of overall audience numbers. He attracted 3.17 million total viewers, third behind Mr. Leno’s 3.4 million and Mr. Letterman’s 3.29 million.

But Mr. Kimmel and ABC will happily take that outcome because it means the younger composition of his audience is a positive factor for advertising sales.

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College Football Title Game Draws Second Biggest Cable Audience

For the five B.C.S. bowl games, ESPN averaged 15.1 million viewers, up seven percent from last year.

The size of the Alabama-Notre Dame audience was attributable, in part, to the interest in seeing two storied college programs with national reputations meeting in the championship game. And despite the early blowout, viewers did not abandon the game.

The viewership was reasonably comparable to the audiences for past national championship games on broadcast networks. The game had more viewers than the 2002, ’04 and ’05 games on ABC, and the ’08 game on Fox. But it fell short of the 35.6 million in 2006 for Texas-Southern California, on ABC, and the ’03, ’07, ’09 and ’10 games on Fox.

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