I found this in the online version of the Denver Post:
NETWORK NUMBERS HANG ON
December 8, 1999
by Joanna Ostrow
News flash: the networks managed to tread water this season. Given the onslaught of cable competition and new media, that’s a success story.
It’s been a better-than-average fall-winter for regular series, particularly dramas, and the networks have held 64 percent of the available prime-time audience, same as last year.
Sure, they tried to drive us away with immature guys ( “Oh Grow Up,” “The Mike O’Malley Show”), impossibly bad comedies ( “Mike O’Malley” fits both categories) and formulaic dramas ( “Wasteland” was worst, followed by “Harsh Realm,” “Snoops” and “The Strip”).
But the networks surprised even themselves with a handful of modest hits besides the phenomenal “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” (It averaged more than 24 million viewers for its 18 nights in November; nothing else came close.)
There were some audience favorites among the new dramas. “Judging Amy” and “Family Law” on CBS, the women-picking-up-the-pieces sagas that cashed in on the “Providence” trend, both emerged as winners. Amy Brenneman’s “Amy” drew roughly 15 million viewers a week; Kathleen Quinlan’s “Family Law” drew some 14 million viewers a week.
“The West Wing” proved that stories set in Washington and touching on politics can be compelling and popular, despite Hollywood’s conventional wisdom to the contrary. The Aaron Sorkin and John Wells drama was the third most popular drama on the air.
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” despite an inappropriately early Monday time slot, found an audience. The series’ ranking convinced NBC that producer Dick Wolf was right, it deserved a later hour. Next month it moves to Fridays, locally at 9 on Channel 9.
“Once and Again,” the Sela Ward drama, has been a strong performer for ABC, proving that grownups aren’t entirely without interest. But the story lines are wearing thin. Isn’t it time to shift the sympathy to the exes, make them look more reasonable and shake things up?
UPN can thank “WWF Smackdown” for reviving the network, luring 6.5 million viewers, mostly young males, to the set each Thursday. No matter how grotesque or phony, it’s a youthful ratings-grabber.
Unfortunately, the promising dramas “Freaks and Geeks” and “Roswell” haven’t performed as well in the numbers as they need to. But “Angel” is doing even better than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” from which it sprang, to create a popular double whammy for the WB on Tuesdays.
It was an off season for comedies, even for those of us who liked the dry sendup of L.A. “It’s Like, You Know” and the inside-Hollywood satire “Action.” Even the cushiest time slot in television didn’t produce a standout sitcom: NBC gave its post- “Frasier” and pre- “ER” half-hour to “Stark Raving Mad,” the Neil Patrick Harris vehicle. While it is the most-watched comedy of the season, the network has to find the numbers less than satisfactory.
The networks are pleased to to say that their medium can still create a hit that lures 24 million Americans to the tube. That’s a mass audience, and only network TV has it. Sellers of toothpaste, take note.
Meanwhile, the networks are spending millions on comedy development for next season.
Can “Millionaire” last? Will the strong-women dramas stick around? Will the comedies in development take us to uncharted territory? And will “Freaks and Geeks” click on Mondays?
These are the burning questions of the new millennium. To be continued.
Denver Post Radio/TV Critic Joanne Ostrow’s column runs Monday through Thursday.
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