The best and worst of TV, 2016

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As the upfronts loom, a look back at what worked this season ... and what didn't.

On the heels of the fall 2016 primetime network scheduling announcements, let’s take a moment to assess the best and the worst of what the broadcasters — on any platform — offered this past season. As always, there was plenty of drama and comedy, though not all of it was intentional. See you at the festivities in New York next week!

The Best 

1. Political coverage
Say what you want about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the supporting cast, this year’s gonzo political race has delivered huge ratings for news networks and talk shows. The jaw-dropping spectacle of Trump/Sanders vs. the Establishment has proved more addictive than any scripted series. And the fracas will only grow as Election Day approaches. It’s the best news Fox, CNN, MSNBC and the network news divisions have heard in years.

2. "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson"
Clearly the most buzzed-about scripted genre these days is the dramatic anthology, a series that reboots every season with another cast telling another season-long story. Think FX’s "American Horror Story" and "Fargo," or this season’s "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson," which scored big with viewers and critics alike. Now, FX has given producer Ryan Murphy a third anthology hour for next season, "Feud," which will focus on the legendary battle of actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. And NBC is jumping on the bandwagon with "Law & Order: True Crime," which will focus on brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez.

3. "The Good Wife"
Given the networks’ tendency to milk an aging series until the last loyal viewer dies, CBS deserves a shout-out for ending "The Good Wife" after seven quality seasons. Unlike the glut of generic scripted offerings, "The Good Wife" was one of the few network dramas that could hold a place alongside the best that cable networks and streaming services have to offer. 

4. "Survivor"
With Fox’s "American Idol" gone (at least for now), and erosion the norm for the established crop of reality competition shows, the durability of CBS franchise "Survivor" is unprecedented. Though it may not garner the buzz it once did, after 16 years (and 32 editions), it remains a programming force to be reckoned with.

5. Hulu’s binge-free format
Netflix’s decision to release full seasons of new shows all at once has come to define streaming TV. But some of us still enjoy an element of anticipation. Hulu should be commended for traveling its own path and recognizing the value of the traditional viewing model, releasing shows like drama "11.22.63." and sitcom "The Mindy Project" one week at a time. 

The Worst

1. Pretty Much Every New Primetime Series on the Big 5
Of the 21 new primetime network series introduced last fall, not one entry was a bona fide hit. The midseason crop fared even worse. With more original content elsewhere, and more options for consumption than ever before, it makes sense the traditional Nielsen ratings would drop overall. But somehow nothing resonated with the masses eagerly seeking their next addiction, and that includes highly touted "Supergirl" on CBS (which could be moving to The CW next season).  

2. The 3-Month Hiatus
Cable has its own set of rules, and what works there is not guaranteed to work on the broadcast networks. Case in point: Broadcast’s failed attempt to split several of its hit shows’ seasons into two parts separated by a three-month hiatus. The idea is to deliver longer continuous stretches of new episodes, but ABC’s "Scandal," NBC’s "Blindspot," and even "Empire" on Fox were ultimately diminished by extended winter absences. Sadly, the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

3. "Empire"
Though it may be controversial to categorize a Top 10 series as one of the "worst," no second season of a hit series has done more to earn the "sophomore slump" label than "Empire." Maybe it was inevitable given the show’s spectacularly creative start this show had. But the characters are beginning to feel one-dimensional, and Lucious’ (Terrence Howard) attempt to return as "Empire" ’s CEO feels like a rehashed plotline from other, lesser dramas. 

4. "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "Family Guy," "Law & Order: SVU," "Supernatural," et al.
As the years pass, audience interest in any show is bound to wane. So it comes as no surprise to see the ratings for veteran series like NBC’s "Law & Order: SVU," The CW’s "Supernatural" and Fox’s "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" plummet to previously unseen depths. What’s surprising is the networks’ insistence on keeping these shows going, thereby clogging the airwaves and making it harder for the new crop of shows to break through.

5. Fitness and weight-loss programs
Once upon a time, NBC’s "The Biggest Loser" was a reliable benchwarmer. But the ratings are now slim, and new competition from ABC’s "My Diet is Better Than Yours," NBC’s "Strong," "Fox’s "American Grit," E!’s "Just Jillian" and A&E’s "Fit to Fat to Fit" — all of which underperformed — means it is time to fatten those lineups with something else. 


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