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Year in Review 2004: TV’s Winner and Losers

Let’s face it. The new fall TV lineup looked to be unequivocally ho-hum this year. There was the usual horde of legal/police/medical dramas that didn’t exactly stir up viewer excitement–even amongst easy-to-please tube enthusiasts–and a cluster of ill-conceived reality shows. And with The Apprentice bloom off the proverbial rose, what were TV audiences across the nation to discuss around the office water cooler?


Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, came ABC, soaring to uncharted heights–at least by the Alphabet Network’s standards–with two little-known contenders: Lost and Desperate Housewives.

Like the fiery, metal-crunching plane crash featured on Lost‘s pilot episode, the show–and the astounding fact it was actually good–took viewers by surprise. Within a week, everyone was talking about it, and ABC hardly had to spend a penny to promote it. Desperate Housewives, on the other hand, was a harder sell, but it too proved well-scripted, fictional TV fare is still a worthwhile investment.

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Speaking of reality shows…While NBC and Fox were duking it out over which network came up with the first boxing realty series concept–NBC claiming it did with The Contender versus Fox with The Next Great Champ–ABC wooed television audiences with its surprisingly endearing unscripted show, Wife Swap.

If you’re keeping score, that’s three good shows for ABC so far out of perhaps three dozen. But it wasn’t all about the Alphabet. CBS, which debuted five new series this fall, had at least one winner–and it won’t surprise anyone to know it had the all-the-rage acronym CSI in front of it: CSI: NY.

Making a small splash with moderate success was NBC’s Friends spin-off Joey, while the Peacock Network’s weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser was also one of the season’s biggest winners.


As slim the pickings were for the season’s winners, the list of losers was all but overwhelming. ABC, for example, hit a chord with Lost but went astray with the Texan entrepreneur and billionaire Mark Cuban’s reality series, The Benefactor. Ditto for Fox and its reality shows The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best and the stinker My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss. It’s encouraging to note TV viewers can and will draw a line when it comes to unscripted fare.

But a prepped script doesn’t always equate quality. Take NBC’s LAX, which couldn’t draw ratings despite having Heather Locklear’s name attached to it. And all the money in the work couldn’t make the network’s animated sitcom Father of the Pride watchable. Come on…talking Las Vegas circus lions working for illusionists Siegfried & Roy? Please.

As honorable mention were shows that were either so bland or bad they simply disappeared off the radar. Ever heard of Dr. Vegas, Center of the Universe, Second Time Around or Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show? We didn’t think so.

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