Dave on Demand: Networks still losing viewers; real talent might help

Look at any screen, and the Rock is probably on it.
Look at any screen, and the Rock is probably on it. (Paramount Pictures)
Posted: May 05, 2013

If the Dow Jones average mimicked the Nielsen ratings, we'd all be singing, "Buddy, can you spare an infomercial?"

Imagine what this week's network stock report would look like:

In chilling earnings news, Fox, ABC and NBC all reported viewership declines over the last fiscal year.

In the most important index - 18-to-49-year-olds - Fox is down nearly 22 percent. Analysts attribute that to the underperformance of Fox's blue chip stock, American Idol, which dropped 15 percent in the key index this week alone, setting an all-time low.

The only initial offering of the week, ABC's Family Tools, notched the smallest ratings for a sitcom debut in the history of the network.

(Ratings numbers are notoriously malleable. The network statismagicians routinely turn sows' ears into Prada purses. In ABC's spin, Family Tools didn't bomb; "it delivered the biggest audience in the [time] slot in four weeks," according to an ABC release. Now, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?)

Wading into all this bearish turmoil was a reminder of how this economy used to work. Bob Newhart made a delightful special appearance on The Big Bang Theory as Sheldon and Leonard's childhood hero.

Newhart made it look so easy with his timid, halting comic style. In the 1970s and '80s, Newhart's eponymous sitcoms routinely averaged more than 20 million viewers. He had a pretty good lead-in initially on CBS: The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And this was on Saturday night, folks. As part of a lineup that also included The Jeffersons and The Carol Burnett Show.

Of course, this was back in the day when TV was merely trying to entertain us, before it settled on its current shock-and-awe strategy.

On The Big Bang Theory, Newhart proved that even at 83, he can get more laughs by subtly raising an eyebrow than Ashton Kutcher can with 50 punchlines.

Maybe the Nielsen numbers wouldn't be dropping so consistently if the networks just put the emphasis back on talent.

Who's that lady? I know you've been busy chasing Soviet spies for the FBI, Stan (Noah Emmerich), so I've been waiting for the season-ender of The Americans to tell you this:

Your wife, Sandra, is being unfaithful. Or at least the actress who plays her, Susan Misner, is. And in your own time slot!

At the same time The Americans is on FX (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), Misner has been carrying on with Deacon (Charles Esten) on ABC's Nashville. There may even be bigamy issues involved.

And you're the investigator, Stan, so I'll let you sort this one out, but your wife has also been popping up as Kevin Bacon's sister on The Following. At least in that case, she's keeping it within the bureau.

Strong armed. If you're looking at a screen anytime today, there's a good chance Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, is going to be on it.

The guy is everywhere. A few weeks ago, he was in GI Joe: Retaliation. He's topping the box office in Pain & Gain. In a few weeks, he stars in Fast & Furious 6. And he's signed on for a big-screen Hercules remake.

Next month, he'll be on TV as the host of The Hero, a new reality competition series on TNT. And he just signed on to star in a still-untitled HBO series about retired athletes living in Miami.

All this, and he still won't let go of his old job. The Rock just took on Jon Cena in Wrestlemania 29 for the WWE Championship. And they called James Brown "the hardest-working man in show business."


Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552, dhiltbrand@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_TV.

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