As the summer winds down, and the fall TV juggernaut approaches, a few things are clear. 1) Oprah will win TV all over again. 2) You’ve probably never heard of the summer’s most successful network scripted series. 3) Game shows are big. 4) Variety shows aren’t big. 5) Game shows are big?
Here’s a look at some of the season’s winners and losers.
OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s channel, is beginning to find scripted legs with this prestige family drama. About the conflicts of a secret-filled Memphis family who run a mega-church, “Greenleaf” is the summer’s most successful cable newcomer. Kudos to Lynn Whitfield as the imperious and controlling matriarch on “Greenleaf.” Her stink eye is without parallel.
It was set in Boston, which really ought to have made it into a major blockbuster hit, don’t you think? But CBS’s “American Gothic” was yet another lazy TV mystery whose twists and turns quickly became tiresome, and the ratings were awful long before the Olympics on NBC took over. Did you start the show, sour on the silly twists, and tune out? Wait until the day after the season finale on Sept. 7 and then Google “american gothic recap whodunit.”
“BrainDead” is a loser, and so am I, for seeing potential in the show in my Globe review. Turns out the follow-up series by the creators of “The Good Wife,” Robert and Michelle King, should have been a “Saturday Night Live” sketch and not a weekly series. The idea — alien insects altering the brains of politicians and staffers in Washington D.C. — is a funny allegory of what ails America right now. But the actual storytelling of the horror comedy has been underwhelming, with a tone that flip-flops awkwardly between horror and politics. Other poorly rated network scripted losers: The second seasons of David Duchovny’s “Aquarius” and the Matt Dillon-free “Wayward Pines,” both of which should have been miniseries.
ABC’s game shows
With the success of Steve Harvey’s “Celebrity Family Feud” last summer, ABC went crazy with reboots of classic game shows this summer. It paid off. Many TV outlets, cable and network, deploy drama on Sunday nights, so ABC countered with the trio of “Feud,” Michael Strahan’s “$100,000 Pyramid,” and Alec Baldwin’s “Match Game.” The shows, as well as Anthony Anderson’s “To Tell the Truth” on Tuesday nights, have done consistently well, without blowing up big-time like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” did in 1999-2002. Plus, they’re inexpensive to make, compared with scripted shows. They’ll be back, and so will two other summer reality hits, “Big Brother” and “America’s Got Talent,” which is pulling its best ratings in five years.
Cable buzz shows
No one knows the ratings for “Stranger Things,” because Netflix keeps its numbers to itself. But the retro sci-fi thriller, filled with allusions to 1980s films, is the talk of the summer. So are HBO’s “The Night Of,” a chilling take on the criminal justice system, and AMC’s comic book adaptation “Preacher,” both of which have drawn solid ratings. I’m expecting to see Emmy nominations next year for “The Night Of.”
It hasn’t been a great year for TV shows about the music industry. HBO’s “Vinyl” starring Bobby Cannavale got a renewal after its mediocre and poorly rated first season. Then HBO rescinded the renewal, despite a roster of executive producers including Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. The show was tortured and canceled. Now, Cameron Crowe’s “Roadies” on Showtime has drawn mostly negative reviews (it’s Metacritic score is 47) and is performing very poorly in the ratings. Last week, Showtime CEO David Nevins told the press, “We’re evaluating what its future is, one way or the other.”
“Maya & Marty”
Neil Patrick Harris failed last year in his effort to usher the star-led variety show format into vogue. His “Best Time Ever” on NBC didn’t catch on and was canceled. This summer, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, a pair of ace sketch comics, tried the format again for NBC. Alas, they never showed up with ace material. The sketches played like those weak ones on “Saturday Night Live” that air in the last half-hour. The show’s ratings, like the show’s writing, just kept getting worse, despite an “America’s Got Talent” lead-in and high-profile guests including Larry David, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Miley Cyrus, Jerry Seinfeld, and Amy Poehler.
“The Night Shift”
The what? Yup, this series does very well in the ratings, drawing better numbers than any other summer scripted series on the networks. It’s a medical drama that goes through all the motions so familiar to lovers of the genre. Pretty people, weekly heroism, a fantasy about public services — that is the formula that NBC also uses in its many Chicago series to lure viewers. Unlike “American Gothic,” “BrainDead,” “Aquarius,” and “Wayward Pines,” the show offers hope to those who hate the summer onslaught of reality TV.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com.