Tuned In: 'Big Bang Theory' tops Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel poll

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Voters in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel poll can't get enough of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m. Thursday, KDKA-TV), which topped the "keep" portion of the poll in 2014 for the third year in a row.

CBS's "NCIS" kept its No. 2 spot, but after that the list saw a fair amount of shake-up.

Last year's No. 3 "keep" show, CBS's "Mike & Molly," dropped to No. 9. "Modern Family" moved back up to No. 3, and "60 Minutes" re-entered the Top 10 "keep" shows at No. 4.

CBS's "The Good Wife" dropped from No. 5 to No. 8. "The Mentalist" and "Person of Interest" dropped out of the Top 10 entirely. PBS's "Masterpiece Classic" hit "Downton Abbey" made its Keep or Cancel poll debut at No. 7.

This year's poll drew almost 1,700 votes, 70 percent of them from Western Pennsylvania. The gender of voters skewed female (58 percent to 42 percent) with the most votes from the age 55-69 cohort (39 percent), followed by age 35-43 (37 percent) and age 18-34 a distant third (12 percent).

PG graphic: Poll results
(Click image for larger version)

The Top 10 shows to receive "cancel" votes mirrored voting from recent years past: All of the Top 10 "cancel" series are reality shows, the same titles from previous years just in a slightly different order, including every iteration of "The Real Housewives of ..." along with "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Celebrity Wife Swap."

To see full results from the poll -- including a network-by-network breakdown -- visit http://old.post-gazette.com/tv/poll/results.asp.

As always, the comments viewers leave after completing the poll are perhaps the most revealing takeaway. Viewer frustration with network scheduling was a recurring theme.

"In general I feel the programing changes faster than a person can maintain an idea of what is airing," wrote Carol Queen, 72, of Monroeville. "If you are not a newspaper reader, it is impossible to keep track of favorite shows. ... I also sometimes have missed a new offering because I had never heard of it."

Lorraine Quinn of McCandless said she gets upset with networks that allow series to conclude on unsatisfying endings.

"Still angry with A&E for canceling 'The Glades' after the cliffhanger ending," she wrote. "Have a hard time investing in that network, or many newer series on any channel, after seeing this happen too often. Viewers deserve better. Closure, anyone?"

Several viewers went after individual networks for their changed programming philosophies and the rise in reality shows that have dumbed down these networks.

"Discovery Networks could cancel TLC completely in my opinion. I now call it The Loser Channel," wrote Frank Bohach, 57, of Weirton, W.Va.

These networks may benefit in the short-term from a reality-induced ratings lift, but they may also damage their brands over the long run.

"I used to watch History, Discovery and TLC extensively when they featured educational programming," wrote Anthony Hita, 26, of Ligonier. "Now, however, they are awash with reality TV that is neither educational nor particularly entertaining. TLC in particular has become basically a parody of itself. TLC used to stand for 'The Learning Channel,' now it stands for 'Totally Lacking Class.' "

Even fans of the reality formula can see producers' fingerprints on the shows, and they don't like the obvious manipulation.

"I admit that I watch the dumb reality job shows like 'Pawn Stars,' 'Shipping Wars' and the 'Storage Wars' shows. I wish they wouldn't make them faker than they already are," wrote Robb Hideck, 34, of Tampa, Fla. "Don't mess with the original formula of the show by adding fake skits to the script. 'Pawn Stars' is filmed months in advance, yet they do St. Patrick's themed skits on the show for the week of St. Patrick's Day. Even though I watch dumb shows does not mean I am dumb; I know it is fake. I just want to watch something mindless while my kids are destroying my house."

Not all the comments were complaints. Several readers praised the state of scripted television.

"It seems to me that TV is in a golden age," wrote former Pittsburgher David Biesecker, 50, of Cleveland. "The premium and cable channels are airing so many quality dramas that the competition has been ramped up, even down to the network level. We've just lost 'Breaking Bad' and 'Dexter' without a hiccup. Concerning comedies, I had not taken to any since '30 Rock' and 'The Office,' but this season I'm enjoying 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'Trophy Wife' and 'The Goldbergs.' "

Chuck Gilbert, 52, of Scott, finds his viewing schedule overflowing many days.

"Even with all of the lame reality programs, TV to me has seen a resurgence in scripted programs," he wrote. "The fresh ideas like 'Orphan Black,' 'Breaking Bad,' etc. Shows that are well conceived, written, with A-list actors taking a chance on TV such as [Woody] Harrelson and [Matthew] McConaughey taking on the fine HBO show 'True Detective.' At the beginning of this season I didn't think there would be too much I wanted to watch and end up with an almost full DVR of stuff I still need to watch."

Viewers also have picked up on overused storytelling trends in scripted shows.

"I am getting a little tired of the flashback gimmick recently attributed to 'Lost,' " wrote William Habers, 63, of Sewickley. He also mentioned the trick of beginning with a "disaster for our hero" followed by a flashback to hours earlier that depicts how the hero got into the tough spot with the danger ultimately mopped up in short order. "Can't we get a little more creativity into the television and movie biz?"

Carole Lohn, 68, of Saxonburg, felt let down by Fox's "The Following," which already has been renewed for a third season despite deteriorating ratings.

"I enjoyed the first season of 'The Following' because I'm a fan of Kevin Bacon, but the second season has gotten more grotesque, bloody and, since Joe Carroll is still alive, unbelievable. I thought his story ended, and it should. And by the way, why are the good guys so inept?"

And it wouldn't be a Keep or Cancel? poll without some viewers taking the opportunity to critique local TV news.

"Pittsburgh's stations need to cut back on the excessive length of news shows, hour after hour of the same videos and repeated 'breaking' stories," wrote Charles Evans, 70, of Jefferson Hills. "I DVR the news on whatever channel I choose to avoid the 'coming up' breaks, which are much too frequent. Give us a solid hour of real, fresh news without the constant teasers and repeated stories."

Kept/canceled this week

Many shows in the Keep or Cancel poll already know their fates. Some won't get the final word until next month's upfronts week. Between now and then more renewals and cancellations will drip out, including these:

• HBO renewed "Veep" for a fourth season and "Silicon Valley" for a second season.

• Fox canceled its "Animation Domination High Definition" late-night Saturday programming block, effective June 28, after less than a year. Fox plans to keep the brand alive on digital platforms, including FoxADHD.com.

• VH1 canceled "Best Week Ever" for the second time.

Canonization televised

Coverage from Rome of the Roman Catholic Church's canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will air live in the wee hours of Sunday morning on multiple cable networks.

EWTN begins its coverage at 3:30 a.m. Sunday and cable news channels CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC follow at 4 a.m.

EWTN's coverage will encore at 7 p.m. Sunday and 11 p.m. Monday.

HBO launches Oliver show

When John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart as host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" last summer, it proved to be the perfect audition reel for his own series. HBO locked Mr. Oliver up last fall -- sort of too bad because there will soon be an opening at Comedy Central when Stephen Colbert replaces David Letterman on CBS next year -- and his new half-hour show, "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" (11 p.m. Sunday), debuts this weekend.

"I think it probably led in some way and, let's just say, the only way," Mr. Oliver said of the influence of his "Daily Show" stint last summer had on getting his own program. "Yeah, I think it was probably the main reason why I'm here now."

"Last Week Tonight" will look back on the week's news in a comedic fashion.

"It will be making fun of things," Mr. Oliver said at the January TV critics press tour as the new program's format was still taking shape. "That is a fairly broad format."

Rand leaving KDKA-TV

KDKA sports anchor Jory Rand tweeted on Tuesday that he will be leaving KDKA-TV in June for a new job at KABC in Los Angeles.

KDKA-TV general manager Chris Pike confirmed Mr. Rand will be a weekend news anchor for the ABC-owned station in the country's No. 2 TV market. (Pittsburgh is market No. 23.)

'TV tunes' returns to CLO Cabaret

Chris Laitta's "TV Tunes Sing-A-Long" returns to the CLO Cabaret May 24 and 31 at 10:30 p.m. both nights.

This audience participation show for the whole family debuted in 2005 and has been revived a few times since, giving attendees the opportunity to sing familiar tunes from the TV theme songbook.

Tickets ($10) are available at 412-325-6769 or at the CLO Cabaret door.

Channel surfing

HBO made a deal this week to put programs from its library --"The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "Big Love," "Oz," "Eastbound & Down," "Band of Brothers," "Deadwood" and early seasons of "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Blood" -- on Amazon.com's Prime Instant Video May 21. HBO Go also will become available on Amazon's Fire TV. ... HBO and the BBC will co-produce a three-hour miniseries adaptation of author J.K. Rowling's first post-Harry Potter novel, "The Casual Vacancy." ... According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lifetime has ordered a docuseries from the producers of "Breaking Amish" called "The Sisterhood" that follows five young women as they decide whether to become nuns. ... Late last week Discovery Network canceled its "Everest Jump Live" event planned for May 11 after an avalanche on the mountain killed more than a dozen people. ... Fox News Channel offers its own version of "The View" or "The Talk" with "Outnumbered" (noon weekdays starting Monday), featuring four female panelists and one rotating male punching bag. ... The final episode of Britcom "The IT Crowd" became available this week on Hulu and Hulu Plus (www.hulu.com/the-it-crowd). ... "Rookie Blue" returns to ABC for its fifth season in June, and syndicated reruns from earlier seasons will air this fall on Ion Television (WINP, Channel 16, in Pittsburgh). ... Mark your 2015 calendars: NBC will celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Saturday Night Live" with a live three-hour special Feb. 15.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Crazy Ones," "The Millers" and "Community." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Black Box," "Faking It" and "Those Who Kill." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

Tuned In podcast has the week off.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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