Blood and guts. Baffling twists and turns. Corpses strewn across a bleak landscape…
Another gripping installment of ”CSI?” Nope, it’s just our way of summing up the 2000-01 TV season. You don’t need to conduct any forensics tests to realize how brutal this year was. The season-long ratings race came down to the bitter final days of May sweeps (in fact, at press time CBS and ABC were still duking it out for first place among total prime-time viewers, while UPN and The WB were neck and neck for last). Characters got whacked left and right (see: ”The West Wing,” ”The Practice,” ”Once and Again,” and every other episode of ”The Sopranos”). The newest game show featured a verbally abusive host (”Weakest Link”). The hottest MTV series had its stars beat themselves silly (”Jackass”). And while one ”reality” sensation stranded folks in the outback and let them knife pigs while backstabbing each other (TV’s No. 1-rated show, ”Survivor 2”), another prodded couples into infidelity (”Temptation Island”), and a third hazed contestants with grueling exercises and 650-decibel shouting (”Boot Camp”).
Speaking of punishment, Bette Midler, Geena Davis, Michael Richards, and John Goodman each got their own sitcoms and received a Nielsen bitch-slapping for their troubles. So much for star power, right? Just ask Mike O’Malley, who, after seeing his 1999 self-titled NBC show get mocked off the air, is getting the last laugh this year with his equally pooh-poohed sitcom, CBS’ ”Yes, Dear,” which is now a top 30 show. Of course, O’Malley is laughing only half as hard as William Petersen. As everyone was ooohing and ahhhing over the prospect of Tim Daly in a top-dollar update of ”The Fugitive,” the ”CSI” star quietly donned his surgical gloves and got down to business. Today, ”CSI” is a top 10 smash, while ”The Fugitive” has gone MIA after tying with — how shall we put this? — Fox’s ”World’s Wildest Police Videos.”
Want to examine more evidence? Turn the page for our network-by-network analysis. You might want to put on some protective eyewear, though, because it could get messy.
THE GOOD Let’s boil it down to a simple equation: ”Survivor” + Thursday x giant risk = 29.8 million viewers. By shifting its summer sensation — along with rising freshman ”CSI” — up against NBC’s formidable Must See slate, CBS did the improbable: It wound up with two top 10 hits and an onslaught of hip buzz. ”I’ve got to give a nod to CBS for taking a gamble,” observes Fox exec VP Preston Beckman. ”That was the scheduling move of the year.” An honorable mention could go to Monday night’s fearsome foursome: ”The King of Queens” (No. 26), ”Yes, Dear” (No. 30), ”Everybody Loves Raymond” (still on the rise at No. 6), and ”Becker” (No. 16). Then there’s our dear ol’ Coach, Craig T. Nelson, who saved Saturdays — at least for the Centrum Silver set — with No. 33 ”The District.”
THE BAD Oy, was Bette a big bust at No. 79. ”It seemed like everything was going well,” says CBS senior VP Kelly Kahl. ”But obviously the audience tired of the show.” So is that what also happened with No. 87 ”The Fugitive?” ”Maybe after seeing the old series and the movie,” he speculates, ”viewers didn’t think this brought anything to the screen.” Viewers also screened out ”Will & Grace” wannabe ”Some of My Best Friends” (No. 102), the estrofest Wednesday-night movie (No. 71), and a police drama from ”NYPD Blue” cocreator David Milch called ”Big Apple” (No. 63). Gee, who’d have thought that viewers were fine with having just five cop shows set in New York?
THE UPSHOT With ”CSI” on the rise and its Monday night firmed up, CBS showed that it can do more than just Survive.