Over the past year, television has
presented a schizophrenic array of reality, dramas and dull sitcoms
where “Must See TV” is easy to miss, and five nights of
crime dramas make for a predictable week. While prime-time
television seems to be a wasteland of unwanted entertainment, a few
shows still stand out and keep our interest. Report cards are in,
and those who don’t make the grade have a rocky future
ahead.

Janna Hutz
Courtesy of NBC
Janna Hutz
Courtesy of ABC
Janna Hutz
Courtesy of Fox

— Compiled by the Daily TV Staff

 

The Networks

CBS: America’s number-one-rated network seems to be
alone in knowing how to schedule programming effectively for the
entire week, not even backing down from NBC’s formerly
“Must See TV.” However, an insistence on franchises
(“CSI” and “JAG”), coupled with shows that
appeal only to an older demographic limit potential viewership. As
the home to the most promising and original show of the season,
“Joan of Arcadia,” CBS seems to be making some strides
toward more diverse fare.

Grade: A-

 

FOX: For every successful new program (“The
OC” and “Arrested Development”) there is
“Skin” or bad reality shows (i.e. “Joe
Millionaire 2”) on the following night. The network’s
best shows are some of the finest on television (“24”)
and their commitment to new ideas is evident. Even though they have
given some innovative shows a chance, there is always the
possibility that they may cancel another great before its time like
they did with “Firefly” or “Andy Richter Controls
the Universe” last season.

Grade: B+ (On the condition that it lets its new shows
prosper)

 

NBC: Once the home to the best sitcoms and most gripping
dramas, NBC is a shell of its former self looking to find some sort
of new hit. With “Friends” and “Frasier” on
the way out and only “Scrubs” as a promising comedy
replacement (sorry, “Whoopi”), next season should be a
struggle. “ER” and all of the “Law &
Order” franchises have began to show their age, but the new
series “Las Vegas” has some promise whereas
“Lyon’s Den” is an official disaster. Their
reality fare ranks as some of the most appalling (“Fear
Factor”), but they have yet to let it inundate their entire
schedule.

Grade: B- (Would have been a B before
“Boomtown”’s unfair cancellation; see below)

 

ABC: What a sorry state of affairs ABC is in these days.
Still hoping for a breakout sitcom or drama, ABC has stuck with the
stinkers that the past few seasons have offered, clinging to any
sort of success. “Alias” is the lone saving grace on a
network that seems to believe that “According to Jim”
is worth keeping on the air but not “Karen Sisco.”

Grade: C

 

the WB: With a lineup of unspectacular sitcoms and teen
dramas, the WB is aiming for a young demographic. Its best shows
are the critically acclaimed dialogue driven series like
“Gilmore Girls” or genre shows like “Angel”
and “Smallville,” which are far too quirky to make it
on the major networks. At its worst, it is responsible for the
monstrosity of “The Surreal Life,” unfortunately set to
return during mid-season.

Grade: C

 

UPN: As bad as the WB or ABC’s lineups may be, at
least there are a few shows that are worth watching, unlike UPN.
Led by Vince McMahon’s “WWE Smackdown!” as well
as the latest “Star Trek” offering
“Enterprise,” UPN caters to die-hard fans. “Jake
2.0” is the only promising series, but it airs in one of the
most competitive time-slots available. Its freshman sitcoms range
from the bad (“Rock Me Baby”) to the truly wretched
(“The Mullets”), indicating the necessity for a
complete network overhaul.

Grade: D

 

The Best of Cable

 

HBO: HBO is as solid as ever, with new shows
(“Carnivale”) and old favorites (“Curb Your
Enthusiasm”) both redefining genres and the concepts of
popular entertainment.

Grade: A+

 

FX: The programming feels like HBO-lite, but “The
Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” are engrossing enough to
show that this network is more than willing to take risks.

Grade: A-

 

Comedy Central: Home to the most hilarious shows on TV
(“South Park” and “Reno 911”), Comedy
Central defines what is funny. However, not every new show is a
comic great or even tasteful (“I’m with Busey”
and “Kid Notorious”).

Grade: A-

 

Bravo: The NBC affiliate has come into its own with the
“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” phenomenon, and its
latest programming (“Celebrity Poker Showdown”) looks
to be promising.

Grade: B+

 

NBC’s ‘Boomtown’ blunder

Critical acclaim no longer matters. While this season has seen
shows such as “Skin” get what they deserve, garbage the
likes of “Yes, Dear” continues to air because,
apparently, somebody is watching. However, the biggest injustice by
far was the early exit of “Boomtown.”

The show, featuring several different viewpoints of one crime,
garnered high praise but low ratings in its first year. Due to
those ratings, NBC moved “Boomtown” from its
high-profile Sundays-at-10 p.m. time-slot to the ratings black hole
of Fridays at 10 p.m. Despite a revamped cast, the show was pulled
a scant two episodes into the sophomore effort. An additional six
installments were produced, but it is doubtful these will air. It
is disheartening to know NBC is keeping episodes of
“Boomtown” on the shelf while subjecting the nation to
the horror that is “Whoopi.”

TV’s biggest surprises of the season

“8 Simple Rules” (ABC, Tuesdays 8 p.m.)

Although it was a shock to many viewers when ABC announced its
decision to continue “8 Simple Rules” after John
Ritter’s tragic and unexpected death, the show’s cast
and crew portrayed the situation admirably in subsequent episodes,
showing a level of dignity and a respect for Ritter’s work
that pleasantly surprised its audience.

“Joan of Arcadia” (CBS, Fridays 8 p.m.)

While “Joan” may seem strangely similar to another
religiously geared CBS series on the surface, this season’s
newbie has managed to attract some viewer attention in the last few
months. With God masquerading around town in an ever-changing
visage, “Joan” added an intriguing spice into the mix
of a lagging Friday-night lineup.

“The West Wing” (NBC, Wednesdays 9 p.m.)

“The West Wing” proves time and time again it can
reel in an audience like no other politically based, prime-time
drama. Despite its often preachy style and suspiciously
“ripped from the headlines” plots, “The West
Wing” proudly carried home yet another Emmy to add to its
collection.

 

2003 Year in Review

Top 10 Series

“24” (FOX, Tuesdays 9 p.m.)

“Alias” (ABC, Sundays 9 p.m.)

“Arrested Development” (FOX, Sundays 9 p.m.)

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO, Sundays)

“Scrubs” (NBC, Thursdays 8:30 p.m.)

“Sex and the City” (HBO, Sundays 9 p.m.)

“The Shield” (FX, Tuesdays 10 p.m.)

“Six Feet Under” (HBO, Sundays)

“South Park” (Comedy Central, Wednesdays 10
p.m.)

“The Wire” (HBO, Sundays)

 

Bottom 10 Series

“According to Jim” (ABC)

“Coupling” (NBC

“Good Morning, Miami” (NBC)

“Happy Family” (NBC)

“The Mullets” (UPN)

“Oliver Bean” (FOX)

Reality TV (Any network)

“Skin” (Fox)

“Whoopi” (NBC)

“Yes, Dear” (CBS)

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