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Premiere Week: Picking Up the Pieces

Many of us in the television business take ourselves so seriously you’d think we’re curing diseases for a living. But if that were the case, overpopulation would never be a problem on this planet because people would be dropping like flies.

That’s because despite some serious, supposed, collective smarts in the industry, every fall, we still smash all our new products into each other like they were cast members on Jersey Shore. The best analogy you always hear is it would be like the film industry launching every single new movie they put out all year in the same weekend. Even movie people are smart enough not to do that, and they’re the geniuses behind titles like Battle: Los Angeles and Shark Night (which—thank heaven—was in 3D).

But oops! We did it again, and while some rookies stood tall, others justified their place at the top of Premiere Week death pools (Playboy Club, hello). Some notes, thoughts and amazement from a wild first week:

What the Hell Happened With 'X Factor'?

I am going to start the talk of Simon Cowell’s new show by saying that I have never been more wrong about a debut prediction in my life. I was on the record as saying X Factor would open at American Idol-like numbers, and then it went out and did half that. Even rival network execs were floored at how low the number was, so last Thursday morning could not have been fun on the Fox lot, especially if the network guaranteed advertisers around a 6 or so.

The show is far from a disaster, as any network would love to have 4 hours a week settling in around a 4 rating in the demo. But everyone just thought it would bow higher. And this is not a low-budget reality show. This probably costs as much as most hour-long dramas to produce (and without any backend) and had massive promotion, not to mention a huge, established star in Simon Cowell.

So, what happened? Anecdotal chatter says that a lot of people tuned in and just saw another Idol, as the audition shows basically looked like any other competition. But that can’t be the only thing, because not enough people tuned in to begin with. It’s going to make quite the television case study, that’s for sure.

So what does Fox do? They roll up their sleeves and get to work and grow it. Believe me, there are worse things in the world than growing a show from a 4.4 rating. That’s a high-class problem.

One thought might be to get through the audition shows quicker than they were thinking. What sets X Factor apart is what happens once the contestants are picked, and while The Voice undoubtedly stole some of that thunder, the truth is, the quicker X gets past the auditions, the more it will have the chance to build its audience.

And I promised the wife I would chime in with her note—more Steve Jones on camera. He is apparently smoking hot. . . you know, if you’re into that tall, fit, dreamy sort of thing. So c’mon Fox, you had J-Lo’s world-class legs behind a desk—right your wrong by giving the ladies their Jones.

Oh, and bring back Cheryl Cole. I don’t know what really happened there, but she is going to be a TV star sometime, somewhere in America. If I am an agent or a network exec, I am working on that now.

Critics, Rejoice!

You should have seen the group of television critics standing around New Girl star Zooey Deschanel at Fox’s TCA party in Malibu last month. They were looking at her the way I look at a double-double burger from In-N-Out.

So, forget about network execs: The critics must have been the happiest brood in the world when the Fox rookie dorked its way to a big and deserved opening. And look for that number to grow as the season goes on, as the writing sounded great. But, even more than that, Deschanel is absolutely a TV It Girl in the making. The guess here is critics will get to drool over her for many TCAs to come.

Lorre 1, Sheen 0

Sorry, I don’t care about the great ratings for the Comedy Central Enablement Fest knows as the Charlie Sheen roast; Chuck Lorre was the big winner last week. Yes, a lot of the ratings for Two and a Half Men were curiosity tune-in, and this week’s numbers will probably plummet like Sheen’s career, but the writing didn’t miss a beat, and I expect the ratings to settle in right where they were last year—which is big.

And speaking of Sheen, please don’t be fooled by this reputation-fixing publicity tour. Think he has found clarity? Wrong. I wouldn’t call it a coincidence that the Anger Management people are taking his show out to try and sell right now. Sheen is merely trying to look the part of someone a network can trust to show up to work.

On Hype and 'Terra Nova'

I am also on the record as saying I actually hope Terra Nova opens well, as it represents the big, bold swings that broadcast television needs to take. So, I got a little worried the other Sunday in a sports bar. I was with about 10 people (two were women) that I had just met, and about the fourth spot for Terra Nova had just run during an NFL game. I stopped everyone and took a quick poll of who was planning on watching the show. Exactly one hand went up.

One of the interesting things that came up in my little beer-fueled, impromptu focus group is one guy said that when a network airs tons of commercials, he feels like it is making up for the fact that the show isn’t going to be that good. A bunch of others agreed when they heard that.

I’m not even remotely saying the dinosaurs are going to bite it in the ratings, but it did give me some pause.

And by the Way…

• My grandma cut off a conversation on Skype the other night because she didn’t want to miss the beginning of NBC’s Harry’s Law. She’d better get a lot more of her Mah Jongg yentas—or actually, their grandchildren— to watch.

• You always knew critics were going to despise the reality show H8R on The CW. And boy did they. The show is about celebs being confronted by “fans” that hate them. Maybe the next episode should be critics confronting the CW people who put it on the air. Oh wait, that’s called TCA. And Twitter.

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