Tuned In: Low-rated ABC continues to struggle

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PASADENA, Calif. -- While NBC tends to take the brunt of jokes about low ratings, among the broadcast networks it’s not doing that poorly in the 2013-14 TV season.

Among total viewers season-to-date, CBS is No. 1, NBC No. 2 and ABC third. In the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo, NBC ranks first, followed by CBS, Fox and ABC in fourth place.

So, really, the jokes about cellar dweller ratings should be aimed at ABC, which has bombed this season with quickly canceled duds “Lucky 7,” “Betrayal,” “Back in the Game” and most recently “The Assets.”

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee, a charming Brit who often disarms TV critics with overuse of the word “delicious” to describe ABC soaps, once again coasted on charm and by falling on his sword on a few occasions.

Mr. Lee said time-shifting improves ratings for ABC shows, so that while their initial live viewing numbers may be troublingly low, those ratings perk up when delayed viewing on DVRs is considered.

“Television has turned into the Florida recount,” he said. “Someone wins on Monday and by [the time additional DVR viewing ratings data comes in] Friday, someone else has won.”

In the “mistakes were made” department, Mr. Lee said “Lucky 7” would have done better at 8 p.m. rather than 10, and he acknowledged that the initial plan for “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” -- to air it on Sundays between runs of “Once Upon a Time” -- might have worked out better than its low-rated Thursday at 8 p.m. broadcasts.

“We liked the idea of a run of empowered women all the way through Thursday,” Mr. Lee said. “We wanted to play offense not defense, but in retrospect I should have stuck to the earlier idea.”

He said no decision has been made about the future of “Wonderland” but it seems likely to be canceled.

Mr. Lee said low-rated midseason entry “Killer Women” will finish its run early so midseason entry “Mind Games” can launch after a “Bachelor” special on Feb. 25, essentially a slow-drip cancellation for “Killer Women.”

“Mind Games” stars Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as con artist brothers who open an agency to help clients.

ABC also has “Resurrection” (9 p.m. March 9), which seemed more promising last summer before Sundance Channel aired the French drama “The Returned,” which is extremely similar. Both are about dead people who mysteriously return to walk among the living.

(Confusing matters further, “Resurrection” is based on a book called “The Returned” that has nothing to do with the French TV show.)

Executive producer Michele Fazekas said she has not watched “The Returned” to avoid being unduly influenced by a similar story. Executive producer Aaron Zelman said he was taken with the themes of the book: “Why we’re here and what it means to be here, that’s the kernel I wanted to write a show about.”

“The Returned” deals with themes of faith and emotion but not any specific religion.

“The trick to doing it right is just to approach it honestly,” Mr. Zelman said. “What does faith mean to different people? You don’t have to discuss any specific religion or worry about offending any specific group if you just approach it from the standpoint of every human being ever born has questions about how we got here and if there is someone responsible for us being here.”

‘Dexter’ could return

Despite a disappointing series finale that saw Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) living on his own and working as a lumberjack in Oregon, Showtime Entertainment president David Nevins said there has still been discussion of a spin-off series.

“If we were to do it, there would have to be a good reason to do it,” he said. “It has to be a new show. I’m not interested in doing it if it’s only a continuation.”

Mr. Nevins said any “Dexter” follow-up would have to include actor Michael C. Hall. So is that why Dexter didn’t die in the finale?

“Honestly, it was never even discussed, the idea of killing him,” he said.

In the meantime, reruns of “Dexter” are now airing on cable’s NUVOtv, carried locally on Comcast (Channel 176), Verizon’s FiOS TV (Channel 276) and DISH Network (Channel 167).

‘Archer’ mutates

FX’s “Archer” (10 p.m. Monday) has moved in a new direction for its fifth season.

The animated comedy has abandoned its premise that the characters work for a spy agency called ISIS. Now they’re all international drug dealers. And the show is dubbed “Archer Vice” after “Miami Vice.”

“At its heart it’s a show about bickering roommates and those relationships don’t change,” said executive producer Matt Thompson. “But now instead of being spies, they are drug dealers.”

Executive producer Adam Reed said the workplace switch isn’t that unusual. “There’s a lot of at least allegedly true stories about the CIA being involved in selling drugs to fund other operations, so it’s not as crazy as it sounds because they’ve sold drugs,” Mr. Reed said.

Cast member Jessica Walter, who voices former ISIS leader Malory Archer, likes the shake-up. Her character is now at loose ends and directionless.

“One of the reasons the overhaul is so great for these characters is that when characters are not in their comfort zone, they’re more desperate and they’re scrambling, and I think that’s what makes comedy,” Ms. Walter said. “There’s desperation and we have an injection of that now, and it gives new life to everything.”

In addition, a new character, Cherlene (voiced by Judy Greer who also voices Cheryl/Carol), is introduced as a country singer. She’ll duet with guest voice Kenny Loggins in an April episode, which will lead to the release of an album.

Channel surfing

Reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” return to TV Land on Monday with a marathon beginning at 9 a.m. After that episodes will air 7 and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. ... Melissa McCarthy (“Mike & Molly”) will host NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” on Feb. 1 with musical guest Imagine Dragons. ... Nick Lachey will host VH1’s “Big Morning Buzz” beginning March 3 at 10 a.m. ... After anti-gay comments from star Phil Robertson, ratings for the fifth season premiere of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” were down 28 percent from its August premiere, but the show still drew a huge-for-cable 8.5 million viewers. ... Despite mostly positive reviews for the new judging panel, “American Idol’s” season premiere saw its ratings slide in demos and overall viewers with 15.2 million tuning in (last year 17.9 million watched the season premiere). ... Next week WQED-TV will air “Human Trafficking: Pittsburgh Fights Back” (8 p.m. Thursday), produced by Gina Catanzarite, which will include the stories of local survivors and law enforcement efforts to curb this crime locally.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv

Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. Reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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